Travel went digital first a long time ago – it’s a sector that looks set to bring in over $800 billion in revenue by 2020 according to the 2018 PhocusWire report. Today’s travellers are driven and inspired by online channels like TripAdvisor, OTAs, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and a whole host of other traveller touchpoints that help them to make a decision on where to go next and when. Booking.com is now the most popular travel website worldwide, with more than 450 million monthly visitors over the past year. TripAdvisor has 325 million monthly active users around the world, creating itineraries, browsing and writing reviews.
However, the 80% shopping cart abandonment rate within the travel sector poses a real challenge. That’s why developing a convincing and engaging digital experience for consumers is so crucial – it results in digital channel traction, higher occupancy rates and an increase in digital ROI. To do this well, we need to understand and optimise online conversion and attribution. The average conversion rate within the travel industry is less than 3% according to Fastbooking.
How to maximise conversion and attribution
It’s not getting any easier. According to McKinsey Research, booking an entire trip – including flights, car rental, etc.– represents 100 touchpoints, often using a smartphone in key moments of the research, planning and buying decision. The standard purchase journey for booking a room in a hotel is made up of at least 45 different digital touchpoints, across multiple devices, and takes the user an average 36 days to complete it.
Source: McKinsey Research
The travel industry needs a complete redesign. Growth strategies and traveller satisfaction enablers are vastly dependent on the level of digital strategy and innovation of a company. As we edge closer to 2020, an effective digital transformation, innovation and marketing strategy is a must – the travel industry needs to think differently and work to find more effective, data-driven solutions to common pain points within the industry.
How to build an effective travel marketing strategy
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation is currently promoting its Travel Tech Adventures initiative in every region from Bahrain to Argentina. This initiative aims to connect the startup ecosystem with venture capital firms and le romading travel companies in order to drive innovation and promote disruptive, consumer-centric business models such as Klook and Turismoi.
Increasing Customer Lifetime Value is a top priority for most CXOs. The travel industry is slowly coming to the realisation that travellers are worth so much more than their transactional value. Engaged customers help to build brand reputation, attract new customers and generate improved financial returns – based on loyalty attribution models. Business intelligence means understanding each step of the consumer journey and every pain point they encounter.
Most travel industry players are not yet capable of crafting a consumer experience which is predictive and personalised, by way of advanced metrics and digital traceability. Nowadays companies that have adopted martech technologies and dynamic business indicators are able to interpret, verify and optimise their digital strategies in real time. Business automation based on machine learning technologies is a ‘must’ within the travel industry – as is artificial intelligence capabilities powered by an advanced data lake with hundreds of datasets. It’s also possible to adopt a pre-built travel data platform solution in order to interpret and use advanced travel intelligence to your advantage.
Digital trends shaping the travel industry
Key players within the travel industry must also embrace the full breadth of the digital marketing roadmap. Their strategic, digital framework must drive ‘brand power’, meaningfulness, customer experience and financial traction. Only then will it be possible to overcome the stats that say only 37% of companies within the industry really understand their travellers’ needs and only 10% of companies have smart real-time strategic capabilities. According to the latest Amadeus research – 41% of business and 60% of leisure travel purchases are made online. It’s important to develop innovative solutions to this demand based on the latest digital travel trends:
- Over 40% of travel site visits come from mobile – ThinkwithGoogle
- 83% of travellers “usually or always” reference reviews to feel confident about making their booking decision – TripAdvisor
- 52% of Facebook users say their friends’ photos inspire their own travel plans – Facebook
- 97% of millennials say they share pictures while travelling, especially on Facebook and Instagram – Facebook
- Google data found that hotels and flights are typically booked in advance of 12 weeks – within the 3 months prior to the trip date, the search increases further for experiences – Google
When developing a strategic digital marketing framework, best practice is to base that framework on the digital Lifetime Value pipeline. Focusing too much on digital advertising is an ineffective way of increasing ROI and improving the customer experience – plus it can quickly become very expensive.
The key drivers behind an effective digital marketing strategy are:
- Engaging and fully optimised digital assets supported by a mobile first approach – this is the most effective way of driving results 24/7.
- Smart social media activity enables brands to reach out and engage directly with travellers.
- SEO is a top priority – it enables a better understanding of the long tail concept.
- Email marketing – but only when it’s relevant and personalised to the consumer. Your email marketing strategy must be well planned and connected to your inbound strategy.
- Engaging and relevant content rolled out across all online platforms – travel companies must engage with their key audiences and move beyond just ‘selling’. The power of experience, reviews and visual proof of a ‘good time’ can be extremely persuasive.
- Mobile-friendly content – over 60% of travel traffic is driven through mobile. The latest research reveals that half of online bookings are made via mobile and mobile only conversions are on the rise according to travel clickstream research.
- The positive impact of customer experience chatbots has been proven time and time again, both in terms of customer satisfaction and in terms of cost saving opportunities. Over 40% of digitally advanced players will adopt this technology by 2020 according to Forbes.
In the past twelve months which of these internet technologies or services have you used to help plan your leisure travel?
The power of paid media and social
Key players within the travel industry must also maximise engagement and ROI through paid media campaigns. Social media is the most effective way of targeting specific audiences and building relevant P2P communities.
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube offer innovative travel paid formats with thousands of audience options. An understanding of the kind of results your content generates organically is crucial before embarking on a paid media campaign – in order to prioritise digital and business objectives.
At its core, social media is customer centric – so always start with your key audiences and develop your understanding of their consumer journey. Typically, this journey will be made up of at least five stages: inspiration, planning, booking, stay, post-stay, loyalty. On a daily basis, you should be measuring and optimising the CPX of your campaigns. Over 80% of your future customers are already interacting with travel brands through social media according to Good Rebels’ research. Social media is your most effective tool for generating brand credibility and identifying credible brand advocates.
The travel industry must put social at the heart of their brand, consumer and business strategy. Brands need to focus their energy on developing a Smart Social strategy, made up of the following components:
- Business objectives and vision
- Social strategy
These components must align with each stage of the consumer journey – in order to enable a more personalised and effective approach to consumer engagement. Your social strategy must be based on consumer behaviours and interaction analysis. It must be data-driven. Understanding every social interaction and data set is critical.
Building relationships through digital
Digital tools and technologies provide us with deeper insights into audience activity. Brands within the travel sector can build connections and strengthen relationships with their consumers through social care strategies, co-creation initiatives and social CRM. A strong and multifaceted digital strategy is fundamental if you want to encourage brand advocacy and drive your audience from one stage of the consumer journey to the next.
Word of mouth continues to be one of the most effective ways of marketing products and services within the travel industry. The consumer journey usually ends with advocacy, and key players within the industry are challenged with converting loyal customers into brand ambassadors. Rewards programmes, member get member initiatives, employee advocacy and influencer marketing – all these things help to humanise brands and increase brand advocacy.
It’s also important that players within the travel industry work to improve fundamental issues with conversion. Unfortunately, most are investing too little attention on these conversion drivers (speed, UX, usability, design, personalisation…) which limits the ROI.
Finally – adopt a Kaizen mindset. Commit to a culture of continuous improvement within your organisation and also in terms of branding, customer experience and sales results on a month by month basis. Leaders within the travel sector must be agile and human-centered in every decision they make about their digital strategy. The key to an effective digital strategy is working smarter, not harder.