My heart often sinks when I get out my iPad to research my next holiday. Yes, it’s exciting and fun to decide where to go and what to do, but the endless comparisons and debate with my husband, and the worry that we might be paying over the odds is, frankly, wearing.
Finding the perfect holiday for your budget and aspirations is a lot of work and stress - on average 30 hours spread over five weeks. Add in the holiday itself and this is a significant investment of time and emotion in our own wellbeing and education - it matters. So, why do people put themselves through the ordeal of independent booking? Basically, they see value in it. Not just in terms of price, but through increased control.
Our research shows that brands can use the three levers of control, choice and community to create value for consumers: control is feeling empowered to tailor and sidestep restrictions; choice is about cutting through the vast array of options; and community is about social currency and learning from the experience of others.
Control is particularly important in the travel sector: the control of building something individual, on our terms, in our own way, at the right price. But the choice can be overwhelming. And this is where thinking like a fashion brand can help.
The power of the edit
Our research shows that, as with fashion, consumers expect to have a creative relationship with travel brands (ie to be shown something new) but the often prosaic experience of online research and booking belies this aspiration. To reduce choice and aid control, travel brands can curate an ‘edit’ of holiday options, in the same way that fashion magazines and retailers do for their customers. A carefully curated edit can draw a consumer in and elicit further exploration. Think about Vogue’s one page edits that demonstrate trends like athleisure, military styling or spring florals. Zara.com does it with progressive styling of product shots, partnering each item with others that can be searched separately but look perfectly paired and of-the-moment. The edit is an introduction and a gateway to infinitely deep choice once you start to explore – and it starts, not by showing us a tired list of products and price points, but by engaging our creative expectations and opening up possibilities.
Award-winning travel website i-escape.com curates your options and enables control with simple filters you can add to your search: Beach, Great Outdoors, Foodie, Honeymoon, Cheap & Chic. It gives the consumer another dimension to compare and as it’s interest based it can override more rational decision criteria (we might 'know' that the big three star hotel is better value but if we fall in love with the cute boutique hotel chances are that we'll choose the latter and post-rationalise our decision).
In fact, travel brands are very similar to fashion brands: they both have to mediate the huge choice available; they both have to keep up with the trends and they both benefit from offering bespoke solutions in their product range.
Gearing up for social influence
Community plays a key role in travel, helping us cut through the vastness by learning from the experience of others. Visualising yourself in a place or taking part in a particular activity is part of the planning. Looking at the social media feeds of your friends and family helps you prioritise what you want from your trip. This is particularly true of younger demographics. When researching a trip, the first place they look on a web page is the image gallery. User generated content is an under-exploited asset in this space: traveller photos are viewed more often than professional images on Trip Advisor.
Travel brands that actively give customers opportunities to imagine and curate their trips will gain preference from this go-it-alone crowd. Arranging your content to facilitate learning and new experiences, particularly around popular themes like wellbeing, culture, nature and living the high life will push your brand to the top of their shortlist.
Deepening the relationship
With the new data protection regulations approaching, travel brands will have to offer something of value in return for capturing personal data. Commercial travel guides have fallen out of favour as travellers search for authenticity from people who’ve been there and done that first-hand. Cultivate in-house expertise and be responsive to requests for information. Offer insider guides like Airbnb Guidebooks. If you give something to consumers they are more likely to reciprocate with their personal information, or even a booking. In our research, we found that people were more willing to share their personal information if they could see what they would get out of it. Consumers were 91% more likely to share their budget and preferences with a travel brand - if they were told it would be used to give them a personalised travel itinerary.
The data value exchange can form the basis of a deeper relationship and drive repeat business. Develop your data value exchange and act on it. Remember the basics like preferred airport. Send newsletters with quizzes, polls and in-email feedback buttons that will help you collect the preferences of travellers so you can offer perfectly curated collections based on their desires.
In summary, getting to know your customers better by offering a relevant data value exchange, and demonstrating value in new ways will draw them in and lure them away from those 30 hours of online research. So take a leaf from the fashion pages. Think of your customers as clothes-horses seeking inspiration and you as their personal shopper, putting together a bespoke trip. Helping them wear your experiences well will only reflect better on you.