Contributed by Vikas Gulati, Vice President, Business Development & Marketing, Asia Pacific, Sprice Pte Ltd
The travel industry has undoubtedly conquered the virtual world – travel-related products and services is the number one purchase made online. Last year alone, the size of online travel market saw an average of $53 billion of gross bookings growing at an impressive rate of 16 percent, according to Phocus Wright. Globally, the travel industry alone has contributed to about one-third of all the e-commerce activities.
Travel suppliers are increasing their online marketing and operation budgets. Evidently, the internet is where travel consumers are spending more time and more money – right from the research stage, where the gathering of information starts right to the purchase point, where the consumers book and pay for their trip. No doubt, some consumers will prefer to go back to the brick and mortar travel agencies to make the final purchase. However, consumers are increasingly turning to the internet for their travel decisions because of the convenience, speed and ease of transaction the internet provides.
As the market space crowds, companies need to go where the consumer is to pitch their product or service before closing the deal. Be that as it may, the online travel customer remains a slippery eel that travel marketers have yet to fully grasp control of.
Converting the online consumer
For one, conversion of the online shopper to a customer remains a key challenge for the travel marketers. A typical conversion rate for a website is about 2% of its visitors 1, which is reflective of how an online shopper likes to visit a number of sites before making a purchase.
Travel shoppers are clearly savvy and highly discerning before they make the decision to buy. Travel shoppers want relevant recommendations – while they experience an explosion of online travel websites, travel shoppers continue to lament that finding the right information is a tedious process, especially when they are have to make several different stops on their travel route 2 .
While organic search remains the most influential online marketing tool, paid search creates the opportunity for suppliers to market their product to shoppers with intent 3. Although search remains one of the more effective tools for online travel markets, the cost of paid search has been rising steadily such that maintaining the profitability of search campaigns now remains a challenge.
Harness the power of vertical ad networks
An online travel advertising network provides the connection from travel supplier to traveller. Being connected to various publishers and media owners within the online industry allows the network to map the online consumer behaviour and with the intelligence collected, the network is able to differentiate an online shopper with intent versus a user just browsing around. The advertising network typically uses behaviour targeting to pick out the online travel shopper and deliver precise targeted messages.
The other tools an online advertising network cleverly uses are search and site retargeting. Having identified the online shopper, these two tools allow the network to direct shoppers to its partner sites by flashing relevant information to the consumer. It reaches out to the prospective shoppers who have performed similar searches or clicked on other similar offers but have not reached its partner websites or re-markets a partner website to the shopper who has previously visited the website but did not convert. This tool is called retargeting which allows marketers to reconnect with their audience to reinforce their value proposition or to make a new sales pitch from a different perspective.
Get them where they are
The adoption of new technologies is rapidly changing the travel industry with the internet as the first stop for travellers. Travel shoppers already know how to look for the best travel purchase from a plain organic search online for a product. Travel shoppers are now looking for buying recommendations. Increasingly, savvy online shoppers will turn to social networks as they trust these networks over traditional paid media such as TV and print.
The challenge for the marketers is to identify what the traveller needs are, to better deliver content or messages that are in-line with the traveller’s intent. These vertical networks are not just a source of advertising inventory but they act as a source of qualified audience data and have the right tools to help marketers target their audience wherever they may be on the web –on a general interest portal, reading the news or checking their email. Vertical networks give marketers not only flexibility in the media buys but dramatically improves the productivity of the marketing campaigns.
The marketplace will become more connected with more players and inevitably, so must the travel industry. Hence, the marketers’ best bet is to be in the network that has the best capability of building consumer connections within the industry.
1 ABOUTOURISM, Feb 2011
2 Travel daily News, August 2009
3 “Travel Distribution & Marketing Barometer” report, EyeforTravel, April 2011