Recently, a client of ours told me that the travel industry is for “lazy marketers”. In other words, travel is a fun product that sells itself.
Sure, if you compare selling once-in-a-lifetime experiences to selling washing up liquid then yes, it’s probably a tad more exciting…depending on who you are.
But that’s not to say travel marketing doesn’t come with its own set of challenges. It’s a fast-evolving industry with increasing competition, fluctuating trends and a particular vulnerability for disruption in many shapes and sizes, from political instability to start-ups using brand new technologies. And that means there is plenty of room for growth and rewards for innovation.
Here are three key challenges affecting the travel industry as we know it:
Tackling the omni-channel experience
Google recently coined the term “micro-moments” to describe the various touch points and ways we consume content online. For any marketer, it is becoming an increasing effort to effectively handle the growing number of channels and ways that a consumer can interact with a brand. The rise of mobile devices has fractured the traditional consumer journey, leaving a somewhat disseminated path to purchase and an abundance of ways to get there. In order to be successful, we need to understand how to reach the consumer across the many touch points as they continue along their decision-making process.
For travel marketers, this omni-channel challenge is even more of a reality. Mobile adaptation in travel has been particularly high compared with other industries, with nearly a third of ecommerce transactions now on mobile. Adding to this, a wealth of new technologies has erupted, including automated bots, voice search and virtual reality. Despite the fact these technologies have the potential to help businesses remove pain points from travel, many brands have been slow in adoption. Our client Contiki is an exception, using three-hour virtual trips to allow potential travellers to participate in five different experiences around the world.
So what’s the solution? Google’s advice is a good start: be there and be useful. Take account of all the “moments” most important to your consumer, understand their needs in that moment and use context to deliver the right experience.
Another great way to tackle the omni-channel dissemination is personalisation.
Personalisation is a big topic in travel right now, and in two ways. Firstly, there is a higher demand for personalised experiences; tailor-made travel is no longer exclusive to the luxury end of the market and has become a lot more accessible. Travellers want something exclusive that they can boast about at dinner parties with their friends, and the rapid growth of disruptors such as Airbnb offering authentic, personal experiences is forcing travel operators to look beyond their traditional offerings.
The second meaning is of course personalisation in marketing - particularly online, where consumers now expect a seamless booking experience based on their own individual needs. There’s still not a large amount of travel businesses doing personalisation well but those that do should see a significant uplift in conversion rate, as we’ve seen with our own clients.
Our advice is to start small, identify one or two audiences to personalise for and keep it simple.
The rise of the OTAs
Lastly, it would be difficult to write about challenges in travel marketing and ignore the shift from the traditional bricks and mortar travel agencies to the online beasts like Booking.com, Expedia and Kayak. For travel brands, this may result in less investment in on-the-ground sales teams and more time spent ensuring product information is easily accessible via online feeds.
I’ve worked with many businesses who have found themselves considering the balance between working with the OTA and encouraging more direct, commission-free bookings. The difficulty is that they don’t often have the OTAs’ big budgets to improve their website’s user experience, tackle conversion rate optimisation or create fancy mobile apps. And strict rate parity contracts prevent them from offering their products for cheaper on their own websites.
The majority of travel operators and accommodation businesses also cannot compete in search results against the likes of Priceline (one of Google’s biggest advertisers and owners of Booking.com, Kayak and Agoda) and Expedia. That’s not to mention Google itself, which is becoming increasingly like an OTA as time goes on.
Therefore, the best chance many businesses have to encourage direct bookings is to focus on repeat customers, use social channels and employ direct marketing techniques such as email. Clever remarketing campaigns are another good way to encourage users away from the OTAs and back onto a brand’s own website.
As a final thought, I’ve written about the "challenges” in travel marketing but really the above should be considered as “opportunities”. The theory posed by my client, whether we are lazy marketers, comes down to ultimately how we grasp these opportunities. The travel industry is often regarded as one of the most innovative, and we see this every day working with our own clients.
So let’s not be lazy. After all, we have a reputation to maintain.
Ellen Pickett is digital account manager at Sagittarius.