3 lessons Asian travel marketers can learn from retailers

It’s 2019, and the mobile-first Asian Pacific traveller is fast becoming a reality. Singapore, in particular, has seen over 40% growth year-on-year in mobile travel bookings. Coupled with the fact that the region’s households now make up one in three global travelling households, one thing’s apparent – Asia Pacific is a booming market travel marketers simply cannot afford to neglect.

For these highly connected individuals, technology permeates every aspect of their lives, with apps quickly becoming indispensable. In fact, APAC’s mobile users will soon account for an astounding half of global app installs. Meanwhile, travellers are turning to a plethora of travel apps to arrange the perfect holiday from start to end; Klook to arrange activities, Trivago to reserve and compare hotel prices, and Skyscanner to compare and book flights. And this ubiquity is only expected to surge, driven by developments like the recent Chope-MeiTuan Dianping partnership, the first of its kind to make in-app restaurant reservation services available to Chinese tourists in this region.

Shopping for travel – consumer behaviour has evolved

With technology powering the evolution of travel consumers’ behaviors, as well as the emergence of countless means of shopping for travel – and the consequent rise in opportunities for them to make impulsive purchases – Asian travellers are starting to look a lot like retail shoppers. The problem? Travel marketers are nowhere as digitally advanced as their travellers.

A report by Skift in 2018 revealed that more than half of travel companies have yet to integrate digital advertising teams, and in Asia, we’re starting to acknowledge this discrepancy. This has led to the emergence of digital transformation acceleration programmes, designed to bring travel companies onto the digital transformation track. But that’s not the only way we can seek to change things. Here are a few key lessons travel marketers could learn from retailers on how to build a relationship with the digitally-empowered travellers of this generation:

Leave your digital comfort zone – don't be afraid to dive deeper

The digital world has blessed marketers with unparalleled insights into the digital journeys of their customers, and retailers are more than aware of this. They’re cognizant of the digital touchpoints in their customer journeys, and know that data is key to, well, everything. Deloitte’s Meaningful Brands Report 2018 has identified the emergence of a “digitally influenced shopper”, whose path to purchase is heavily influenced by digital touchpoints.

On the other hand, travel marketers are only skimming the surface of trying to understand the “digitally influenced” traveller. They tend to look inward, restricting their insights to how customers behave on their own website, applications and search terms, but this is barely enough. In this hyper-connected age, travel marketers need to rethink their approach to customer analysis and the customer journey. After all, with more than 40% of travellers under 33 prioritising ‘Instagrammability’ when choosing their next holiday spot, there’s no denying the growing influence of such platforms in the digital traveller’s path to purchase.

Travellers are consumers too – give them the personalisation they expect

Globally, personalisation is becoming a major focus of investment for most companies and APAC is leading the way in adopting advanced tools to personalise the customer experience. Indeed, retailers in APAC have mastered the art of personalisation, and are changing the game in some truly revolutionary ways. Chinese Tech Titan Alibaba, for example, recently piloted AI-powered fashion technology, through a “FashionAI” concept store that includes upcoming features like omnichannel integration, through a virtual wardrobe available via the Taobao app. Here, customers can view clothes tried on in-store together with personalised recommendations from other merchants on Alibaba’s shopping sites for other matching items, allowing them to continue shopping for styles they started creating in the FashionAI store on mobile.

And how do travel marketers fare? Not so well, unfortunately. While it’s great to see that personalisation is happening in the booking process, more can be done throughout the entire customer experience – a lot more. Globally, only 36% of travel executives rated their company’s personalisation efforts as a four or five out of five.

Of course, there are certain notable exceptions among Asian travel brands. Malaysia Airlines, for instance, collects data about their travellers from multiple sources, building a 360-degree, real-time picture of each traveller, integrating it with advanced personalisation logic, to deliver on the expectations of their travellers – both explicit and implicit. Meanwhile, Chan Brothers Travel and Air New Zealand are enjoying commendable success with their chatbot systems.

Master the basics

When all is said and done, not having the most sophisticated AI software or a specialised team of data analytic experts is not fatal. There are other simpler, cost-effective ways to leverage data in building relationships with customers. The first is quintessential: truly understand customers’ expectations, and avoid speculations and presumptions. This is especially important for loyal travellers, who expect nothing less than to be recognised at each touchpoint and interaction. This urgency increases in Asia – change how you think now, or stand to lose the opportunity to capture the hearts of our region’s millennials, who are among the most loyal of today’s consumers.

To glean this understanding, travel brands can audit their top customers’ experiences – and then actually act upon this information. For instance, if the top customers feel the e-mail newsletters are too general and broad, brands should avoid targeting them with this generic messaging, and focus instead on delivering a deeper, more personalised interaction in-app. After all, when nearly 70% of Australian millennials espouse the value of mobile app access to their loyalty programmes, why risk annoying them by bombarding them with top-funnel messaging.

In addition, travel brands who don’t have access to comprehensive cross-channel and cross-device data need not fret; they can still leverage the most recent behavior data and tweak messaging accordingly. There is no excuse, really, especially when we already know just how willing Asian Pacific millennials are to share personal information in exchange for customised and personalised rewards and benefits.

Clearly, as the behaviour of travellers evolves, travel marketers must keep up and adapt quickly. While neither Lazada nor Shopee offer deals on hotels or flights, consumers have come to expect this sort of experience and level of personalisation in each of their online interactions. And that doesn’t mean that travel marketers need to pit themselves against retailers; it isn’t an ‘us’ against ‘them’ situation. In fact, travel brands can take a leaf out of the books of the Philippine Tourism Promotions Board, which teamed up with international retail brands like Hugo Boss and Billabong, and explore partnerships. One thing remains clear, however – travel marketers can stand to learn a thing or two from retailers, or watch travelers do what they do best: shop around for other brands that can offer them the personalisation they demand but aren’t getting from you.

Carolyn Corda is CMO at Adara.

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