What travel marketers need to know for digital engagement

william-iven-8515.jpg

Online leisure and unmanaged business travel now accounts for 47% of all travel booked in the US, and with each search and click, consumers are generating data that reveal distinct patterns across travel shopping, booking and engagement with advertising.

While more consumers are using smartphones to explore destinations and products - mobile now accounts for 37% of travelers shopping for flights and 43% for accommodations - a much smaller percentage actually make travel purchases on those devices. Only 25% of those surveyed say they book accommodations on their smartphones and even fewer - 18% - book airline tickets on their smartphone.

Across all age groups, airline websites and apps are the preferred channel for shopping by more than three in five travelers – and by more than 80% of those 55 and older. For hotels, search is more evenly spread among OTAs, metasearch sites, general search engines and branded sites.

As brands work to make themselves visible to travelers, they are now spending 61% of their marketing budgets on online channels. That number is even higher for online travel brands such as OTAs, which allocate 73% of their spend to digital.

One challenge marketers face is determining how much to allocate to mobile-specific platforms. On average, travel companies spend about 44% of their digital marketing budget on mobile solutions - a relatively high amount considering most booking still takes place on desktops and laptops.

When crafting those ads, marketers should note some common attributes that make them memorable. Nearly half of all respondents say they recall a visual or picture from a travel ad, while 41% said the advertised price or deal is what they remember. And 37% said they remember an ad that was personalized, such as promoting a destination or brand of specific interest to them.

Platform preference is driven by intention. Travel marketers indicated ads on metasearch sites, OTAs, and general search engines are most effective for direct response, but for brand marketing and awareness, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube drive the best results.

Marketers should also ensure they are serving the needs of their loyalty program members to drive continued, intentional engagement. The survey found that travelers in general, from all ages and economic levels, prioritize deal-seeking over allegiance to a particular brand.

In fact, mid-tier and elite members of hotel programs are almost as likely as non-members turn to metasearch, general search, and OTAs when researching accommodations.

Looking ahead, marketers should be taking steps to stay ahead of the curve regarding emerging technology. The most common technologies being used today are voice-activated search and messaging apps for travel planning, but respondents indicate interest in other technologies such as in-home digital assistants and virtual reality.

On the brand side, three in five travel companies say they offer customer service via chat, 28% are experimenting with or actively using artificial intelligence and about a quarter are experimenting with or using voice search. 

Daniel Diosi