The way we book holidays today would look like science fiction to a holidaymaker from as recently as the early 1990s, when package holidays were sold mainly from high street agencies. Even people who book their holidays on the high street today will probably have spent hours researching destinations online beforehand. Conventional ways to plan and book a holiday have been thrown out of the window, and in return the digital world has enabled us to plan, assess and road test our entire holiday without leaving our homes. Let’s have a look at why this is the case.
Digital is 24/7 – and now that includes customer care
The internet doesn’t stop working at 12 a.m., play the national anthem and disappear into a black and white hole, ready to be re-awoken at 4 p.m. the following evening. It doesn’t have an off button, and it can’t control how consumers devour it.
Travel Brands such as KLM offer 24/7 advice and support via their social media channels to reach out and offer a hand to those wanting to book a flight through them. When your customer base is evolving through a generation that no longer works and plays the 9–5 lifestyle and expects immediate attention, you need to change your way of approaching them to be as instant as they are.
Consumers look for brands they like in the same way they would choose a new car, or a new partner
It has never been easier or more important to engage with your customers via social media. A 2014 US study by Google and Ipsos MediaCT (pdf) found that of those customers planning a trip purely for leisure, 65% were inspired by online sources such as social media and search. This means that without a voice or a platform to turn your brand into something inspirational, your potential revenue growth may be capped as people look towards brands which speak their language.
We consume more social media than ever before
People aspire to life the lifestyle of others. You’d probably be lying if you said that the endless pictures on social media of “hotdogs or legs” on the edge of crystal blue water didn’t make you wish that maybe you’d rather be sat on some tropical island, drinking a tequila sunrise rather than being sat on the 7.24 to Manchester Piccadilly. And with a study by Ofcom offering the figure of 66% of online adults having a current social networking profile, it’s not hard to see why it’s important for travel brands to swim in the same sea as the customers on social media.
People take inspiration from those they trust and they remember what they had to say
Take your best friend for example. He had such great experience on his recent trip to Barcelona he tweeted a public thanks to the hotel he stayed in and they retweeted it to all their followers. Nothing says “We rock; choose us” to potential customers better than someone who hasn’t been paid to say so saying it.
Multiscreen consumption is mainstream
It’s never been easier to plan and book your holiday on the go via a plethora of devices with ever thinning screens. Research by Expedia Media Solutions & comScore found that 104 million people in the US engage with travel content via a mobile device, compared to 94 million who consume travel content via a PC.
So what does this mean for travel brands?
As the volume of traffic from mobile devices exceeds traffic from desktop devices, it’s important to make sure your brand moves with the mobile tide. According to research by Skift in their 2014 State of Travel report (pdf), over 55% of mobile internet consumption related to travel is carried out on a mobile device as opposed to a traditional desktop device. And if your customer’s initial experience on mobile with your company is a bad one they’re likely to remember that as opposed to that great price you’re offering. The most popular types of travel purchases to make via mobile devices are generally hotel bookings, flights and car rental, suggesting mobile travel buyers have more disposable income than someone looking to book a budget package holiday.
Companies such as SkyScanner have owned this on-the-go market with their branded mobile app allowing day-dreaming smartphone addicts the option to find and book an easy getaway with a few taps of a screen regardless of how far away they are from home.
With Google recently announcing that from the 21st of April 2015 it will be expanding it’s use of mobile friendliness as a ranking signal, there’s never been a better time to invest in your mobile infrastructure.
User generated content can make or break you
Websites like TripAdvisor have succeeded due to people being influenced by the impartial opinions of others. Twenty years ago, holidaymakers looked through a few brochures, highlighted a couple of nice hotels based on their professional marketing imagery and made the decision based on price point. They didn’t know that the beautiful large swimming pool they thought they’d be taking their morning dip in is, in reality, more like a paddling pool of murky brown water, three miles away and a bus ride away from the room. The unbuilt hotel became a cliché.
In 2015 it probably couldn’t happen. People don’t need to “gamble” their hard earned money on a run-down hotel because someone else has already taken the gamble for them and forewarned others about it. Thanks to its community content curation approach, anyone can look at actual photos of the hotel room before they book. We can find out what are the best local attractions and how close that “short airport transfer” really is and how much it will really cost. Every aspect of your dream holiday can be planned to a tee thanks to the previous experience of others – and at no cost.
Bad user reviews can make or break a company dependant on tourism & word of mouth. They can’t hide behind their own publicity any more. You can have the greatest marketing team in the world but if you don’t quite make the grade, you’re getting sent off.
Don’t just take our word for it, ask someone else
Trust is key. You can create the best content in the world, but none of that matters if consumers don’t trust your content or your brand. It’s all very well creating well thought-out, researched content that post-hummingbird us SEO types love if your customers aren’t going to absorb it and take it with them. Are you telling the truth or are you just trying to sell them the holiday which makes you the most money?
And that’s where user generated content comes in. They might not trust you, but they’re more likely to believe what you say if Joe Bloggs in Sunderland corroborates on his blog that his holiday in Budapest really was amazing and that his trip went smoothly with no issues caused by you (the company he booked his holiday through). Well done!
RIP Brand Loyalty
You might still prefer a particular brand of toothpaste, but when it comes to booking your holiday, gone are the days of brand loyalty. Airlines are now a much-of-a-muchness jumble sale of £9.99 one-way returns (not including taxes, baggage or a seat on the plane), ruthlessly competing against one another for your hard-earned cash.
So how can brands extend their reach beyond the bargain hunting holiday market? Become the experts. Don’t just sell them a holiday, sell them an experience.
Brands should establish themselves as “digital guide books”, a place to come for all your pre-travel advice and a guide book you can take on the go via your phone. Helpful & informative content like choosing a good restaurant or finding fun activities close to your hotel probably won’t necessarily result in direct conversions. But you’ve made that positive connection. People remember your brand as the one who helped them find that amazing pizza restaurant tucked in a quiet corner of Barcelona and that connection may result in another visit to your brand, this time to book their next holiday.
Get informed on the go
Google wants to stem the flow of tourists asking “Parlez vous anglais?” and help you to speak like a local. Search engines such as Google Translate or voice recognition services including as Siri, Google Now or Cortana help you to find local information wherever you are in the world, at the push of a button. Whether you need to buy a loaf of bread or you’re hiring a car, your smartphone can give you all the information you need. Who needs night school when you’ve got Google?
The travel industry has undergone one of the most dramatic transformations of all sectors since the digital revolution, and most of it has been driven by the social internet. It’s up to the destinations to recognise this change because ignoring it isn’t an option.
One of the problems is that holidays aren’t a quantifiable thing – two visitors can have exactly the same experience and once might give it five stars and the other none. When negative power outweighs positive, how can this be turned to destinations’ advantage? A good first step is to monitor the major review sites and respond to negatives (and thank positives) so that you can put your side of the story. Some customers will always find an excuse to be disgruntled after anything short of regal service, and the comment troll will always be waiting under the bridge. The solution probably isn’t to make guests sign a contract promising not to give bad reviews and charge them £100 if they do.
And don’t assume loyalty is a thing of the past. Choice is a great thing, and there’s more of it now, but not everyone wants an adventure when they take time out – millions find a place they like and visit again and again.