Can the data that brands use to discover new customers and drive growth be used to accurately predict where travelers are heading on vacation this summer? Alyssa Bianco, Data Analyst and Peter Lenz, Senior Geospatial Analyst, join Caroline Allen for a conversation on summer travel trends and the differences in the personas of travelers who are looking to stay in hotels versus rental homes. Where are the most popular destinations for 2018? How can brands across industries apply these findings to their marketing plans? Listen to find out.
CAROLINE ALLEN: Welcome back to the Dstillery Predicts Podcast, where we're exploring how the data that brands use to discover new customers and drive growth can be used to accurately predict events and trends in the real world. I'm Caroline Allen, Content Manager here at Dstillery, a predictive marketing intelligence company, and host of our channel. Today Alyssa Bianco a data analyst on our Data Science and Analytics Team, joins someone you are all familiar with by now, Peter Lenz, our Senior Geospatial Analyst. They've been looking into what trends are happening around summer vacation travel and understanding the variances between those travelers who are looking to stay in hotels versus those travelers looking to stay in rental homes. A Google Survey found that six in ten considering a summer trip, were already conducting some type of research in February, yet 46% had not decided on their destination, so understanding that statistic, Alyssa and Pete decided to see if they could dig into our system and predict where these people were actually going to turn up this summer. Who has already booked a Summer vacation?
PETER LENZ: We both have.
CAROLINE: And are you staying in a hotel, or a rental home?
ALYSSA BIANCO: Rental Home
PETER: Rental home
CAROLINE: So, one can imagine that the personas of the people who are looking at staying in rental homes versus the percentage of people who are looking to stay at hotels may be wildly different, although I know you both are staying in rental homes. As a scientist, when you were starting your research, what were some of the assumptions that you expected to find when you started to look at summer vacation trends.
ALYSSA: So the two of us, Peter and I, we can't represent everyone. That would be totally irresponsible of us as analysts, right? But, we can use our data to measure intent and categorize preferences to make a prediction of what type of accommodations people will gravitate towards. Our assumptions were based on our personal experiences. We bring biases into our work. It's unavoidable.
PETER: So, yeah. That's the great thing about Dstillery. It means that, when we have an interesting question that just comes up in conversation, just thinking about things that are interesting problems. We have this massive data set. We have 21 petabytes of data sitting in our dup store that I can go to, that Alyssa can go to, that anybody in the company can go to, and actually answer it. We are a behavioral analytics company and this is a behavior. We can measure it.
ALYSSA: What's cool about doing this analysis, was that we were able to validate and contradict our assumptions. One of the great things about Dstillery, is that we have a massive amount of data that we can dive into and satisfy our own curiosities. We love data and we're consumers too.
PETER: The core of science is having a falsifiable hypothesis. You always have to be willing to be wrong. So, our falsifiable hypothesis was that hotels were going to be more things like couples, people without kids. We might see some romantic getaways, but the bulk of things were going to be about business. Businesses, if you're working at a business, you expect to get paid back for your business trip, and businesses like hotels for that purpose. So, we expected to see that in the data and corollary to that, people using their business trips to build up reward points and then, going back to hotels to use their business trip reward points to basically subsidize their own vacations.
ALYSSA: For rental homes, we expected that we would see signals that suggested big groups, like a bachelor or bachelorette party. Or, a vacation with extended family members, families with young kids, or people on a budget. Because, often I think from our personal experiences, we've found that booking a rental home is a lower-price vacation option than booking a hotel.
CAROLINE: After you conducted your research, were your assumptions validated, were they proven wrong?
ALYSSA: Yes, and no. For hotels, we did see a strong correlation between travel and business, so yes. What I've called co-opted business trips, are definitely something that is happening. But, we also see behaviors related to families, which we did not assume. For rental homes, yes we see behaviors related to families. Yes, we see the possibility for large group vacations, but there were no clear signals for budget travel.
CAROLINE: That's really interesting. What about your methodology? How did you dig through this data, and how did you come to these conclusions?
PETER: Sure. So, we used one of our off-the-shelf reporting systems. It's called an "audience mix analysis." And, what an audience mix is, we take a pool of devices that we have seen performing some behavior ... In this case, at a set of hotel sites, or at a set of rental home sites. We can take those and project onto them, our content clusters. Our 800 core behaviors of the internet represent roughly 95% of everything everyone does on the internet.
ALYSSA: For this analysis, I used the same process that we use for a typical audience mix to segment an audience of people whose web behavior suggests their intent to book a certain type of travel accommodation. The digital behaviors of thousands of people interaction with these websites, were used to identify unique consumer segments within the two audiences. Brands can go after the obviously and maintain their market share, where you'll find value to grow as a brand, is to know your audience. And with that understanding, go after what every other brand may be overlooking. Understanding the difference between the general, which would be people who consider hotels; and specific people who consider hotels are more likely to shop for bikinis and are interested in beach vacations to Hawaii, can and should make a difference.
CAROLINE: I think that something from brands from really any category across the spectrum will resonate with. Going after these really niche consumer segments that of course, you and your competition are going after the obvious. You're going after the hotel buyers. Probably these executive travel in business, things like that. But, looking at these niche audiences and understanding what exactly what is driving those behaviors can really impact your business. What did you find in your research?
ALYSSA: I found three categories across the consumer segments that framed my analysis. The first were travel preference. If they were likely to be frequent fliers or into camping. The second were interests, from which I could get an understanding of how they spend their time online, and what they do for work. The third being tourism and vacation locations that they're interested in.
CAROLINE: And understanding of what they do for work. Can you elaborate on that?
PETER: So, Americans have reputation for being workaholics. Back in 2015, a study found that we left approximately 169,000,000 vacation days on the table. Wasted. About $50,000,000,000 worth. Just because people didn't feel like or couldn't figure out how to go on vacation. Now, within the context of our research, that is totally born out. Every single group that we looked at, had some signal that linked them back to what they do professionally. And, that makes sense.
CAROLINE: So, what percentage did you find?
ALYSSA: We found dozens of persons between the two audiences. We're going to talk about three for each. So, the three personas in the audience of people considering rental homes, that we'll talk about today, are those making memories on family adventures, the work hard, play hard types, and people getting off the grid.
PETER: So, family adventures. These people are families who are super supportive of what their kid is doing. You've got lacrosse in there, there's soccer, Girl and Boy Scouts, cheerleading. But because of all this, they have a full plate. I mean, kids these days, their time is oversubscribed and these families, they want to break away from that. So, on their vacation, none of that stuff is going to be happening. They're looking for work, life, balance. They want a rental home, but they would also consider a cruise, camping in a national park. They're looking for experiential things that are different from what their everyday life is.
ALYSSA: This is probably families using summer vacation to break out of their normal routine and allow their kids to experience something new. For the work hard, play hard types, they're probably single or not married yet and no kid. There are signals that this group puts equal weight on their personal and professional interests. And, their personal interests are really active. They're into running, golf, fishing and lots of fun stuff like college sports and beer and travel. They're super into reading travel guides.
PETER: This is the “bro group.”
ALYSSA: This group is visiting wedding planning content, although it's not top of mind. It could be that one of the trips this group is planning, is a bachelor or a bachelorette party. This group had the strongest interest in international travel for those considering a rental home, they're game for everything and they definitely have the means to do it.
PETER: These guys don't have kids yet, so they can travel, like I used to be able to.
CAROLINE: And, what about the third? You mentioned three.
PETER: The third group are the "getting off the grid" group. They're very similar to the "work hard, play hard" group in certain respects, but there are slight differences. That's actually, I'm going to touch base here for a moment. That's what's great about Dstillery's audience, is they're good at picking up nuance. So, in a more crude way of breaking down an audience, we would lump these two together. But, because there's very subtle signals that are different between the two, our system was actually able to get in there and delineate those and break these out into two different clusters, two different personas within this larger rental home group, which is good because I'm one of these people.
ALYSSA: For example, they're into fishing, just like the previous group. But, they're also into hunting and farming and gardening, off-roading, and classic cars. Their interests suggest that their avocation is likely their vocation.
PETER: So, they're doing a lot of construction work. We think of these people as the craftsman who are actually working with their hands to work on a house, work on a building project. The group is the most likely to consider a rental home, has zero interest in business hotels. None whatsoever. They want to get off the grid close to the outdoor activities that they enjoy. They will consider a hotel, but it's not the ideal vacation in any way, shape, or form. And, a hotel is their last resort.
CAROLINE: These getting off the grid people sound like they could be from my home town in South Carolina, actually. But, what about the people who are looking at hotels? What do those personas show?
PETER: So, like we said before, we found a whole bunch of different personas for each of these groups. We're only going to focus in on the three that we thought were the most interesting stories. For hotels, the three stories that we want to tell here are those who put work first, people who have ... we think of them as the beach bum, count down to the beach audience; and executive travelers.
ALYSSA: For those who put work first, their behavior suggests that their mostly browsing the internet at work or for work related projects. It's not all work, though. They are reading blogs, women's fashions and home and fitness and lifestyle stuff, and looking at concert tickets. They're also shopping for luggage so they're probably planning a trip or expected to travel more frequently. As this group is likely to consider a business hotel and fly frequently. For personal travel, they gravitate toward hotels with possible reward points relationship with certain hotel chains.
PETER: So, it makes sense that they're doing this. These guys are traveling for work and they're racking up rewards points. And then, they're using those rewards points to subsidize their own personal travel.
ALYSSA: They have an interest in Europe or central America tourism, which could be an aspirational trip or a big pay off for working so hard.
PETER: Our next group are those beach bums, the count down to beach audience. This group has a super clear signal backed their profession. These people work in pharmaceuticals or they're surgeons, doctors, in the medical field, nurse practitioners. They have very limited time off and they maximize it. They maximize it relaxing on the beach. In my head, they have a Mojito in each hand, but the data doesn't actually say that. My little bit of imagination. They're traveling probably with a family and they're splurging for the trip. They're buying new clothes, they're buying luggage, they're asking questions about what to do with the kids on the trip. Travel is really important to them. Even when they're not traveling, they're thinking about traveling, they're reading about traveling, they're imagining traveling. It's really, really a core activity of this group. Travel Guides everywhere, frequent flyer programs everywhere, and they read lots of travel guides, lonely planets, moon guides. They're all over their signals. They are by far the most likely group to be looking specifically at beach side accommodations. They're looking at cruises to tropical islands that have really nice beaches. In Hawaii, this group is light years ahead of every other group in propensity to be looking at flights and accommodations in Hawaii.
ALYSSA: The last group that we're going to talk about for people considering hotels, are executive travelers. This group has a blurred work-life balance. They probably work in high stress industries circling around banking, finance, law and tax start-ups. And, they're probably at the top of their fields. Personally and professionally they take risks and take interest in stocks and philanthropy. And, they like to look good while doing it. It's hotels all the way for this group and they're more likely to consider hotels on the more expensive side. They're very likely to be frequent fliers and they're probably racking up miles by traveling abroad with the specific interests in Italy.
PETER: So, one thing you didn't notice in any of these descriptions were any kind of demographics. Dstillery as a company does not believe that demographics are a way to measure behavior, because demographics are an accident of someone's birth. Nobody behaves like they're 18 to 24. Nobody behaves like an income group. Nobody behaves like a certain type of education. People behave like behaviors, which sounds like a really obviously thing, but when people start talking about demographics in this world, they're getting away from that idea. So, while we have demographics at the company, we never use those in building models. We only ever use them in explaining models of in terms of understanding who is inside one of our audiences.
CAROLINE: That's a really good point and I think a really good resource for more information on the whole demographic versus behavior argument would be found in our first episode of the DS without the BS podcast with Gilad, so we'll link that below. And so, you mentioned all these personals, but these are really just the ideal characteristics of these certain groups. A single person does not necessarily behave in this exact way of what you just described.
PETER: Exactly. Personas are archetypes. No single person behaves like any one of these particular audiences. People will have infinities for all of them.
ALYSSA: I feel like I may be in the "work hard, play hard" group. Definitely take advantage of Dstillery's generous vacation time, but Peter has a different perspective.
PETER: Sure, I'm generally going to be in that "get off the grid" group, with a mix of that family adventure group, but if I'm on a business trip, I'm definitely going to be one of the hotel clusters.
CAROLINE: That really speaks to a brand's need to really hit their customers with the right message at the right time, or their potential customers, for instance. So, making sure that Pete is in his executive travel mode that he's getting messaging around business hotels and conference centers and then when he's going off the grid making sure he's getting a cabin, and things like that. Same with Alyssa.
PETER: You know, it's a very important point. A lot of companies in the world of building audiences score somebody to an audience, and then you're there forever. We will take you out once you're out of audience. And, that means that we have the purest audiences that we can possibly have.
CAROLINE: So, let's get down the meat of our podcast, the prediction. Where are those considering hotels going this year?
ALYSSA: So, we talked about the personas as a way to see how interests and travel preferences relate and contrast across the audiences. In tracking the personas interest in locations across all consumer segments, I was able to come up with an understanding of where these groups are intending to visit and the travel intention is really exciting.
PETER: So, the reason why travel intention is so exciting, is that it is a prediction where we're basing our data on historic data from the past February, March, and we're predicting where are people months ahead of time going to be going on their summer vacations.
ALYSSA: For those considering hotels, Washington D.C., by and large the place with the most interest for people considering hotels.
PETER: And, not only that. This is the location that pops most high for executive travel.
ALYSSA: So, people considering hotels are also considering traveling to New York City and San Francisco. It's pretty validating for city life, because hotels are a part of the infrastructure of large cities. There's history and prestige and an abundance of options when it comes to hotels. And, at least in New York City, rental homes are often frowned upon possibly unlawful and a good price point could take you away from the action.
PETER: If you're interested in gambling, you're going to be booking a hotel. In fact, you're going to be probably booking the same hotel that you're going to be gambling inside of. Atlantic City, Las Vegas. Both of these pop extremely hot for the hotel clusters.
ALYSSA: It's interesting, because we did not see these locations at all for people considering rental homes.
CAROLINE: Then, where are those considering rental homes, where are they heading this year?
ALYSSA: People considering rental homes are also considering going to Disney. Families at Disney is not surprising. Families in rental homes at Disney, that's pretty interesting. I thought, isn't staying in Disney a part of the Disney experience?
PETER: Well, when you think about it, it is for many people, but as your family get bigger, the Disney hotel rooms don't scale. They are a set size and once you're a family of four, that's a very tight squeeze. While it might be cool to stare out your hotel room and see a monorail, it's probably a lot more cool to have the kids in the extra room and you can get a little bit more sleep.
ALYSSA: Calling back to our assumptions, a rental home has the possibility of home comforts for families with young kids and could be a more affordable option than a hotel. Another location we saw people had an interest in going to, were national parks in Utah and California and Wyoming.
PETER: National parks are often surrounded by other land, open land. And, just as we saw with that "get of the grid" audience, the people who are renting these homes in that cluster, are prizing their access to open land and the activities that they want to do outside. Using a rental home makes total sense. You walk outside your door, the open land is right there. You can go hunting. You can go fishing. And, you're not more than 100 yards from your house. It makes total sense.
ALYSSA: I definitely think that when you book a rental home, you have the possibility for staying a longer amount of time than maybe you would in a hotel.
PETER: Our final cluster for the rental home audience, are Atlantic beaches, especially those in South Carolina, Hilton Head in Myrtle Beach. And, these also pop very high for everybody in the rental home audience, whether you're ... Doesn't matter what cluster we were looking at. The three that we looked at, the other ones that were inside of our analysis, everybody wants to go here.
CAROLINE: That's interesting, because I'm actually going to Hilton Head in a couple of weeks and I will be staying in a rental home, so it's all clusters, it's all behaviors then.
ALYSSA: Yeah. Keep an eye out for the personas we mentioned. You can tell us if our predictions are correct.
PETER: You know, this tells a story also about the change in perception of rental properties in the last couple of years. As the older cohort of millennial, when I think traditionally of rental homes, I'm thinking of things like time shares and octogenarians and Florida. But, companies like Airbnb and VRBO, HomeAway have really changed the perception of this from something that was conceived of a stogy thing and made it cool. And, hotel companies need to play catch-up. They used to be the cool place and they have been supplanted.
CAROLINE: What really drove this project was your curiosity and understanding of what our data is really capable. So, I want to talk a little bit about how brands can use this. When you think about travel, right, so we're thinking about how hotels can use this information, and how places like HomeAway and different rental home companies can use this information, but there's a lot of applications to different areas, so let's talk about credit card companies. A lot of credit cards right now, are promoting x amount of bonus travel miles for sign-up. So, this could be an area that they could use these different segmentation's to really understand and create new messages to reach a broader audience.
ALYSSA: Definitely. And, with the audiences that were considering hotels, we saw signals for loyalty, that they were looking at hotels that had reward points, and that directly relates to credit cards.
PETER: Outside of even the retail sector, industry can use this to help plan out future projects. An airline can use this data to figure out where they want to fly routes in the future. Hotels can use this data to figure out what kind of pricing they want, to be using on future dates.
ALYSSA: The intended travel locations part of this analysis, is probably the most exciting part.
CAROLINE: And, as we mentioned, this is a prediction, but it's based on intent. It's not based on conversion, so how would you measure success in something like this?
PETER: By combining Dstillery's predictive models with a client's deterministic conversions, we can build something that is both predictive and can be measured in terms of how accurate actually is.
ALYSSA: For example, one of our airline clients could work with us and use this same type of analysis, and then act upon it.
CAROLINE: The prediction in this podcast is theoretical, but it can definitely be applied to current brand that we work with, and then that's where that prediction becomes accurate.
PETER: As far as our system is concerned, predicting where somebody is going to travel to, once we've learned how to do it, is no different than predicting whether they're going to buy a CPG product or whether they're going to convert on an ecommerce site.
CAROLINE: Well, I think I can speak for all of us on this very dreary Friday in New York City, that I think we're all looking forward to summer vacation and summer travels.
PETER: The beach cannot come soon enough.
CAROLINE: Yeah. I definitely agree with you, Pete. I think that's it for this episode. If you guys want more information on the work that we're doing here at Dstillery, visit our website dstillery.com. If you have a question for Alyssa and Pete, you can send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It'll be in the transcript below or if you want to request a topic for us to cover in our next podcast, hit us up on twitter @dstillery. Don't forget that's Dstillery without the "i." D-S-T-I-L-L-E-R-Y. Talk to you soon.