Web search, waiting in line at the airport, in resort, back at home – just four points in the consumer journey when travel companies have the potential to reach out to customers. But there are, in fact, dozens of other occasions when understanding more about what consumers are doing – from before the idea of a holiday even enters their mind to sitting in the office on return – can pay dividends. Lindsay Clark reveals Travolution’s 50 Travel Touch Points
Produced in association with I-Spy Search:
1. TV Advertising
TV advertising has become more about creating a feeling rather than throwing dozens of product ideas into the minds of consumers. Expedia’s ‘Let Yourself Go’ campaign is the best example in recent years – the theme is carried through other its ad channels and main website. An exception was Travelsupermarket’s Matrix-style effort, designed to illustrate the breadth of content on offer.
2. Travel agent window
The digital age does not mean tried-and-tested means of reaching customers are defunct. The mainstay of the retail travel agent marketing plan is often still the extremely un-digital shop window. Bargain cards still feature in almost every agent display while interiors are increasingly given over to more inspirational images of sandy beaches and dreamy spires.
3. Word of mouth
Word of mouth can be invaluable for a region or travel brand. Nothing can imitate that genuine buzz of excitement people feel when they have been inspired by a location or activity. The internet is as strong a voice in this field as the old-fashioned recommendation from a family member, friend or colleague. Managing and influencing online reputation is more difficult – primarily due to volume – but engagement is easier with some demographics through social networks.
4. Unofficial branding on TV/product placement
Although characters in soap operas might pop into the travel agents, it is more likely to be a country or region that benefits from TV exposure. A travel programme or dedicated channel can dramatically raise the profile of a region, or type of holiday activity. While the prime spots were once Wish You Were Here (ITV) and Holiday (BBC), exposure on a mainstream programme can still be more effective than a carefully planned media campaign stretching over months.
5. Cinema advertising
Similar in many ways to TV advertising, cinema has the added bonus of having a truly captive audience. In 2006, Eurostar went a step further than the traditional 30-second spot. The rail firm wanted to support its on-screen activity to tie in with the release of the film The Da Vinci Code. Representatives dressed as Silas, the monk from the film, adding to the atmosphere surrounding the promotion and distributed Eurostar leaflets containing a map and guide to the hidden secrets of Paris.
6. Email marketing
When designed and targeted well, email messages can drive huge numbers to a website or particular promotion – even if the recipient was not looking for a product. Travelzoo, provider of the weekly Top 20 newsletter, pioneered the concept of pushing lists of late deals or distressed stock to consumers. It has since attracted 12 million subscribers and is in 14 countries.
7. Local partnerships
Agents can form useful business opportunities at a local level. This may be a retail outlet, restaurant or supermarket. All of these are excellent shop windows for joint promotion of events. By displaying posters or placing staff in other environments on a trial basis, agents can see if this approach attracts new customers. Travolution sister brand, Gazetteers.com, for example, worked with a local radio phone-in show to reach travel agents.
8. Press advertising
Print advertising has been used to promote everything from point pricing, to brand awareness to the image of a region or nation. Now the emphasis is shifting to integrated media. In 2007, Flybe decided to use print to drive people to its redesigned website.
9. Direct mail
In the days of internet marketing and mass media, its surprising to find the post still has a role to play in reaching consumers. In May this year, industry stalwart Thomas Cook announced a search for an agency to handle direct marketing for its portfolio of travel brands. Meanwhile, airline BMI plans to bring together on and offline direct marketing into a single agency, which will manage e-marketing, CRM and e-CRM activity.
10. Radio advertising
The radio can get to people when other media can’t – when they’re driving, decorating or washing up. While the format appears to have remained the same for decades, its direct approach – especially for promotions – continues to perform well. United Airlines and ebookers have both gone one step further and secured sponsorship deals on commercial radio.
11. Sport partnerships
Football, the UK’s omnipresent sport, continues to overshadow all others and shirt sponsorships, although big money, guarantee enormous exposure on almost every visual media channel. Current travel deals include Thomas Cook (Manchester City), XL (West Ham) and Emirates (Arsenal).
12. Weather sponsorship
The weather often evokes a sense of needing to escape, so travel companies have sought links and sponsorship with forecast bulletins on terrestrial and cable channels. Expedia, Ryanair, Thomson, Flybe, and even Qatar Airways on BBC World, have all had a go in recent years.
13. Press references
Alongside reams of content in the Sunday travel supplements, the mere mention of a destination or brand can work wonders. Arguably the master of them all is Ryanair. A controversial promotion – often accompanied by a public ticking off from ad watchdogs or court case, such as the high-profile Sarkozy case – probably benefited the carrier’s sale in the short term and offset the subsequent £45,000 fine imposed by a French court.
The Times Holiday and Travel Show not only attracts more than 54,000 travel connoisseurs craving inspiration, information and exclusive deals, but also acts as a hub of consumer travel information for journalists hungry for ideas. The show takes place in London Earl’s Court from February 5-8 2009 and at Birmingham’s NEC from February 27- March 1 2009.
15. Closing the loop through search
ICM research suggests that 47% of users watch TV with a laptop connected to the internet at the same time. Tying in offline activity with paid search campaigns maximises the effectiveness of both channels as users go online to find more information. See the recent Orange “I am” campaign. It is also vital to ensure top positioning on your brand name in the natural search results.
16. Searching for Inspiration
Websites with unique, quirky or interesting content can be optimised for natural search allowing sites to reach users before they have formed their travel plans. Sites can appear against search terms that would not be viable in paid search but allow user engagement at a very early stage of the travel planning process
17. Online PR
Well-managed online PR will have a positive effect on natural search rankings through appearing on sites such as Google news, gaining inbound links and creating extra content to publish on your website. Search engines love sites that regularly publish new, unique content
18. Contextual advertising
As well as paying for ‘adwords’ in search results, which promote ‘sponsored links‘, travel firms can sponsor them for AdSense, and advertise on websites with content that is contextually linked to their travel or holiday services.
19. Outdoor advertising
British Airways has responded to the torrent of criticism following the flawed launch of Heathrow T5, with a poster campaign. In August it released the first in its series of posters that use images taken the previous day to show how smoothly Terminal 5 is now working. The poster shows passengers happily waiting for their flights in an uncrowded environment. It carries the headline ‘Yesterday at T5, 89% of flights arrived on time’.
20. Travel brochures (print)
Electronic documents and the internet had promised the demise of print brochures. Although there are advantages of electronic brochure, print still remains popular, and gives something customers can take home with them. As recently as last year, Argo Holidays had to produce an extra 75,000 brochures in January after an impressive start to 2007 sales.
As well as being cheaper to distribute, and easier to personal, electronic brochures are also greener. Ian Champness, founding director of online affiliate marketing firm Travelwhere, says e-brochures also offer better conversion rates and return on investment. For the agent, the benefits are less wastage and a more personal client service. And for the consumer, there’s instant choice and convenience, and the digital option is more environmentally-friendly.
22. Social networks
Social networking is a good way for travel brands to get to consumers. For example, Facebook has a group titled “CUBA – For those who Love to Travel to CUBA!!!” which has 200 members. Other specialist social networking sites include WAYN.com (which stands for ‘where are you now’). Key to marketing on these media is not to ‘spam’ members, but to interact, offering valuable information and services.
23. User-review websites
Brand exposure is guaranteed on the plethora of user review sites currently streaming into every corner of the online travel experience – but the message is not always positive. The pioneer and current market leader, Tripadvisor, brings in around 30 million users a month globally and attracts advertising from hotels, tour operators, online travel agencies and airlines.
24. Specialist retailers
Mountain biking, skiing and climbing require specialist equipment. Enthusiasts in these sports will often travel far and wide to find the best locations for their adrenalin fix. So travel firms specialising in these areas could do well to team up with equipment sellers and make sure they catch the customer’s eye when they have their favourite pursuit in mind.
25. Destination information search
Well-optimised sites with unique content such as city guides, or better still, ideas for activities have a strong likelihood of appearing high in the natural search results. A user finding compelling content is more likely to come back and purchase.
26. Brand research
If a consumer already has strong ideas about their holiday, they will have a choice of brands to go with for each component of their holiday. People can make exhaustive use of the brand website to reassure themselves they would not be wasting money with this firm. Allowing customers to leave comments on the brand website can reassure those considering doing business with you.
27. Brand comparison research
The internet makes comparison between brands easy. Just key ‘Thistle’ and ‘Radisson’ into TripAdvisor.com to understand how consumers can find out what people really think about brands. In January, Hayes and Jarvis said it experienced an increase in bookings online simply after adding TripAdvisor reviews to its website.
28. Feature comparison research
Another approach to consumer internet research in holidays is comparison of features. People may have very specific requirements of a holiday. Whether it is getting the right balance between activities like hiking, culture and relaxing on a beach or if childcare and kids’ activities are a consideration, consumers like to be able to see these features easily, not buried in the site.
29. RSS feeds
Internet-savvy consumers can set up RSS feeds to their email account or personalised web page. RSS allows consumers to subscribe to receive information published regularly on websites. Travel firms are tapping into this new distribution channel, throwing deals and availability into dedicated feeds as part of existing online
Although the perception is that online auction site eBay is a haven for collectors and those seeking rare oddities, there is a healthy market for holidays on the site. For example, consumers can bid for a seven-night, five-star luxury holiday in Tenerife for two adults and up to two children free. Bids start at £99, but conditions apply to these promotional offers.
31. Affiliate Networks
Affiliate marketing allows travel firms to invite third-party websites to host links, usually in the form of banner ads, buttons or text ads, and these affiliates are paid according to a cost-per-action model when a click results in a sale. To maximise return from affiliate marketing firms should tailor their advertising to appropriate partner sites. A one-size-fits-all approach is less effective.
32. Price-comparison sites
Price comparison is easier on the internet than feature comparisons. Websites such as Cheapflights are able to automate price comparison from a variety of advertisers. The effect has been to make budget travel more aggressive, but also to make agents and operators with a ‘value-added’ proposition better at selling their features.
33. Meta-search engines
Travel meta-search is similar to price comparison but with one crucial difference: it doesn’t rely on the source of a product to freely hand over the cost and availability. Allowing sites to grab content throws open the floodgates for consumers to view products on sites the source may never have come across. Ryanair does not sit comfortably in this camp. Creating dedicated XML feeds is easing the technological challenges; technology providers such as Amadeus have built products dedicated to smoothing the relationship between supplier and meta site.
34. Navigational search (brand)
According to Hitwise, 88% of searches in the UK are for brand names. A clear and effective strategy for both paid and natural search is vital for every travel website. Even-price comparison sites receive most of their traffic from search engines
35. Searching for Options
Typical searches for “flight + destination” or “hotel + destination” give travel websites the opportunity to market to consumers who have framed the purchase decision but not decided where they want to purchase their travel. Deep-linking to relevant content is the key to providing a great user experience.
36. Searching for the best price
As opposed to the classic sales funnel, the online pipeline often opens back up again as users search for the best deal. Showing accurate prices in paid search copy is a great way to drive users to your site. Beware though: you have to be able to deliver on these prices!
Before the trip
37. Searching for peripherals
Search is the primary gateway for online consumers looking for travel insurance, airport parking, car hire etc. These areas are incredibly competitive and a well-planned paid search presence, plus a well optimised site, will be the difference between success and failure.
38. Transfers and holiday add-ons
With the rise of independent travel and dynamic packaging, it has become more common for consumers to organise their own transfers or agents to arrange them outside the ‘package’ – adding another opportunity for travel companies to reach consumers. As a result the market is becoming increasingly competitive. Firms such as ResortHoppa throw the kitchen sink at it, combining booking engines on its front page, destination content within the site and a broad agent affiliate programme.
On your way
39. Text services
More travel firms are using SMS or text messages to stay in touch with their customers as they get away. EasyJet and Opodo have launched a SMS services enabling customers to receive a text message containing flight details ahead of their departure. The service sends travellers a text message before their trip including important details such as booking reference number, flight number, departure time and a weather summary of their holiday destination. It is designed to nurture loyalty with the brand.
In the taxi to the airport, or to the hotel, holidaymakers are a captive audience for advertising. Travel firms including British Airways, Australian Airlines and the Hong Kong Tourist Board reinforce their brand recognition using advertising in and on London taxis.
41. Public transport
Key routes such as the Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted Express trains, Heathrow-bound tube lines and dedicated routes to other airports in the UK are adorned with travel-related push marketing.
42. Airport terminals
Check-in is a point in the travel chain where the airline and airport brand is really tested. A bad passenger experience could reflect badly for years to come. This is why airlines are increasingly offering kiosk and online check-in to reduce queues and help establish a good relationship with customers. According to SITA, more than half of all airlines offer web check-in and other self-service technology.
43. Airport shopping lounge
Semi-captive audience, idly waiting for a flight to start boarding. This is the moment when consumers are primed for their holiday and often ready to spend. The duty free zone is the place where travel guide publishers, for example, can make a last-ditch attempt to get into the minds of travellers ahead of a journey. Brand advertising in books shouldn’t be considered such an old school idea.
44. In-flight magazines
In-flight magazines can offer travel brands the opportunity to get to consumers when they’re on their way out – to sell excursions, add-on, hotels, and entertainment. They have taken something of a hit recently. For example, Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, is axeing its printed in-flight magazines, newspapers and entertainment guides to save up to one tonne of weight on each Airbus A380. But remember, easyJet Inflight is a monthly publication read by around 3.2 million people.
45. For packaged holidays
Once the customer is in resort, there is the opportunity to sell excursions, activities and entertainment. All of these brands can reach customers via sales reps and advertising leaflets in hotel lobbies. Transport to and from airport is another service that can reach customers while they are still in the resort.
46. Tourist board website
While the travel provider may be a distant memory once a consumer is in-resort, tourist boards play an important role throughout the actual holiday. Destination content, product information and reviews should be essential tools on any host country’s website, plus display advertising and links to local suppliers such as car hire, activities, restaurants and nightlife.
47. SMS Alerts
Mobile will undoubtedly be the next big thing, but for the time being – when up against the influence of other media channels and touch points – it remains arguably at its most relevant in-resort. Reaching customers with information about activities and attractions, deals for local services and return flight information is a subtle yet important branding tool for travel providers.
When you get back
48. Review sites and user-generated content
Travellers who’ve used review sites to help pick their holiday providers may want to feed back information on to the same site, reinforcing the experience of being part of a community. Likewise, holidaymakers often like to give their opinion about a package holiday to the operator or agent they bought from. Making the feedback forums easy to find and use can reinforce a positive brand impression. UGC can have significant natural search benefits for your website.
49. Photosharing websites
Standalone image hosting sites such as Flickr (from Yahoo!) and Picaso (Google), alongside the photo capabilities of social networks, offer enormous opportunities to get back in front of customers at the moment when they are at their most ‘soft’ – in other words: when the memorable moments of a holiday fuel ideas of taking another trip.
50. Post-trip survey
The business benefit in producing a ‘Welcome Home’ email is arguably one of the most difficult touch points to pull off. Consumers may be indifferent – or worse, irritated – to hear from their travel provider immediately after a trip. But if implemented well, with subtle pushes for information, then the message will go a long way in helping firms understand how to retain the customer.
Nick Jones, managing director, I-Spy Search
It is clear from reading through the Touch Points here that consumers have never had more sources of information regarding travel at their fingertips.
On the other side if the fence, marketers have never had such diverse ways in which to reach consumers and fully engage with them in a two-way fashion. However, this does not make mass-marketing techniques redundant.
Mass-market media is still important in driving inspiration but reputation and word of mouth (on and offline) are equally as important as any traditionally created brand identity.
Search Engine Marketing has become an essential part of the online marketing mix and a vital tool for all online marketers. It offers the opportunity to reach consumers at all points of the research and purchase process, providing important behavioural learnings.
However, this is all wasted if your site is not up to scratch. A well-optimised website featuring unique and interesting content will allow travel companies the chance to engage and market to users before any buying decision has been made. Paid search allows businesses to interact with users closer to the point of purchase with creative featuring a strong ‘call to action’, possibly pricing, and a link directly through to the most relevant content.
Recent advances in tracking technology also allows for the use of ‘click path’ analysis. This enables marketers to understand the value of appearing against paid search terms earlier in the purchase cycle, rather than relying on the traditional ‘last click wins’ strategies.
This will go some way to being able to grow paid search campaigns and justify the highly costly CPCs of generic search terms.
Search is the primary way in which users navigate the internet and a rock solid strategy for your brand terms in both paid and natural search is crucial for success online. Marketing activity designed to inspire users to interact with your brand is wasted if they can’t find your website. Increasingly, marketers are synchronising both their on and offline activity and recognising the catalyst behind many search queries.
Search efficiency can be driven through scheduling paid search campaigns in parallel with other on and offline media both in terms of messaging and frequency to gain maximum impact and generate a consistent brand message.
There’s no doubting the complexity of the new landscape but well-planned and designed websites, with interesting content, competitive pricing, great product and intelligent marketing have more opportunities than ever to reach consumers.