A destination marketer, a specialist Muslim travel firm, a data analytics company and a marketing expert discussed issues around data and targeting in the digital age and what it means for destinations trying to find clients online
Is data science taking some of the art out of destination marketing and matching consumers with their place to take a holiday?
That was the key question debated last month at the Travolution Asia Forum in Langkawi Malaysia during the Pacific Asia Travel Mart.
A panel of experts including a destination marketer, a specialist Muslim travel firm, a data analytics company and marketing expert discussed issues around data and targeting.
Al Merschen, president and chief executive of Myriad Marketing, said: “Marketing, for a lot of people, is that intersection between art and science and there’s a concern that the science is taking over the art part.
“If content is king I would say context is queen. The two have to be married together to be effective. So it’s great to use all this data our research indicates the average person looks at 34 different sites in the American market over eight different sessions before they actually book a piece of travel.
“Compare that to when you have to go for gall bladder surgery which is about three sites and five minutes. One’s a lot more fun than the other. So as much as I can pinpoint the person I want to reach I don’t want to take away that fun part of it.
“For most trips people want to take we have a 20-40-40 rule, 40% is the research and all the fun you have with it, with the family around the dinner table, it’s dreaming about it. Twenty per cent is the actual trip because it only lasts 10 to 15 days and the last 40% is actually re-living it.
“So trying to find those people in those different positions is always a challenge but we can track it a little better, but if the product’s not there and the context’s not there we’ll lose the people.”
Michael Goldsmith, vice president of marketing, for Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said:
“We set the personas of the people we are targeting, but we also set motivators, factors in life which cause people to make travel decisions. It could be a birthday or a wedding, it could be a divorce, it could be wanting to spend time with my family or spouse.
“So we try to target our messaging and try to speak to people the way they want to be spoken to. Different generations consume information and media differently. If you’ve ever watched television with your parents it’s a very different experience than watching something on video with your children.
“We want to make sure we are targeting our markets and potential visitors and speak to them in the way they consume that media.”
Goldsmith said Las Vegas has conducted research that found it has a very different broad mix of visitors depending in whether they are domestic or international.
“Eight per cent are domestic and they will do three to four days and then do something else. International go as part of a broader trip. It wasn’t a particular surprise but it was a validation of what we believed but just had not been able to prove.
“The underlying philosophy of Vegas is adult freedom which is be who you want to be where you want to be.
“There’s a little bit of anonymity aligned with that. Whatever’s motivating the individual everyone’s looking for that unique experience in what that destination provides. We are just trying to be true to our brand and provide people with that experience.”
Adara vice president of tourism, Asia-Pacific, Matthew Zatto said its travel data analytics platform is capable of tracking 750,000,000 million travellers each month.
“We know when a traveller is actively searching for their next destination and we have historical data on that traveller to help us understand what the preferences what interests they have when they are business traveller versus when they are a leisure traveller, when they are holiday with their family or on a weekend with their buddies.
“We understand when they are in market in real time and that they have intent to travel and that gives us that key insight and with that we are able to understand for a destination that this is the type of traveller they are trying to reach.
“We have a very rich data set so as soon as that traveller is in market we know what their interests are to assess what kind of travellers they are and what their mindset is in this particular trip.
“It’s not a perfect science, but more data is more clarity so we can get closer and closer to the actual requirements of that customer delivering a better message that in turn is going to be converting at a higher rate.”
Sociable Earth, a UK-based Muslim travel specialist has conducted a survey of its members and involving 35,000 individuals from 160 countries, 61% of which were milennials.
Omar Ahmed, chief executive and founder, said this has given the company a valuable source of insight into the DNA of the Muslim traveller.
“That intelligence has really helped us understand that consumer. We are almost now in a commanding position to know where we can match them to now,” said Ahmed.
“What we found it the Muslim traveller is incredibly diverse. Having said that they are also very much like ordinary travellers. They want to do all the usual things but they have certain requirements which aren’t that complicated and really mostly revolve around food.
“It’s going to be difficult for them to live off seafood for two weeks. Sixty one percent of people we polled said food is the number one factor when determining their holiday destination.
Ahmed said he had noted how many hotels in apparently non-Muslim destinations who are now catering for the Muslim traveller for instance by having dates instead of apples on reception and employing Arab chefs.
“All of these small, quirky, nice things that you go home and tell your friends about are also important. Fifty five percent of our respondents said they decide where to go based on recommendations from friends.
“It impossible to put everyone in the one basket but that’s the beauty of the game and we’ve just got to try and support and accommodate as many as we can.
“You would not think of Vegas necessarily as a Muslim-friendly destination but I know lots of couples or families who have been just to walk up and down the strip just to experience that.
“So, yes they don’t go to there to gamble or to drink but they will go just because it is Vegas and they have seen it on TV and seen the Ocean Eleven movies. It’s a bucket list, they tick it off and move on.”
Ahmed added that it was not always possible through the data to ascertain the type of holiday an individual was looking for at any particular time.
“Fifty six percent of our audience say they travel with children. There is a huge market for family friendly holidays but I know girls that go off on girls’ holidays and likewise with the boys.
“It is impossible to really understand what they are really looking for. Sometimes they do not know what they want. They could be searching online for a beach holiday and then see a picture of a ski resort and you might get easily swayed. We have the data so it’s just important to keep asking the questions and use our own knowledge as well.”
Goldsmith said it was important to also take account of offline signals and motivators that the data science does not necessarily pick up but he said online validation was very important.
“As a destination marketing organisation I have a very vested interest in third party validation from the likes of TripAdvisor. They provide a lot of validity,” he said.
“I don’t have inventory as a destination. I’m telling a story, I’m marketing at the high end of the funnel and it’s dropping down, so judging the effectiveness of campaigns is often very difficult because I don’t have hotel inventory.
“As long as they [hotels] are happy and as long as those stakeholders are pleased with the types of consumers that they’ve got coming, then we believe we have done our job but it is very difficult because there’s not a strict ROI from a DMA perspective.”
The question is, however, do travellers expect perfection. Isn’t travelling all about discovery and trying something new and is it unreasonable to expect that to work 100% of the time.
Zatto said: “I don’t know that travellers want to get it slightly wrong spending so much of their disposable income on a trip.
“What data can provide us is being able to test the campaign. If we can test a creative and understand if someone is exposed to this creative are they going to make a booking? Is this actually having an economic impact for our destination? We can quantify that.
“It really helps us change the benchmarks in an industry in which we have so many blind spots and does not have that end to end view of the consumer.
“So if we are optimising campaigns based on how many video views or how many times have they clicked an advert that does not tell the whole story.
“It would be much better if we can track that user all the way from the first exposure of a particular piece of media to a confirmed booking and actual in-destination revenue spend. If we can get to the economic data that’s what we should be basing our marketing strategies on.”
Merschen said: “First, before understanding the consumer, the destination must clearly define who is their audience, who they want to reach and who is their primary and secondary audience before we can make sure we are reaching the right people at the right time.
“The research we have is showing that that’s changing very quickly so that as a traveller I could be determined for the last four or five months to go to a particular destination get online see another offer from a completely different destination around the world and change my whole plan.
“So it is a very fluid type of situation, that said we still need to focus on that same audience that we targeted at the beginning.
“It’s important from a marketers view point that not everything’s done online. Sometimes we go down this rabbit hole and forget that there are all these other mediums that influence the person.
“No one goes to Google and Bing and types in ‘vacation’, they were probably influenced by billboards, television and hundred different sources of media and sometimes we confuse measurement with ROI.
“We have to look at it 360 degrees to make sure we have a full understanding of that audience and how we try tie them into the product.”