The digital world has changed beyond recognition since 2006. That was before Facebook, Twitter and social media unleashed their people power; before Apple’s game-changing iPhone, iTunes and iPad were launched; before we learnt to ‘watch it again’, in our own time and on our choice of device, with the BBC’s iPlayer or TVCatchup; before we listened to whatever music we wanted, whenever and wherever we wanted, via Spotify; and when the online video era was still in its infancy.
Yet when it comes to travel, consumers were early digital adopters. The appeal of budget flights was already established and last-minute travel purchasing was becoming normal consumer behaviour.
As broadband penetration increased, use of the internet evolved from simple searches for destinations and weather guides to booking our holidays and even checking in online.
What the evolution of digital marketing has brought with it is the concept of personalisation. Campaigns once deployed to a blanket of non-specific audiences in the hope they would reach someone in-market can now be aimed firmly at relevant individuals. Sophisticated use of data and addressable advertising has enabled phenomenally effective targeting of marketing campaigns based on consumers’ interests.
Transformation will quicken
The next five years will be even more transformative. People and their adoption of new platforms and technologies will continue to drive this change. Overall, we are going to witness the concept of ‘real-time living’ touching more and more of our day-to-day lives.
The most obvious example of where this currently exists is satnav technology. Think about the impact that this has had on our route planning and journeys: we basically switch off and let the device take over.
Now imagine this concept extended to many other everyday tasks such as shopping, eating out, travelling and meeting friends. This will be driven by the semantic web – a web that pushes information our way, based on understanding us, rather than relying on us to pull down what we want.
Mary Meeker, the so-called Queen of the Net, famously coined the phrase “so-lo-mo” in reference to social, local and mobile. This oft-quoted quip could provide a mantra for forward-looking travel companies.
Central to that mantra is the smartphone – a hugely important device that is becoming increasingly central to more and more people’s lives.
The traveller of 2016 will not only board and check-in via smartphone. Upon arriving at destinations around the globe they will also receive targeted, relevant and attractive offers from local advertisers who understand their interests. For those in the business of marketing hotels, restaurants, bars, leisure attractions and more, the opportunities are endless.
How the travel industry makes the most of mobile will be pivotal to its future. In the words of Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt: “If you don’t have a mobile strategy, you don’t have a business strategy.”
Near field communication technology is turning the smartphone into a wallet. We will simply use contactless, swipe technology (like the Oyster card), negating the need to carry cash.
Of profound importance to the travel industry is video, with consumer use growing exponentially. The implications of video consumption for the travel industry are clear: when a consumer is researching holidays, IPTV (internet protocol TV), in particular, will enable a shared, interactive and emotionally engaging experience. Disney is already using this with its destination marketing. Meanwhile, 3D will help promote travel experiences.
Consumers drive change
Sat firmly in the driving seat and keeping the travel industry on its toes in this brave new world will be the increasingly sophisticated consumer. They will be utterly unforgiving of brands whose products and services fail to live up to the virtual reality they present online. So the message to travel brand managers is clear: exceed expectations or face consumers’ wrath.
What will have changed within five years in the travel industry? Everything and nothing. Nothing in that the essential purpose of a holiday will be as it’s always been – to travel and relax.And everything in that the digital revolution will have become the norm. Digital marketing presents an incredible opportunity for travel brands to be the very best they can be.
But here’s a final thought. Could there come a time when advances in technology make a virtual experience of the Pyramids or the Inca Trail almost a match for the real thing? All without the cost or environmental impact. What then for the travel industry?
Specific Media is a global interactive media company that helps advertisers connect with consumers. It has offices in the US and Europe.