Online travel in the press – Have you read the news?

Travel has always featured in national newspapers, but it has now become  central to their web strategies. By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

The Internet revolution has reached almost every aspect of our lives but few industries have been as profoundly altered as media and travel.

Newspapers in Britain used to stuff their travel supplements full of classifieds for last-minute deals and heavy branding for airlines and their destinations.

Now, as travellers increasingly turn to the web to research their destinations and make their bookings, newspapers are putting greater emphasis on their travel websites.

Several of the major newspaper groups are overhauling their websites and travel is central to their plans.

Publications such as The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph have deployed state-of-the-art technology to draw readers into their huge archive of travel journalism, and they surround the content with contextual advertising – where the ads are displayed according to keywords in the text in order to achieve the greatest possible relevance.

As classifieds move online, the print supplements are becoming increasingly dependent on display advertising that aims for a branding rather than direct response effect. It’s a tricky balance but clients seem to like what the newspapers have achieved so far.

Cheapflights commercial director Rob Passmore says he is impressed with what the quality papers in particular are doing, and how the print supplements and the websites work in tandem.

“The weekend supplements are a strong call to action into the website and the website is a fulfilment vehicle,” Passmore says.

Adam Freeman, deputy commercial director for Guardian News and Media, says the redesign of the travel website will provide a template for a relaunch of the entire Guardian Unlimited network.
“Travel is first. It’s important to us editorially and commercially – an interesting combination,” Freeman says. “We’re getting readers involved in the content on one of the most traditional areas and one of the fastest-changing areas.”

The redesign gives the site a new look and makes it possible to accommodate the new ad formats coming in from the Internet Advertising Bureau.

The most significant change is the contextual technology, which The Guardian is deploying in both an editorial and advertising context.

The Guardian is now using contextual links to highlight relevant articles in its archive to try to keep people on the site for longer.

Freeman explains that The Guardian gets quite a lot of its traffic from search engines and via deep links from other sites such as blogs, and these visitors come directly into the article page rather than the homepage of the website.

“In the US, 60% of our traffic is third-party referred and quite a lot of people in the UK go to Google to search for ‘The Guardian’ because it’s quicker,” Freeman says. “They’re much more likely to read the linked-to page and bounce out again unless we can engage them by bringing more relevant content to that page.”

The Guardian already had contextual advertising to section level but after a mammoth editorial effort to tag all new stories and thousands of existing stories with keywords, the paper can now offer it at individual page level for both display ads and classifieds. Yahoo! still provides the contextual text ads at the side.

Guardian Unlimited may be the market leader in terms of traffic and has certainly stuck its neck on the line in terms of heavy investment, but there are similar moves afoot throughout the quality sector. The Times is now more than a month into the relaunched version of its online travel site, which uses both contextual advertising and behavioural targeting – where different ads appear to different people depending on past behaviour.

Times Online digital media publisher Zach Leonard says the company has tagged 4,000-5,000 articles since 2004 and deployed technology from Oslo-based Fast to enhance the internal search functionality of the site.

“It’s important to us to recognise the rich depth of content and one of the technologies most appropriate to do that is search,” Leonard says.

The Times has run travel podcasts, with the first series presented by a travel author and the current one by the newspaper’s ski writers.

Times Online’s Free Spaces programme, which currently allows users to run free classifieds on the motoring site, is set to expand into travel.

The Daily Telegraph is also embracing modern technology and has deployed AdPrecision software that turns the website into a giant search engine for both its own archive and its advertising clients.

The travel site has been overhauled with a new look and feel, and new features such as podcasts and a brochure ordering service.

Janet Irwin, online product manager at The Telegraph, says Adprecision works best for contextual advertising.

“Clients’ adverts appear on a page of editorial – so next to an article about a safari in Kenya, all the ads will relate to that,” Irwin says.  “The process has very little wastage and is not invasive.”

Meanwhile, user-generated content is the buzzword du jour in the world of Web 2.0 and a number of newspapers are beginning to realise the usefulness of allowing readers to get involved in what was once sacred ground for journalists – travel writing.

For example, The Guardian has a site called Been There where readers exchange tips and ideas about destinations and the best submissions are published in the newspaper every week.

The increasing importance of the travel websites will inevitably affect the print business. The Guardian’s Freeman says this is not necessarily bad news.

“Classifieds are going online. They are slowly but surely going into search – we know that and it’s one of the reasons we’re working with search,” Freeman says.

“I look at the revenue for travel overall, both offline and online, and the mix of revenue is changing – digital is growing, print classifieds are slowing, print display and reader offers are growing.”

However, The Telegraph, which has the most traditional audience of the quality newspapers, claims that its readers and advertisers still love print.

“Other national newspapers are losing revenue from [print] classifieds. We are not in a reactive position but proactive,” says The Telegraph’s Irwin.

“We’re trying to build products together to meet advertisers’ needs but also to create great user experience.” Like the tourism industry, the media industry is grappling with some big questions about the future of its business.

Established media outlets are experimenting with new technology and business models and travel is at the forefront of that.

The innovation the newspapers are showing with their travel websites could provide a taste of what’s to come across the whole industry.

Driving readers to the online proposition

Rob Passmore, commercial director Cheapflights:

“One of the interesting things the newspapers are doing at the moment is the interplay of the different channels they use. They can drive an immense volume from the established readership to the online proposition.

“I am impressed with what a lot of the broadsheets are doing to get a mix of inspirational content and specific deals for fulfilment. There is a stronger tie-in with contextual advertising, so you might have an article in print about eco-tourism in Africa with a strong drive to the site. When you get online you see contextual advertising related to the content.

“The great thing about online is that it’s measurable and you can control the return on investment. As a brand that’s strong online we’re now looking at through-the-line media including offline activity combined with online contextual advertising using travel content as a direct response medium. We’re targeting people at the consideration point of travel, not a particular demographic.”

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