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Digital travel marketing 2024: Top 3 tips on understanding and reaching your audience

Sojern

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February 7, 2024 | 5 min read

Here, Kurt Weinsheimer (chief solutions officer at Sojern) helps travel marketers navigate 2024’s digital landscape.

2023 was full of optimism and obstacles. As we emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic, we faced new challenges like inflation and global conflict. Not only that, generative artificial intelligence (AI) marked a massive technology shift that will change how we access and process information. 

As marketers, our job is to understand our traveler audiences and identify the best places to reach them. This year, we’ll need to rethink our strategies — and our tech stacks —to keep up with what customers want. In the travel industry, I’m constantly learning what inspires travelers to book, and the trends I’m seeing span across industries.

Here’s a glimpse at how we can navigate the 2024 digital landscape.

1. Personalization gets personal – and permissioned

In an often impersonal world, it’s no wonder consumers want to feel like we’re talking directly to them, and 71% of consumers expect personalization. In August of 2024, Google cookies will go away, leaving marketers without one of our key tools to understand how users are reacting to our ads, making it harder to know whether our personalization efforts are hitting the mark. However, AI can actually close the gap by predicting if users see an ad or convert, allowing us to make meaningful connections even in the absence of cookie data. With AI, we can learn about what consumers want and their interests, and use that data for audience building and attribution.

But here’s where it gets fun: we can use those observations to infer what they really want. For example, in the travel industry I might see someone looking at an amusement park or other attraction in Las Vegas, but I can tell that they’re really looking for an escape. So I can tailor that messaging to what they actually want and showcase unique getaways to places like Dubai.

While consumers want personalization, they also want privacy. Cookies are going away and we’re moving into a permission-based world where consumers can opt in or out at all times. That means we’ll have access to less broad consumer data, but the opt-in data will be much more valuable. Every marketing partner will want to ensure any data passed to them is done so with consumer permission, putting consent front and center while bringing new levels of accountability to digital marketing. The silver lining is that opt-in data—hashed email, hashed phone numbers, first party IDs—are often more accurate and persistent, meaning your customer data is more actionable for better personalization.

2. Sustainability is no longer a trend: it’s a must to go deeper

As a board member for 1% for the Planet, a network of over 6500 companies funding climate change work, I know that sustainability is important to consumers, employees, and governments. With 2023 the worst on record for billion-dollar climate disasters in the US (NOAA), and the summer of 2023 the hottest on record, sustainability is not just a trend — it's a must.

A recent study highlights European destinations’ commitment to sustainability: 62% are prioritizing climate change and 56% are prioritizing biodiversity. With greater consumer demand and government regulations, companies will need to go deeper in 2024. Consumers would rather do business with a socially and environmentally-focused company, which means sustainability must be a part of our greater ESG strategies.

In the travel industry, “slow travel” is gaining steam, to the tune of a 10% CAGR. Slow travel emphasizes connecting to local people and culture while preserving local communities and the environment. By promoting slow travel, destinations have a great opportunity to create those connections while attracting travelers with shared values.

Beyond focusing on consumer shopping habits, we must also tackle sustainability at an industry level. Recently, the CMO of a major skincare brand highlighted that the company’s carbon footprint from advertising is larger than its carbon footprint from packaging. This is a huge problem in marketing and, personally, I’m looking to partner with other companies that want to figure out how to solve it.

3. Experiences matter more than mass consumption

Unlike prior generations, Millennials and Gen Z are more focused on experiences than things. Why? They’re facing high debt and interest rates, putting things like home ownership out of reach. In the meantime, they’re spending 80% on services and 20% on goods, flipping traditional consumption patterns. In travel, the experiences market is valued at $320bn, and overall, travel, wellness, and experiences are up while all other consumer spending is down. As marketers, we can capture the experience piece of the pie, but there’s a catch: we have to draw consumers in by creating authentic, creative experiences.

With a shift in focus and new tools at our fingertips, 2024 promises to be an exciting year in digital marketing and I can’t wait to see how we reach new audiences, build better sustainability strategies, and deliver the experiences consumers crave.

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