There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the past few days about Orbitz “charging Mac users more for hotels,” which turned out to be a total mischaracterization (as ably detailed in this post at the View from the Wing blog). In short, Orbitz has used data showing that Mac users tended to prefer higher-end hotels, so when the site displays the suggested hotels, it tends toward the nicer ones for Mac users. When it comes to personalization and use of technology, this is actually a pretty low-tech example. Companies like Google and the various ad networks are using much more sophisticated data gathering to try to ensure that the search results and the ads you see are custom-tailored to your profile, the better to serve (and to sell to you).
When it comes to an industry like travel, we’re only going to see more of this kind of tech-enabled personalization. And that’s a good thing. There are so many options for places to go, ways to get there, places to stay, and things to do, that it’s impossible for the consumer to consider all the options when they’re in the discovery phase. There’s just too much out there. The traditional option to that is to look at a small selection of the options and take a stab in the dark. Increasingly, we’re using technological filters and “crowdsourced” user ratings to help us winnow the field to the top options before we start our search. In some cases, this technology will be misused, and it may mislead the non tech savvy and manipulate them into making choices they won’t make otherwise. But in most cases it will save people time and reward the best providers. The real losers in this new world will be service providers who fail to keep pace with technological change and drop off the radar screen because the new filtering mechanisms that enter wide use aren’t recognizing them.