From messaging to in-flight targeting, how should travel marketers reach holidaymakers?

Travelers seek inspiration from family, friends and previous experiences have a deep impact on their decision to book.

It is the time of the year again, where holidaymakers are ready to jet set around the world, tapping a variety of resources at their fingertips to help them discover destinations, evaluate travel options and book their trip.

One region that will see the greatest number of holidaymakers is Asia Pacific, which overtook North America to become the leading digital travel market in the world in 2017. According to eMarketer, digital travel sales in Asia Pacific grew more than 21% in that year to reach $215.92 billion.

Navigating the path to purchase

With APAC-based holidaymakers seeking out international destinations more than any other region, travel marketers looking to tap into this opportunity should remember that when holidaymakers navigate the path to purchase, one constant factor is the importance of social influence, Nikhilesh Ponde, the global travel strategy, and planning lead at Facebook tells The Drum.

That is because whether holidaymakers seek inspiration or reassurance, family, friends and previous experiences have a deep impact on their decision to book. They also turn to social platforms to share their own travel experiences with friends and family.

He cites a joint Facebook-Accenture survey which found in Australia, 58% out of 1,001 surveyed discover flights online while 51% said they evaluate flights online. 48% of flight shoppers who use Facebook Messenger, used it to chat with friends about trips they have been on.

This means messaging can play a much deeper role as it draws people and businesses together into an ongoing conversation, notes Ponde, as holidaymakers desire post-purchase engagement from brands with live updates and discounts being the most desired updates. Some brands like Singapore Airlines and travel planning websites like MakeMyTrip.com are already using WhatsApp to send notifications and offer customer support.

“Consumers today visit numerous travel-related touch points over a few weeks when making a travel purchase. It’s much easier to make travel decisions when you have a personal and direct conversation. This is something that messaging can enable,” he explains.

“We recently conducted a global survey and found that people in emerging markets are twice as likely as those in mature markets to message a business at least once a month. People increasingly expect businesses to be available via messaging apps. This is a dynamic that travel businesses in the Asia Pacific are poised to leverage, given these are mobile-first markets.”

Sandhya Devanathan, the country director for Singapore at Facebook, adds that travel marketers should also note that when holidaymakers see other people's experiences with travel brands at vacation spots on Instagram and Facebook, it ultimately plays into their decision to book their trips.

With APAC increasingly becoming a mobile-first region, she points out that mobile apps will continue to provide all things travel, which means travel marketers should be ready to inspire mobile-first generations on social media not just millennials, but also Gen Xers.

“Businesses that make it easy for travelers to share their experiences and recommendations online can inspire new potential customers,” she explains to The Drum. “They should also aim to make the shopping journey as seamless as possible by engaging with them on platforms and channels that are most relevant to their day-to-day lives.”

“Travel businesses should identify any friction points along the travel purchase journey such as slow loading websites or experiences that are not built for mobile-first/mobile-only environments. They can also strengthen relationships with their customers by providing personalized support and relevant messages through discovery, purchase and post-purchase stages of the traveler’s journey.”

Personalized messaging

Video and banner ads play a key role when millennial holidaymakers are looking to receive guidance on flight options from travel providers. According to Ponde, the desire to receive more personalized messaging was particularly prominent among millennial holidaymakers in emerging markets, such as India and Indonesia.

To help travel providers like airlines reach these audiences, Facebook introduced an updated Flight Ads for Prospecting in October, which allows airlines to use video and banner ads to reach more people on the platform who have expressed plans to travel, from new customers who are still deciding on a final destination to those who know where they want to go and are zeroing in a specific flight.

“Air France used Flight Ads to acquire new US customers, driving targeted search volume to its site, while lowering cost per search by 66%,” says Meghan Joseph, the client partner at Facebook. “Virgin Australia was one of the first airlines globally to test the new Flight Ads for Prospecting product to reach customers who have not visited their site or app but have shown travel intent.

“By leveraging these signals, Virgin Australia was able to deliver highly targeted flight offers to people in the market for booking flights. The airline was able to reach 500,000 people across Facebook and Instagram, achieving a 75% reduction in cost per website purchase and 55% decrease in cost per flight search.

In order for travel marketers to maximize the effectiveness of their personalized messaging, they also need to be aware of insights into regional travel trends, says Russell Young, the managing director for APAC at Sojern.

With research by Skyscanner showing Japan as the top destination for APAC holidaymakers, followed by South Korea and Vietnam, Young notes that holidaymakers traveling from Japan to Singapore tend to plan their trips far in advance while a trip from Hong Kong to Singapore could be booked just days before.

"It is important to understand the optimal booking windows, by the point of origin, to the same destination to maximize the effectiveness of your digital marketing campaign," he tells The Drum. "Understanding these trends will help brands design targeted campaigns at the right time on travel review sites and in native, video and contextual ads."

After holidaymakers have booked their air tickets, the journey does not end for travel marketers as they can continue to target holidaymakers in-flight on airlines because full in-flight connectivity (IFC) is becoming more present in airlines. French aerospace company Thales has its proprietary InFlyt360 digital platform, which incorporates the latest in Big Data technologies, such as machine learning and matching algorithms, to help airlines continuously optimize the passenger experience.

Jerry Thomas, the director of marketing at Thales InFlyt Experience tells The Drum that through InFlyt360’s passenger-based targeted advertising, Thales can fundamentally change the way that airlines capture revenues today because key targeting features offered from firms such as Facebook and Google have not been available to airlines in the past, drastically reducing the number of brands interested in advertising on commercial aircraft.

“Digitalisation is the future of airline travel, and airlines can partner with brands to deliver targeted and personalized content by harnessing a large amount of passenger data already available,” he says. “Our industry-first, fully digital advertising solution is uniquely designed for the in-flight market and can unlock and capture new opportunities that were not possible prior to InFlyt360, increasing the number and variety of partner brands.”

Airlines can also make use of Qualtrics iQ Directory to work with travel marketers to identify, upsell or cross-selling opportunities by using their in-flight entertainment system or IFC and digital apps to gather customer preferences and build up a profile of their high-value customers over time.

Foo Mao Gen, the head of South East Asia at Qualtrics explains to The Drum that by leveraging experience data in their experience management systems and seamlessly combine it with operational data like customer relationship management, passenger information, and flight information, airlines can start to analyze insightful patterns of behavior and customer preferences. This will enable airlines to identify travel marketers they can work with and develop more personalized messages to passengers based on their preferences.

"Qualtrics has also worked with Gogo, an IFC solutions provider, to create a better customer experience and offer airlines real-time customer feedback from passengers using in-flight Wi-Fi," he adds. "Passengers flying with airlines using Gogo who contacted customer care during their flight or agreed to receive marketing materials from Gogo are able to participate in customer experience surveys."

"Qualtrics’ ability to obtain real-time customer insights has enabled Gogo and its airline partners to make data-driven decisions and enhance service delivery capabilities."

Making passengers ‘flying to New York fantasize about that first dinner in New York’

Alexander Schlaubitz, the vice president of marketing at Lufthansa is excited about helping brands targeting in-flight audiences because airlines are privileged to host people for a long period of time. This means they can get more attention from in-flight audiences as they are less distracted than they are in some of the other environments.

He adds that the German airline is starting to deploy more content that is also brand-relevant into its platforms.

“We need to figure out ways in which we could really make that service for people so that it's not hard for necessarily them to navigate this,” Schlaubitz tells The Drum. “I think there is a lot that we could do in the sense of, one of the big things that we want to do from a marketing perspective is to create what I call positive value exchanges for our consumers, which is to make every touchpoint meaningful and enriching for them.”

“I think we have just started to scratch the surface on what is possible and how we can enrich people's lives there.”

While he says Lufthansa is keen to build its own passenger-based targeted advertising platform and start making passengers ‘flying to New York fantasize about that first dinner in New York’ while on the plane there, he notes that there are some technical uploading issues and logistical things that need to be solved, without elaborating.

“We are going to get better and better at targeting in-flight audiences with relevant messaging through personalization and real-time data,” says Schlaubitz. “We do have a very, very extensive travel platform on our website already. We should be able to start transporting that into the contextual environments like the destinations to which we are flying.”

“We want passengers to take a deep breath and visualize what that whole experience is going to be like. Some of that, we can do before the flight. The hour and a half or so that they are at the airport before the flight and we are doing that, but I think in-flight is going to present even more opportunities. There is still a couple of technical things that we need to overcome but we want to push it in exactly that direction.”

Whether holidaymakers are thinking of heading to Singapore, New York or London, travel marketers have an abundance of tools and strategies to reach them before they experience chicken rice, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge or glaze at the magnificent Big Ben.

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