Glen Calvert, Chief executive of Affectv
It seems that almost everyday there is a story about the failing UK high street and you don’t have to be a master detective to work out why this has happened.
A combination of changing shopping behaviour and the global economic crisis has led to the mass desertion of consumers, and their income, from town centres.
The impact of this decline in footfall and sales is being felt by the travel industry.
In fact, 77 high street travel agencies and tour operators became insolvent in the 12 months to March 2014.
With such uninspiring figures, you probably wouldn’t be mocked for believing that high street travel agencies have had their day.
Yet, as the travel industry as a whole continues to grow, there is clearly a lot of money to be made and it’s important for companies to understand how to get a good share of it.
Ironically, the answer could lie with one of the reasons for its decline: the internet.
Since the mass adoption of smartphones, consumers are no longer restricted to their homes to access the internet.
The ability to be constantly connected to the internet has changed the way people shop. One example of this change is a trend called showrooming – estimated to be done by around half of smartphone users – whereby people use their mobile devices to find out more information about a product they are interested in, read peer reviews or even compare prices with competitors.
Savvy companies are aware of this and have started to understand that if people are looking at their smartphones when they are shopping, then why not engage with them when they are doing it?
Retailers are now sending product information and special offers directly to customers when they are in store to reduce the amount of people looking but not buying.
High street travel companies should be doing this too, and some do, however, just 48% of travel companies have a mobile optimised site.
This means that of the one in two people that are showrooming, half of them could be visiting travel websites that don’t provide a good user experience.
With something as emotionally involved as booking a holiday, a badly designed website can be the difference between a hit or a miss, which is inexcusable given how simple it is for companies to apply responsive design elements to websites.
A great example of a travel company that has embraced this new web design trend is Gatwick Airport, whose continuous scroll website operates differently on multiple devices yet still retains a consistent feel across all of them.
Another example of how the internet has changed the travel industry is in holidaymaker research.
42% of leisure travellers read peer reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp before they decide where to go and which company to go with.
But it’s not just third party opinions that count, holidaymakers are also receptive to communications from brands.
When being exposed to an advert, 43% of travellers research the hotel, flight or destination, 25% click on the ad and 24% visit the brand’s website.
With at least two in five travellers actively seeking advice online, as well as their receptiveness to adverts from brands, travel companies should be targeting these people when they start to look.
By analysing historical consumer data, companies can understand their customers and may even be able to predict what they are likely to do in future and target advertising and marketing based on this knowledge.
But this doesn’t allow them to understand the behaviour of new or future customers.
The information a travel provider needs to predict that a person is likely to engage with them, such as websites visited, social media interactions, location and share actions, can predict when people are researching their next trip.
This is even more complex if you want to deliver a personalised message to them. Matching both historic data on the individuals’ interests, previous travel behaviours and recent signals, with a relevant message means blending both historic data and modelling with real-time decisioning.
Being able to find those audiences at critical times, such as when a person is looking to book a holiday, allows brands to find these audiences in these narrow time windows in the decision making process.
New technology, with the ability to access larger volumes of data both at the bottom of the marketing funnel, and increasingly further up in the earlier phases of the customer life cycle, means companies can personalise marketing content with more relevant messaging.
Rather than simply displaying an ad this tells the consumer why that company wants to engage with them.
While parts of the industry focus purely on finding audiences, smart travel providers are combining the right person with the right message to ensure that new audience discovery is driven by delivering relevant and personal messages.
This can be anything from highlighting the number of flights bought that day in order to encourage a sale, to telling the viewer how many of their Facebook ‘friends’ have booked through their company before, adding endorsement.
If the current trend of high street travel company closures continues, competition will decrease and the remaining agencies could see more exclusivity over town centre consumers.
Now is the perfect time for bricks and mortar agencies to use online marketing tactics to find and target both in their stores and at home.