A version of this article originally appeared on Phocuswire.
Every day, consumers are bombarded with travel images, videos and other content across channels that highlight new amenities or showcase the perfect family vacation spot or romantic weekend away.
It’s clear more travel brands are leveraging digital strategies to reach their target markets, but there’s a catch: only 18 percent of executives at travel and hospitality brands believe their company is a digitally mature organization.
Additionally, Sojern’s State Of The Industry:The 2019 Report On Travel Advertising revealed a surprising pain point: one in two travel marketers listed delivering personalized ads and offers in real time as their top challenge.
As digital continues to mature, there is a shift occurring among marketers: travel marketing and digital travel distribution strategies are converging, and it’s having a major impact on the industry.
To be successful in this era of convergence, travel providers must think more strategically, not just about inventory, but about how they’re selling entire experiences. With convergence, new revenue streams are up for grabs and these extend well beyond the traditional traveling ecosystem.
Now, staying competitive means using data to actually understand potential customers and where they are on the path to purchase, all so they can make more strategic decisions to earn customer loyalty.
As convergence continues, travel marketers with the best multichannel strategies will win.
Blurred Lines and Shifting Habits
Travelers all have needs, but those needs vary dramatically depending on the moment.
One week, a traveler may be flying for business, and the next that very same traveler may be on a summer vacation with family. They’re not one or the other—they’re both, just at different times.
As these lines blur, habits are shifting, and travelers are finding unconventional ways to meet their in-the-moment needs.
For example, 30% of non-guests have used a hotel’s Wi-Fi, while a third of travelers have eaten in a hotel restaurant when they aren’t staying on the property. Why does this matter?
Because travelers are increasingly agnostic about who meets their needs, and that business is there for the taking.
For marketers, this presents a golden opportunity, but only if they take a holistic approach.
Unlike in the past when people were using phone calls, travel magazines, and traditional travel agents to research, today’s complicated consumer is bouncing between numerous touchpoints in a digital ecosystem.
They’re sending out travel intent signals and leaving a trail of data behind them.
Each signal is critical for personalization strategies, but become even more valuable when viewed in combination with each other.
It’s no longer about aggregates or averages, every traveler is unique and marketers must be flexible enough to look at each traveler’s ever changing needs and act quickly to meet them.
Smarter, Faster, Nimbler: Always On
If travel brands want to act quickly, they must improve their understanding of what customers want and need at any given moment. And to get there they must be “always on” across every channel.
It’s one thing to personalize marketing to a leisure guest by using broad stroke segmentation, but when brands get on a one-to-one level with the individual customer, they can understand their constantly changing needs.
To get there, they must understand each customer on a trip by trip basis—and combine the person with the occasion to serve up relevant offers.
Since modern travelers are always on, brands must be, too, because always on means valuable data.
The challenge is, unlike a retail giants like Amazon, a single travel provider will rarely see the customer’s full shopping and buying habits.
At most, they get a sliver of information, creating blind spots in the customer journey. While most travel brands focus their efforts on the activity of a very small group of loyal customers, the vast majority of people who pass through their doors are brand new customers, revealing a gaping hole in marketing strategies.
Paving the Path with Data
In an “always on” world, it’s important for travel marketers to continually cultivate relationships with recurring customers while capturing the loyalty of brand new buyers. And that starts with defining what data to capture and how to store it in a usable, analyzable way.
However, first-party data is still only a small sliver in the larger travel ecosystem. When first-party data is combined with third-party partner data, brands can begin to build profiles of target customers.
From there, they can use that data to understand the customer journey.
The first step is using data to establish intent. Consumers may be dreaming or researching – or they could buy at any point. By looking at each trip as a mini campaign, marketers can focus on that whole journey and the points along the way, and then engage them in the moment.
Once intent is established, marketers must take what they’ve learned about each customer and put the right messages in front of the right people at the right time.
It’s a combination of taking one-to-one marketing, making sure it’s “always on,” then testing, measuring, learning and adjusting.
This dynamic approach is a shift from traditional methods that are often seasonal in nature.
Smartphones, tablets and other technology give consumers the tools they need to go beyond seasonal and be “always on.”
To be successful in a digital world, travel marketers must continually change messaging to get in front of individual travelers at just the right time, but be flexible with those messages, channels and timing.
The goal at the heart of marketing is to look for new ways to understand customers to better meet their wants and needs. As convergence in the travel industry continues, marketers have the opportunity to digitally reach and engage audiences on an individual level.
It’s a race to see which travel brands can do it best, and those that do will win the ultimate prize: customer acquisition and loyalty.