Everything You Need to Know About
Whether you work in an Airline, OTA, Hotel, or Tourism Board, discover the ultimate technologies and trends you should be considering for your 2021 Travel Marketing strategy.
Pandemics aside, travel marketing seems like the ultimate role. There’s the allure of distant destinations, and with the rise of digital nomads, even a work trip can have some built-in fun. It seems like savvy travel marketers could dream up a campaign, launch it, and bask in the glowing metrics.
The problem is, it’s not so straightforward. Whether you work for an airline, an OTA, a hotel, or market a destination, you know it’s complicated. People price shop from multiple devices even when they’re not planning a trip.
Since a travel experience isn’t something that can be returned like an ill-fitting pair of shoes, it’s up to the travel company to inspire and delight their customers at every step of the way.
So what does this mean to you as a travel marketer? How can you harness the 2021 travel marketing trends and help your company succeed in the coming months?
Let’s get into these travel marketing trends and hacks, and you can see how you can apply them at your company. But first, let’s recap the term “travel marketing,” so that we’re all on the same page.
What is Travel Marketing?
Travel marketing refers to all the marketing activities used within the travel industry. Whether you work in a large hotel chain, destination management company (DMO), airline, resort, or OTA, your goal is to drive business, but travel marketing has a very specific way of achieving this goal that is different from other sectors.
Today’s customers are likely to find you through Google, social media ads, or an online recommendation. Over half the world is active on social media since the pandemic, and they are dreaming about their next trip more than ever. However, there are many travel players out there competing for the end-consumer. In such a competitive landscape, how can you win their attention?
Let’s look at some of the top travel marketing technology trends to inspire your campaigns.
Travel Marketing Trends in 2021
You already know that technology powers marketing channels. Yet, without the right technology - and the right message - it all falls apart. The key is to keep it inspiring and relevant.
Let’s look at six travel marketing trends in more detail:
- Personalization - 90% of travelers seek personalized travel recommendations while planning their trip according to a study performed by McKinsey. Whether they start planning their trip at an OTA, hotel, or airline, they should have hyper-personalized content based on their profile and interests. CEO of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer, says in this study, “Travel inspiration is really hard. It’s very personalized. What may inspire you may be really trivial to me.” Your travelers should be able to discover the best plans and experiences tailored to their interests. That’s what’s possible with an AI-driven tool that features up-to-date content or events that are specific to you and to you only.
For example, if you’re a hotel marketer, you want to keep your guests informed with fresh and relevant offers and experiences tailored to their interests. Such information enhances their stay and impresses them. Sure, you can include a smart speaker in their room, but that doesn’t help them discover local special events and experiences unless they know to ask for them.
- Simulation (Virtual Reality /Augmented Reality) - These 360-degree immersive experiences give your guests the chance to interact with your destination prior to booking. According to Statista, the Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality market grew to 18.8 billion in the U.S. in 2020 and the trend is only going up. From interactive hotel rooms allowing travelers to “see” celebrities, there’s a big opportunity with these technologies to help your prospect “try-out” or adapt your environment to their personal tastes. For instance, Marriott launched a virtual honeymoon to London and Hawaii to enable customers to sense what it would be like. And Visit Hamilton Island also created an end-to-end travel experience to their destination.
- Omnichannel - The best travel experience is the one that feels seamless. When your travel marketing is a fun experience designed to guide the traveler through their trip planning no matter what device they’re on, it feels personalized and well designed. Many airlines offer texts for flight confirmations and updates. Iberia Airlines, for instance, uses Whatsapp and call centers for customer support. They use email to send booking confirmations, travel restrictions, and flight updates. They also use app and web as booking channels and integrate destination content within an entertainment platform from Movistar, and within their in-flight entertainment screens.
- Data-Driven Customer Lifecycle - Much has been made of the data-driven experience and with good reason. With the right data, you can gauge if your prospective customer is just doing initial research or is ready to buy. You can discover the trends that show when your prospect is in danger of churning (and figure out ways of offering more value). It all sounds great - in theory. In reality, a lot of that data is junk and/or siloed across departments. To make it live up to its promise, we need a solid foundation where sales and marketing data are integrated. Context is needed to understand the data and to do regular analysis. And you might also need an integrated system across all departments, so Susan in Marketing has a better understanding of what Jan in Sales considers a good customer and vice versa. Through Business Intelligence, travel companies have a better understanding and context of historical and current data, which enables them to make better decisions and predictions.
- Chatbots -. This is a fast-growing industry often used for trouble-shooting specific questions or booking appointments, though we’ll probably see their use case grow over the next few years. OTA Skyscanner uses chatbots for over one million interactions designed to guide the user to the next step. Whether it’s answering a question or booking a flight, the Skyscanner team sees chat bots as guiding users to a decision and reducing cart abandonment.
- Voice - People use voice searches for specific actionable queries. What time does the restaurant open? What hotels are within walking distance of the Prado and less than 100 euros? As people get comfortable with their digital assistants, they get much more specific with their queries because they’re usually in decision mode by the time they use voice search. For instance, Expedia used this Amazon Alexa skill to enable travelers to use the voice assistant to prepare their trip.
Each of these trends ties back to hyper-personalization in some form. People want to experience relevance and ease of use no matter what they’re doing.
What is the Role of the Data in Travel Marketing?
The role of data is to share critical business intelligence about your prospects and customers. If you are a travel marketer it can help you know which web pages bring in the most traffic or how people navigate your site, what do they click on, what is stopping them from booking, which additional services and ancillaries they are more interested in, etc. These are just a few of the data points any analytics dashboard will tell you.
Each of the above travel marketing trends ties back to hyper-personalization in some form. Travelers want to experience relevance and ease of use no matter what they’re doing.
What do you need to know about these technologies?
Ideally, the role of data is to improve the customer experience. When you have the usable data, you can gain key insights across your sales cycle and provide your travelers what they need when they need it so you can shorten the sales cycle. The right data can guide your messaging and customer touchpoints. For example, OTA Tripadvisor uses AI to personalize customer preferences and help them make decisions faster by guiding them to the next logical step in their trip planning.
AI, Big data and Machine Learning
You’ve heard a lot about these topics and you’ll hear a lot more. That’s because these technologies are embedded in virtually everything we do. As Andrew Ng, Stanford Professor and ex-Google employee says, AI is almost as common as electricity these days.
When it comes to travel marketing, AI touches on multiple points in the customer journey. From “understanding” a customer’s preferences to estimating flight rates on a particular day, AI and Machine learning are built into modern travel marketing software.
Travel Marketing for Airlines
In the fierce competition for customers, travel marketing for airlines requires more than competitive pricing. Offering a great customer experience and having a highly-esteemed brand perception is key here because, unlike other travel businesses, airlines need to enhance a sense of security and know-how more than any other. Also, strategies like loyalty programs and miles can be key to encourage customers to book in your direct channels instead of going to other distribution channels like OTAs. Branded content and OOH campaigns with emotional notes can also contribute to increasing this brand perception.
One memorable airline marketing campaign is Dutch airline, KLM. They decided to surprise a passenger who posted about their flight on social media. They even called it the “Surprise” initiative. During the busy holiday season, the company’s social media team monitored passengers who posted about their flight, reviewed their profiles, and surprised some customers with small gifts.
Air New Zealand chose to piggyback on the success of The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring movies by partnering with the production companies of the popular movies. As a result, they received Hobbit-themed collateral that dressed up otherwise staid content such as the safety video.
One way airlines can stand out from the competition is by helping their customers plan their future trips by keeping abreast of border restrictions and up-to-date destination content. This is the case of airlines like Delta, United, or Iberia, who trust Smartvel’s AI to provide their passengers with up-to-the-minute travel restrictions in their destinations. Companies like Singapore Airlines or LATAM on the other hand, use the same AI to provide live events happening in their destinations and complete travel guides thanks to Smartvel’s API and Trip Planner widget.
Travel Marketing for Hotels
Unlike other travel companies such as airlines or OTAs, hotels have the particularity of being able to own the traveler for a longer time, across the entire journey: from the inspiration, booking, and pre-trip stage until the end of the trip, including the stay itself, where the in-person experience at the hotel is also key. There are many hotel marketing strategies and trends to consider. From virtual tours, influencer marketing, user-generated content, and the use of chatbots, to offering a seamless hotel experience and having terrific online reviews, these are only a few of the ways hotels can stand out in today’s competitive environment.
One thing is clear, however, all strategies should be focused on gaining online visibility and increasing direct bookings to competing against OTAs investments. Offering exclusive promotions and benefits like flexible cancellation policies, discounts, or free spa sessions to encourage bookings on your own website might also refrain your customers from booking in another distribution channel.
Loew’s Hotel, for instance, successfully used User Generated Content (UGC) for an inspiring ad campaign. They sourced photos on Instagram with the hashtag, “Everyone needs to ______”. One image shows a child enjoying pool time with a beautiful water feature in the background.
Such content shows a sense of enjoyment and relatability not found in a typical photoshoot.
Other hotels are using technology to help their guests discover everything there is to experience during their stay and travel dates. For instance, RIU Hotels & Resorts is using Smartvel’s AI to provide up-to-date events and activities through a Trip Planner.
Another hotel focused on promoting the destination is the W Chicago. By highlighting local events and things to do, they’re tapping into an audience eager to experience the local scene.
Travel Marketing for OTAs
Marketing for Online Travel Agencies (OTA) has also differences with the rest of travel players. Travelers visit OTAs to get access to a wider range of options for their trip, and book everything in one single platform. Big OTAs have historically competed in traffic against major hotel chains and airlines to dispute the ownership of the end-customer, so the biggest strategy to gain visibility has always been focused on making big investments in TV, online media advertising, paid search, and launching unique offers, such as having the lowest price for a room or a flight.
OTAs like hotels.com, Expedia, and Trip.com make it easy for travelers to compare and book. Most people use them without even thinking about them. They have become a must in travel planning. They also have an opportunity to attract attention and stay top of mind by reminding customers of the fun times they’ve had.
They can send emails to reconnect with their customers and remind them OTA’s can offer guidance and assurance for future trips.
OTA’s also take advantage by using AI to improve the customer experience. Booking.com, for example, uses AI at all levels of their business, from security to chatbots. It makes the process of planning a trip easier and more personalized at every step of the way. Plus, the more a customer uses the OTA, the more targeted the content as the algorithm better understands their preferences.
Travel Marketing for Tourism Boards:
Destination marketing refers to marketing that promotes a certain city, destination, region, or country with the aim of increasing the number of visitors. According to this source, media channels are the most effective for destination marketing: native advertising, Youtube campaigns, Paid search, video, and social media are nowadays key for a successful destination marketing campaign.
Influencer marketing has also started to play a more important role recently in advertising a destination, especially because there are many travel content creators out there specialized on your target markets and audience that can reach millions of people around the world with a simple story on Instagram, a `vlog` on Youtube or streaming on Twitch. Here you can find some examples of successful destination marketing campaigns with influencers.
With COVID, the messaging around destinations is changing. While many destinations have promoted stay safe and stay home messages for the past months, that’s now shifting to one of exploration.
Visit Britain, for instance, is building on its 2020 Escape the Everyday campaign with messaging that it’s safe to travel again. The campaign will focus on domestic travel for the next few months but expects to reopen to international travel later in the year.
Helsinki Marketing did a mini-documentary called “Helsinki Freedom.” In it, five creators share their viewpoints on why Helsinki is a great place to live and work. By sharing stories in the blog, video, and graphic format, visitors can capture a sense of a place that’s more relatable than generic content.
Northern Ireland capitalized on HBO’s Game of Thrones popularity with their “Glass of Thrones” campaign where they highlighted six hand-painted stained glass windows depicting scenes from the iconic series.
New Orleans promoted “One Time in New Orleans” for the 2019 Mardi Gras season. It highlighted parts of the city’s history that usually aren’t included in destination marketing such as the history of the North Skull and Bones Gang who dress up as skeletons and “rattle and rattle” awake the city on Mardi Gras morning.
Every destination has multiple stories, and the more you connect them to destination-specific content, the more you can help your visitors create lasting memories.
As you can see, travel marketing trends include plenty of travel inspiration along with some creative ways of engaging current and future travelers. It’s possible to create customized experiences that feel personalized and relevant to your customers.
With a digital concierge approach, you can provide information on local experiences in a way that feels modern and relevant. From customized travel guides to destination content solutions that integrate into any website, you can share the best local experiences tailored to your traveler’s preferences. A mix of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning means the content is always fresh.
It takes a blend of creativity and science to connect with modern customers. The more you can personalize your customer’s experience, the quicker you can turn prospects into customers and, hopefully, brand advocates.
You can capitalize on their desire for convenience and relevant content by offering a dynamic trip planner that uses AI to stay current and integrates with any website.