Gone are the days when you went to your local travel agent for all your bookings, visited your destination and returned with no one interested in knowing the quality of the services you had experienced or the exciting places you had discovered. The travel industry has grown tremendously with the advent and rise of digital media. Travelers have taken on many avatars – planners, marketers, bloggers all of which now calls for a customized approach to travel marketing – which aligns with the idea of Customer Lifecycle Marketing.
What are the various categories of Travel Service Providers?
There is the OTA and then there is the OTA and there is the hybrid kind.
The Online Travel Agent – This includes new-age online portals that offer an assortment of travel products for flight, rail, road and related services such as hotels, insurance, onsite tourist activities. The entire transaction from query to booking is executed online (perhaps aided by a phone executive as well). It is a virtual experience all the way. Eg: MakeMyTrip, GoIbibo, Yatra, Expedia
The Offline Travel Agent – This is the more traditional, brick and mortar modeled service that can be found locally in your city. Their main specialty includes holiday packages which require considerable planning and also bring in high value business. Given the sums of money involved customers prefer face-to-face interaction which guarantees a certain level of assurance and also continued support during their travel and stay in case of contingencies. Eg: SOTC, Cox & Kings, Thomas Cook.
Hybrid – A hybrid model taps into both the online and offline space. It is what is referred to as a clicks-and-bricks entity. The idea is to leverage the core business with the aid of the other. So it could involve using an online platform to bring in customers to the offline networks or the online portal could be adequately represented in the brick and mortar space in case customers feel the need to reach out for human interaction, pre-transaction advice or settlement purposes. Thus for low-value packages such as domestic holidays, customers may book it online and for high-value packages, agencies may interact with customers online and then transfer them to the physical branch for foreign exchange, visa and transaction settlement related queries. Eg: MakeMyTrip, Thomas Cook. Both these brands are diversifying into the offline and online space respectively.
Explain the customer experience or psyche with regards to travel related products and services.
The customer experience from initial thought to final experience sharing has been summed up in one word – the Travel Cycle. The Travel Cycle has been broken down into the following phases –
Dreaming / Inspiration Phase – This is where it all begins with the customer thinking about the travel and being inspired with information available both offline (books, movies, magazines) and online (websites, apps, social media networks, blogs).
Planning / Booking Phase – This phase involves getting down to the nitty-gritty of documents, tickets, accommodation and insurance. It requires the final transaction to be executed.
Experience / Travel Phase – This is when the actual travel takes place with the customer living the dream and experiencing the products and services that he bought in the previous phase.
Sharing / Review Phase – This phase witnesses the customer / traveler sharing his views on the quality of services availed, overall experience and discoveries. This could benefit the travel service provider with valuable feedback and other travelers considering a trip to the same destination with an insider’s view on what it is actually like.
A good understanding of the above ensures appropriate placement of services at the various phases of the cycle.
What are the most recommended digital marketing strategies for Travel Service Providers?
Digital Marketing in the travel space can be approached in four ways –
- Search Engine Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Content Marketing
SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING
Search is the backbone of digital marketing in travel. Achieving a high ranking on search engine results is one of the most crucial ways to survive in an ocean of travel service providers that have very competitive rates and personalized services to offer.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – This is the practice of modifying your website and executing link building strategies for better rankings. This technique has progressively gotten tougher with Google constantly fighting spammers. Poor link building tactics / techniques and bad quality travel blogs have been shown the door with the latest changes to search engine algorithms that are effective only if relevant data and content is fed to them. Generously sprinkled keywords and exact match anchor texts will no longer fetch you a high ranking but a penalty instead. Thus the idea is to use effective and relevant content to achieve the ranking your data deserves in order to attract a large number of visitors to your site. Maintaining a Google+ profile for your business and adding the relevant address details on Google Places also helps establish a dedicated presence for your company. Customers will be able to view more information and that may increase the possibility of them visiting your website.
Paid Ads – Text ads on Google search and display ads on the Google Display Network which includes ads in varied formats – text, image, interactive and video. These ads are strategically placed on websites related to travel where people interested in buying travel products would venture. With this technique you also have the option of making the most of the ad extensions that accompany this paid service. Ad extensions incorporate business information such as address, phone number, ratings, reviews and related page links which should be visible and easily accessible for a potential customer to look up.
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Marketing through Social Media is a no brainer in today’s digital revolutionary age. There are multiple ways in which social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube can be used effectively by travel service providers to make the right connect with customers and potential clients. People are ‘checking-in’ their location on Facebook, flooding Twitter with #hashtag followed by their travel experiences and pinning their memorable moments and discoveries onto Pinterest. These social activities are already underway. This creates an active space for companies to advertise their products and services free of cost to an audience that is finely tuned into the theme of travel and related experiences.
Some ways in which to leverage the social media space –
Stunning Visuals – Pictures speak louder than words especially if you are pitching a travel destination or related service to people. They need to be able to envision the possibility of enjoying a travel experience. This can be best aided through visuals and images.
Content host and generator – Integration of social with useful content is a lethal combination. Useful can be defined as a value-add (guides, organizers, planners, maps) as opposed to competition-driven and often times hugely inspired, not so original gimmicky images and content. Companies can also use social media platforms to organize competitions and interactive campaigns, the results of which could then form the basis of an infographic or a statistics-based content piece. Maintain a certain quality in the content that you send out which will encourage higher shareability on social platforms.
Travel Blogging – This is a specialized form of blogging and you need to choose your writers with care. The blogs need to tap into what will spike the reader’s interest and provide relevant and exclusive information on destinations and related services. Considering all of this information needs to be first-hand, a service such as this can prove to be quite expensive but can serve both your social and SEO needs if pulled off correctly.
This is a more personalized form of marketing wherein the customer receives information packed with specific actionable content. This is what drives email marketing and there is no dearth of exciting content related to travel. Stories in a written format, accompanied with stunning visuals or an impactful video make for strong content which is inspiring and enticing enough for the reader to explore further if his interest is spiked. The test lies in dispersion of this great content to the right database through the right channels.
Building an email marketing database – Building a good email marketing databasecan be achieved through the following ways –
Website – This is your domain and gives you free access to offer a tab with the option to subscribe and be a part of the distribution list.
Facebook – Creating a Facebook landing page with a ‘sign up’ tab will also reach out to audiences that may not be visiting your website.
Paid Search – Ad extensions (forming a part of Paid Ads) mentioned above could incorporate an email subscription form that will be available to audiences who may stumble upon your company on a display ad.
Feedback forms – This is a more formal way in which to procure essential customer details that may have otherwise been overlooked during the booking phase.
Campaigns & Contests – A great way to reach out to newer audiences and capture their contact information in exchange for goodies, awards, and contest participation benefits.
Pre-travel and post-travel emails – Pre-travel emails are customized and sent to each customer prior to the travel date. These include details of restaurants, spas, local tourist attractions, tours and day trips that the customer could pre-book and enjoy on arriving at their destination. Post-travel emails form a part of the sharing and review phase wherein you continue communication with the customer and request them to share their experience, preferably in the form of a review on sites like TripAdvisor. You could also use this email to send out information pertaining to Referral Marketing Programs that your company maybe running if the customer wishes to recommend and refer your services to friends and family.
This involves using a company’s internal assets and features to put forth their story online. Companies make the most of their inherent knowledge, the data at their disposal and their connections. But there is a requirement for carefully curated content which will naturally attract traffic through various channels. This form of marketing requires the integration of all channels – search, social, print, TV, email, 3rd-party media sites into one multi-channel strategy. Timely content that strikes a chord with its viewer / reader especially in the inspiration phase can easily convert a visitor into a customer. Thus an effective content marketing strategy does not pay much heed to links, likes, retweets, pins, shares, forwards but lands it all with the big idea that plays right into the hearts of the audience. Bullseye. However when marketing of this kind has little or no impact on the viewer / reader, it is considered to have failed. You need to revisit the marketing creative to explore what did not work. Content is your link to an audience that is on the brink of becoming a satisfied customer. You just need to give it a valid reason to cross over.