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Kate Sargent, director of data and insights, Travel Experiences, Collinson Group

Kate Sargent, director of data and insights, Travel Experiences, Collinson Group

How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?

 

Our corporate vision is predicated on an increasingly digital product offering and consumer experience and so data and analytics will necessarily sit at the heart of this. The data and insights team that I lead within the Travel Experiences division of Collinson has already started building the cloud-based data environment that will enable the data feeds and advanced analytics that will power our future consumer journeys. Our aim is to provide personalised information and recommendations throughout the day of travel, powered by deep consumer insight, that will create loyalty to our - and therefore our clients’ - products.

 

2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?

 

The events of 2020 really validated our corporate vision of greater digitalisation. In a world that now seeks to limit physical contact, a digital presence is both sought-after and reassuring. The process of travelling by air has been vastly changed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with even frequent travellers claiming to be disorientated by the new requirements. As a provider of travel benefits, we find ourselves in a unique position to support our consumers through this new landscape.

 

Separately, as a data and insight team, we have really found a platform this year in enabling our broader organisation with insights into rapidly evolving travel behaviours around the globe. We have used a wide variety of new data sources that provide a window into the operational, economic and emotional challenges and opportunities that our partners and end consumers face. From understanding the headroom at any point in time to open up a particular geography or travel corridor, to understanding the likelihood of any country’s residents to choose to travel, to forecasting demand for airport testing, we’ve enabled effective decision-making throughout.

 

Both within and outside of business contexts data has had a seat at the table this year and that can only be good for our industry.

 

Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?

 

I’d like to be able to get back to our pre-Covid-19 focus of building our future data environment and scaling out our analytics capability in order to deliver our strategic vision. As a largely B2B business, a strong emphasis will be on working more closely with our key clients to ensure that our missions with respect to data are aligned and, where mutually beneficial, that we’re sharing our unique insights into our consumers’ behaviours. Finally, I expect the interest in the broader travel industry that was inadvertently stoked by the pandemic to continue this year but, going forwards, out of curiosity rather than necessity.

 

Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?

 

Data has been integral to a couple of our organisational initiatives this year. In particular, Collinson has launched an interactive and publicly available travel recovery map that advises on Covid cases numbers, current flights volumes and open airport lounges across the globe. We also continue to contribute to an industry panel on travel recovery more broadly. Going forwards, we are very well placed to support the continued opening up of travel corridors across the globe through applying data to focus limited resources into the geographies that will benefit most greatly at any point in time.

 

What has been your path to power?

 

From my earliest days, I’ve been drawn to finding patterns, and problem-solving, and so it was that I developed an affinity for maths and went on to study it to MSc level. My first proper job was to model the movement of air traffic through UK airspace. The technique used would now be referred to as a form of data science, but this was analytics before the term "analytics", let alone "data science", became commonplace.

 

Over the following 20 or so years, my career took me through organisations including easyJet, Tesco, Ocado, Sky and TUI, and through roles within traditional analytics, BI, data management, research, campaign operations and web analytics. I’ve always been drawn to categories and brands that consumers tend to have strong affiliations towards (retail, media, travel), as this is where I believe data can have the greatest impact; where it’s not just about lowest price wins.

 

As I’ve progressed, I’ve found a passion not just for data but also for people development, consumer psychology and for driving strategic change.

 

Never one for a career plan, my approach has been to follow what I enjoy, and to keep learning, which seems to be a good formula for success.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

I have to say leading my team through the 2020 pandemic. As an organisation operating in the travel sector, our survival back in March wasn’t a given. My role was to react and support through data wherever possible, to tell the story as it unfolded, and to ensure that our decisions were based on facts rather than speculation or fear. My team members needed to understand their roles and I needed to be able to address their concerns as they arose. The greatest reward now is to see such high levels of engagement and collaboration despite almost a year of remote working.

 

Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?

 

I enjoy the process of building new capability to improve organisational outcomes and I see that as my purpose within my current role. My hope is to bring to bear the various workstreams that will take us from an organisation that uses data for operational and reactive reasons, to one that uses it for proactive purposes and to inform its strategy. This, of course, requires the evolution of the skills and technology within my team but, most importantly, enhancing the data-literacy of the broader organisation. There’s still more to do, but we’re making good progress.

 

How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?

 

Data and analytics are seen as fundamental to the long-term success of the Travel Experiences division of Collinson. It is well understood that these disciplines provide a foundation to achieve our digital strategy and present a credible proposition to our clients. I have strong relationships with my product, proposition, commercial, marketing and partnerships colleagues – all of whom see the potential of data to add value. I work closely with them to support their needs and embed data into their thinking at the earliest possible stages of new initiatives.

 

As an industry, the travel sector has been embracing data and analytics for a long time now. From early applications of yield management and operational research to manage the operation of airlines, to the more recent ubiquity of recommendation-driven online travel agents, our industry offers a great deal of potential for optimisation through data. I believe that this is, to a large extent, driven by a combination of the competitive nature of the industry and the discretionary nature of the product.

 

The ability to apply data and analytics, or not, is a clear differentiator when it comes to the consumer experience and this creates a natural synergy between data and analytics teams and those seeking to optimise business outcomes.

 

What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?

 

In my view, creating a data culture starts with establishing - and effectively communicating – a clear link up to the organisational strategy as this provides the "why?" for the broader organisation to get behind. Beyond that, it’s about identifying and deploying discrete use cases in different parts of the business that really bring the opportunities to life. Demystifying key principles for a business audience, in order to create confidence that data is something that they can be a part of, as opposed to something from which they feel separated, is a key step towards creating ownership across the business.

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