Last week Croud hosted a travel marketing breakfast, exploring the digital and wider trends to look out for in 2020 and beyond. Here we take a look at some of the key themes from the event.
Audiences are evolving
Sarah Essa, Travel Analytics Leads at Microsoft, kicked off the event with a look at how the leisure travel audience is evolving, and the key behaviours and opportunities travel marketers should be aware of.
This year has undoubtedly been a challenging one for travel, with 25% of consumers planning to spend less on holidays. Given the gloomy economic and political backdrop, consumers are unsurprisingly also more price-sensitive, with 47% of consumers worried about the rising cost of airline tickets, according to Microsoft’s research.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are also plenty of opportunities for smart travel marketers to tap into changing consumer behaviours. The rise of environmental consciousness – with 20% of British consumers wanting to book more sustainable holidays – presents a great opportunity for travel brands to showcase their sustainability credentials and incorporate these into their value proposition to win over consumers.
Sarah also took attendees through Microsoft’s research, which has revealed three distinct audience personas with three very different decision journeys for leisure travel; the quick converter, the browser and the cautious converter. By recognising the differences between audience segments and taking an audience-first approach to their marketing, travel marketers can only stand to benefit.
Focus on value, not price
Following Sarah’s talk, we moved on to a panel discussion, featured Sarah, along with Croud’s Senior Client Strategy Manager, Caroline Buckingham and Founder of The Thinking Traveller, Huw Beaugié, with Croud’s Director of Strategy and Planning, Duncan Nichols leading the discussion.
Addressing price sensitivity first, Caroline pointed to all-inclusive holidays being on the rise due to the perceived better value they offer holidaymakers. With price sensitivity high, Caroline argued it’s vital for brands to showcase the benefits for consumers of investing in their services, educated them on the value of purchasing a particular holiday, flight, or hotel. This focus on value should, in turn, avoid the need to discount.
The Thinking Traveller’s Huw agreed, saying the luxury villa specialist will never do discounting, as it would quickly become a race to the bottom. Instead, he expressed that The Thinking Traveller is willing to take a short-term hit on profitability if needed, in order to invest in the future. In challenging times, he agrees it’s about making your brand’s USPs and values incredibly clear, and continuing to invest. Looking back on the 2008 crash, Huw talked about how the company cut sales and marketing investment at the time, and that recovery took longer as a result – so he now advocates continuing to invest in order to drive long-term growth.
Sarah, speaking specifically about the collapse of Thomas Cook, pointed to ATOL protection as providing much-needed reassurance to consumers. She also recognised the difficulty new players face, when trying to build trust with consumers naturally cautious in this climate.
Tackling the aggregators
Online travel aggregators are meta-search engines that compare prices for holidays, flights, accommodation and more from different providers, purporting to help consumers find the best deal. With more and more consumers leaning on these aggregators, should travel brands get on board or push for direct sales?
Huw pointed to Airbnb as the biggest players in the travel accommodation space, but said that The Thinking Traveller has never used Airbnb or any other aggregators due to the difficulty in communicating your brand’s values and USPs through the platforms. For him, the likes of Airbnb are still ultimately just listing sites, so there’s no real value for luxury travel providers at this stage.
Meanwhile, Caroline talked about Google Hotel Ads, saying low to mid-range hotels cannot afford to ignore them. She also spoke about how Expedia’s response to dwindling visitors was to bolster their loyalty programme, which is what all travel brands should do when looking to take on aggregators.
‘Take a step back and consider why consumers should come directly to you’ – for this, you need a real understanding for your audience and what makes them tick, in order to not only drive customer acquisition but more importantly retention. Whether it’s free champagne on arrival, or free kids’ club – tapping into what really motivates your customers and incentivising them to come back directly is what’s key.
Tapping into search trends
Microsoft’s Sarah said there has not been a huge change in actual search queries, but the destination on travellers’ radars are constantly shifting. For instance, interest in Japan is particularly high at the moment, and long-haul destinations are outpacing European breaks no doubt in part due to the pound’s relative strength in those markets. Sarah urged travel brands to be as flexible as possible, whilst recognising that inventory can often be very fixed, making it difficult to react to changing consumer preferences and behaviours.
Caroline also advocated forum scraping as a way to uncover what travellers are interested in, as well as pointing to Instagram as indispensable for travel advertisers. With over 461 million Instagram posts tagged a #travel, the social platform clearly plays a hugely important role, particularly the all-important inspiration and research phase, so travel advertisers should make the most of the insights and information Instagram provide.
Sustainability: Buzzword or opportunity?
According to Huw, The Thinking Traveller has seen a huge rise in awareness when it comes to sustainable travel, with questions around bottled water, for example, coming up noticeably more often. For Huw, the solution needs to be driven by local communities, with uplifts in tourism forcing locals to think about cleaning up beaches, for instance.
Caroline also spoke about the importance of travel operators giving back to the community, pointing to easyJet’s carbon offsetting initiative as one such example. She also predicts a shift towards ‘slow travel’, whereby travellers truly immerse themselves in the local culture, rather than simply ticking off the tourist hot spots. Tapping into this trend represents an exciting potential opportunity for travel marketers.
Despite all the hype and interest around sustainability, Sarah was quick to point out the hypocrisy of the movement, and that it will take time to see a true shift in consumer behaviour. Ambitious goals around carbon neutrality won’t happen through shifting consumer demand alone (in fact Huw pointed out that The Thinking Traveller’s customers largely won’t compromise on flying, swimming pools, and air conditioning), but huge advances in technology will be needed, along with governmental and legal changes. The brands that innovate and conquer this technology will be the ones that attract consumers and succeed.
Top tips for travel marketers in 2020
We rounded off the event with each panellist summing up their top piece of advice for travel marketers in 2020. The Thinking Traveller’s Huw said that whilst everything else will always change around you, particularly in the fast-moving sphere of digital marketing, brands should hone in on their USPs and vales, and ensure these are clearly communicated.
For Sarah, the future of travel marketing is undoubtedly a digital one. With uncertainty hanging over the Eurozone at the moment, it is vital for businesses to bring their A-game to marketing, and sophisticated, audience-driven digital marketing strategies are indispensable.
Caroline, meanwhile, echoed Huw’s advice, pointing to the importance of really knowing and understanding your audience. Whilst developments such as chatbots and visual search will no doubt be huge in the travel sector if they’re not right for your audience, there is no value in getting sidetracked by the next big thing.
If you’d like to discuss any of the challenges or opportunities outlined here, or if you’re interested in joining Croud’s next industry event, simply get in touch.