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When Data Isn’t Relevant

We prided ourselves on being a data-centric company. Yet in the wake of a pandemic, we realized over-reliance on anything is risky and perhaps even naive.

For the first time ever, we were no longer capable of calling ourselves ‘data-centric’ at CuddlyNest, the online travel agency (OTA) where I am co-founder and COO. Something changed that threw data out the window.

Photo: Ritesh Raj, Co-founder and COO of CuddlyNest | Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Ritesh Raj, Co-founder and COO of CuddlyNest | Source: Courtesy Photo

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the sudden shift in our mindset was all due to the pandemic. We had long prided ourselves in being agile but did not understand the full extent of that word until 2020. This was (and continues to be) an event of historic proportions, and to think that it wouldn’t change the game would be naive.

We had to give a hard look at ourselves, brush ourselves off, toss our files out, silence our consistent desire to forecast, and march forward.

Don’t get me wrong. We absolutely love data.

Our business model relies on data for insight and progress, but in the travel industry, the process of data modeling primarily relies on past traveler habits, patterns, and interests that were suddenly rendered obsolete.

Data is how we anticipate our consumer demand based on previous demand. It allows us to shape the year into seasons and quarters. It helps us know which amenities are the most relevant, and those that simply aren’t. It’s how we provide value to our property managers, and it’s how we stand on the same playing field as our competitors.

We thought we needed to consistently remain data-centric, but as it turns out, we were better off being data-driven. Here’s how we dealt with the pandemic as a travel tech company that relies on bookings as its primary source of revenue.


In the beginning, we improvised

From the early onset days of the pandemic, in March 2020, we had to improvise. We got creative, and there was initially a lot of guesswork in the equation. We assumed our data was (almost) entirely irrelevant and no longer looked towards it for guidance. We also saw many industry peers toss out their own. At least we weren’t alone in this pickle!

We began relying on social listening in real-time to understand how to move forward for the next week, and stopped ourselves from naively looking to forecast the next quarter or year. Conversations across social media were important to categorize our customer’s emerging needs.

We saw solution companies launching travel restriction APIs, sharing a streamlined process to communicate required travel documentation and to help visualize up-to-date travel requirements in the form of dedicated landing pages — useful not only for the pandemic but for various future instances like visa processes.

While yes, a variation of these communication channels always existed, they were never this efficient, reliable, and—most importantly—up-to-date and legitimate as they are now. Group travel was, and continues to be, obliterated to some extent. It was an area that we had devised major marketing campaigns around. Our marketing team had to change gear. We pushed those campaigns on the foreseeable backlog, hoping to get back to them at one point or another. Instead, we launched our “Plan Now, Stay Later” campaign, encouraging these travelers to look to the future instead of the immediate.

As travel habits shifted, there was an increased need for search options curated for newfound pain points in booking travel accommodation, such as hygiene. We quickly launched hot features that include hygiene and cancellation-focused filters to assist in alleviating any customer concerns about travel safety.


Our shift from being data-centric to data-driven

It quickly became evident that despite data’s growing importance, its barriers are monumental. All of the initial hurdles that we overcame in 2020 were just the tip of the iceberg: we were only just starting to grasp how travel had really changed (and we still are).

Data-centric is an adjective referring to a model where data is the primary asset that the business runs on. Data-driven, on the other hand, refers to data as a mighty source of insight but does not establish it as its primary founding pillar.

We had prided ourselves on being a data-centric company, but over time, we realized when dealing with volatile human behavior—over-reliance on anything is risky and perhaps even naive. Our models need agility at their core, and a large part of that means omitting dependence on anything. But the characteristic of being data-driven? We’ll never give that up.


Ritesh Raj is the co-founder and COO of CuddlyNest, the fastest-growing accommodation booking platform that offers millions of stays across 200+ countries of all types, in all styles, for all budgets — for every kind of traveler. Connect with Ritesh on LinkedIn.


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