The last couple of decades have seen the advent of some very useful and powerful trip planning and booking tools, but planning a vacation is not just scientific, it is emotional, aspirational and inspirational.
For many families, it is precious quality time they get only once or twice a year. Aligning schedules, choosing a destination, mode of travel, activities: it’s all part of a process driven by instinct and emotion. It’s the “Journey before the Journey.”
Today’s typical online travel consumer is exposed to over 38,983 micro-moments in any 60-day timeframe, during which time they visit an average of 18 websites via multiple devices in eight sessions before making a hotel booking.
This complicated vacation-planning process has not gone unnoticed by travel companies. They know that the true journey begins months before departure, and marketers want to hop onboard with consumers early on.
The online travel agencies want to be the one place vacation planners go to book their trips. Airbnb, TripAdvisor and other players are also vying for traveler attention. The brand marketers who win consumers’ trust and loyalty will not necessarily be the ones who offer the lowest prices; they will be the ones who earn the consumer’s trust.
Earning that trust starts the moment a consumer decides that they might take a vacation with your company, and it doesn’t end until after they’ve returned home.
Trust begins with respect
The proliferation of available data has made it easy and cost-effective to target travel-ready consumers online. We know who’s searching for information on airfares or cruises or researching destinations, and we can display digital ads to them wherever they go online.
It is generally reported that more than 40% of all site activity occurs on mobile devices, but less than 1% of all bookings occur on mobile devices. The increasing use of ad-blockers, the changes Apple deployed (ITP in iOS11) and the release of Google’s Chrome browser that limits marketer’s ability to track and serve ads online – all seem to suggest that a growing segment of consumers view this type of interaction as either unwanted or disrespectful.
What then are the most effective and respectful ways to have your brand in mind at that “booking moment”?
Perhaps, since booking a vacation is such an emotional and thoughtful decision, we should be leaning on media and devices that are better at conveying the emotional impact - that add to the experience rather than detract from it.
The storytelling properties of TV and radio can do a great deal to sway vacation planners. As can print - the medium we’ve historically relied upon in travel. Sending a postcard, brochure or booklet to an interested consumer gives them something tactile, something they can leave on the kitchen table for the family to review, or tape to the fridge for everyone to see.
There’s value in analog media, especially now that we can use real-time interest and intent data to target audiences the same way we do online.
Trust continues with experience
Over the years, companies like Amazon and Uber have made our lives better and easier, they have become "lifestyle" brands.
Travel marketers are striving to do the same. Airbnb, one of many travel sector examples, is doing a lot of things right. They’re advertising across a broad media mix, and they’re creating an immersive and trustworthy experience online.
They’ve also recently added “Experiences” - outings or day trips to make a vacation more unique and interesting. Joe Gebbia of Airbnb said in an interview: “Our ambitions extend far beyond accommodations.”
Travel planning is as unique as the people doing the planning. Many travelers will still visit a travel agency and entrust a human to handle every aspect of their trip. Other travelers will look to OTAs and emerging players like Airbnb.
It’s up to these online travel services to create an experience that begins the moment someone decides to take a trip. Travel marketers must, from that first decision point, weave a story that engages that traveler. Spark their imagination while showing respect and building trust.
It’s not easy to win that journey-before-the-journey, and marketers need to get even smarter to stay with their customers on that path.