Senior Director - Brand Marketing, Travelport
This is part three of a three-part blog series on ‘Digital Advertising and Marketing for Travel Brands’.
I said we would run a three-part blog series on digital advertising, but I lied. It’s really a white lie though so please forgive me. Not all travel brands have a marketing budget left for the year so I thought it was best to also offer advice on what you can do for free. So, in this third part of the series, we will talk about improving your ‘owned channels’. Owned channels are those that your company controls and owns, like your website, your blog, your social media channels. Unlike paid channels, they don’t need to cost any money to improve.
So to start with, we wanted to do a bit of research on your behalf. Travelport recently ran a consumer survey to identify what would encourage people to travel again.
One of the key findings was that to boost consumer confidence, agents need to be both flexible and transparent in their communications. With 64% of consumers saying flexible or refundable air tickets are very important. 33% are more likely to consider booking through an agent now, and 65% of those will do so because they value the enhanced safety information that agents can provide.
More than ever, travelers want agents to provide information and reassurance — creating a picture of what their trip will look like. Let’s take a look at how you can do that using three major owned channels — your website, your emails, and your organic (or non-paid) social media.
The obvious first stop is your travel brand’s website homepage. This will often be the first place a potential customer lands, and so is your opportunity to clearly signpost why they should book with you. Our research highlighted that what’s most important to bookers right now — at this point of the buying process — is feeling reassured that flexibility change/cancellation policies are in place. Here are a few examples of who is doing a good job in this space right now.
First up is an OTA, Kiwi.com. I love what they’re doing to reassure their customers — notice how the message reassuring their customers really stands out on the homepage. It includes an overview of their flexible booking options, refund and cancellation policies, and has a link to further information on travel during COVID-19.
Boutique, offline agents like Oroko Travel are also doing this on their website. Their first call to action below the ‘Search for a trip’ function links to their specific COVID-19 web page, with the title ‘Book with confidence’.
They’ve used clear and simple language around their changes and refund policies and even have an integrated live chat function. All of this gives potential bookers peace of mind and positions their brand as a flexible one.
Next stop: the booking page. Agents (and perhaps OTAs in particular) can also personalize that message for the end-traveler. Remember from our research— travelers are now more likely to use an agent to book their trips. So, here’s a great opportunity to position your site as a trusted tool that can be used to find destination information and compare airlines across a range of new important criteria, including change fees.
Look at what Expedia has done here. They’ve personalized a warning message for travelers booking trips to New York. Next, they’ve now started to promote airlines that offer no change fees. And they have a simple UX flow that makes it easy for end-travelers to see which airlines have no change fees.
And finally, the most topical and perhaps most influential consideration for travelers: safety measures. We know from our research that two-thirds of end-travelers are opting to book through travel agencies because they are best placed to advise on safety features. Well, at Travelport, we’ve simplified this process, by giving agents the ability to view and compare the safety features that each airline has implemented within our platform.
We’ve added these user-friendly icons on the right-hand side so the traveler or agent can quickly compare policies such as mandatory face masks, temperature checks, if the middle seat will be free for social distancing, or if there are more stringent cleaning programs in place. On the left-hand side, you can see how this could be displayed on an OTA site.
We developed this upgrade to our Branded Fares & Ancillaries data for our agency customers to support them throughout recovery. This is so important because, for many travelers, the decision to book is now more influenced by these safety measures than by factors like price.
A lot of travel websites are guilty of underutilizing a core feature of marketing automation which is on-site tracking to trigger events based on user behaviors.
You can send an email with inspiration content to a site revisitor.
A search on your booking site could trigger an automated email based on their recent search criteria.
You can trigger an automated email offering ancillaries and upsells. Or conversely, if the traveler didn’t complete the booking you could trigger a cart abandonment email to remind them of what they are missing out on.
When we were investigating which sites are utilizing the full power of email automation, we came across this great example of an email triggered by a website visit from Booking.com in the Inspiration stage.
By connecting their CRM data to their marketing automation platform and website tracking, Booking.com have been able to deliver a personalized email to the traveler after they visited Booking.com’s website… that does three things well:
1. The message at the top of the email provides reassurance
2. They send relevant trip promotions based on content the traveler had engaged with on their site.
3. And finally, they clearly promote their flexible cancellation policy.
Upon our research, we also found a cool example of a cart abandonment email from eBookers. This email was triggered by shopping but not completing a booking on their site. Ebookers then sent an email to nudge the traveler back to the final stage of the booking flow.
By connecting their CRM data to their marketing automation platform and website tracking, eBookers have been able to deliver a personalized email to the traveler after they abandoned their cart. The message includes the details of flights the traveler had in their shopping cart and encourages them to go on to book.
This type of email marketing helps agents to maximize the value of each customer that they spent time and money acquiring, to begin with.
That’s it for email. Let’s explore another free channel, social media…
If you’ve read our latest blogs, you’ll know all the data and trends surrounding the growth of domestic travel globally. Here are some examples of how to use social media to capitalize on this trend.
Expedia is using its UK Facebook channel to inspire travelers to take road trips or visit secret coastlines. Now, I don’t know how secret those coastlines will be after Expedia promotes them, but these are just short video montages of still images, with some text overlaid. Even if you’re not a super-confident content creator, you can do this easily and inexpensively by getting free stock images and making a similar video with your phone.
Booking.com is promoting the staycation, using their hashtag #ExploreNextDoor. This campaign asks travelers to submit their own funny takes on 2020 Expectations vs Reality. Simple, inexpensive, and engaging. You don’t have to start your own hashtag; you can also take advantage of existing ones.
Think about your use of photography too. It’s important that your image choices reflect the new normal and travelers’ desire to travel to less-crowded places.
Here’s Kiwi.com. They have used social media imagery to include shots of destinations with few people in them. Once you’ve started inspiring people — the more they see real people using your travel agency —the more likely it is that they’ll feel comfortable traveling too.
Booking.com has started doing this. This kind of message helps to create a sense of safety and to inspire confidence in travel. And using traveler-generated stories makes it even more authentic.
I think this is one area, where smaller agencies may have an advantage over the bigger ones. You may have closer relationships with local travelers, and perhaps you can offer real-life, relevant customer stories, versus the less personal ones offered by global agencies.
If that all seems fairly standard, you could also get a little creative with your posts. Expedia has been running a ‘Sounds of Travel’.
In the middle you can Expedia asked influencers, the AstroTwins, to see how if your star sign can help you choose the perfect trip.
And Booking.com has partnered with Land Rover Germany to offer a road trip with their newest Land Rover model— a great example of a co-branded campaign that is a great fit for Domestic travel. Creating a campaign with a car manufacturer might not be that easy for you, but what about teaming up with a local car rental business to create a price of a weekend getaway in a sports car to a fancy hotel?
And finally, don’t forget the basics. Why not pin your COVID-19 message to the top of your Facebook page as Booking.com have done. Or remind people through social media of all that work that you’ve now done to your homepage, just like Kiwi has done.
We’ve covered a lot in this miniseries, and hopefully have provided you with some clarity on why you should advertise, how to approach branding or recovery campaign activation, how to build audiences using the data available to you, and how to use Facebook and Google’s new tools, as well as your own channels.
Remember, whether you’ve still got a budget or it’s been slashed, it’s crucial to keep up your marketing efforts. It will provide some short-term impact on bookings right now, and set your brand up for long-term success when we come out of recovery.