Travelers are ludicrously price-conscious. Thanks to the proliferation of online comparison services, there’s a very strong consumer-driven demand for value.
And so, people are spending more time shopping around in search of the best deal. As a result, they are also far more likely to abandon a booking in the middle of the process, if a better deal emerges. Therefore, while it’s difficult to stand out in a crowded market, it’s even more difficult for travel providers to keep a customer’s attention through the booking journey and convert it into a sale.
In this highly competitive space, traditional travel companies are having to reconsider their business models to keep prices low and maximize revenue from the customers they do engage. For example, demand for cheap flights has given rise to low-cost long-haul carriers such as Norwegian Air, which are challenging traditional airlines on key routes, putting pressure on them to lower prices in order to stay in the game.
This means airlines are increasingly focused on generating profits from their retail operations, add-ons and strategic partnerships. And, the lower the ticket price, the more dependent an airline will be on selling in-flight meals, duty-free, car hire and travel insurance to make a profit.
Especially given that the airline ‘cut’ of a flight booking is microscopic at the best of times. Some airlines are even considering a subscription model as they see more profitability in their ancillary revenues than seat bookings: Wow Air’s CEO Skúli Mogensen famously said he wants to be “the first airline in the world where ancillary revenue surpasses the per seat revenue.”
In addition, more consumers are shunning traditional package deals to build their own holiday experiences which better reflect their own personality, passions and interests. This means consumers aren’t going for the bigger, bundled options, rather they are choosing to craft their own personalized experiences, and this is forcing travel companies to fight for each opportunity to make a sale.
Increasing purchases across the entire customer journey is the name of the game. Being contextually relevant is more important than real time engagement, which can sometimes be considered intrusive. So how do travel marketers engage customers and win additional spend throughout the booking process?
1. Understand your (individual) traveler
When you’re attempting to sell items which weren’t originally on a customer’s shopping list, personalization is key. Using CRM data will help to understand the tastes and buying habits of your customer and tailor suggestions and offers to each individual buyer.
For example, if you know that one person regularly takes a flight to Barcelona but never, ever needs car hire, then it makes sense to avoid frustrating them by having to click through this part of the booking process. Instead, perhaps this individual might take up the offer of extra legroom occasionally? Don’t risk alienating customers by forcing them to go through a cumbersome journey filled with irrelevant offers just to book a ticket.
2. Catch them at the right place, right time
This might sound simple but implementing appropriate engagement tactics can be a technological and organizational nightmare! Rather than sending potentially irrelevant notifications, artificial intelligence (AI) offers the opportunity to provide more relevant location-based information for travelers during every stage of the journey (pre-trip, during travel and post-trip).
Location and contextual based marketing is far more powerful when coupled with AI because it makes it relevant to the consumer at that moment in time. It helps to build an understanding of where travelers are likely to be heading and how long it might take them to get there based on real-time traffic information. It also creates a model of what content in what context drives the best engagements. Making full use of this will help to offer timely deals based on their location.
3. Introduce subscription models
Not only does a subscription service help make revenue more predictable, but it also allows businesses to build up accurate and detailed customer profiles of their most valuable customers (repeat users). This means travel marketing efforts can become more personalized.
Surf Air is one example of an Amazon Prime-like “all you can fly” membership service. Customers pay a set monthly fee which allows them to take an unlimited number of flights. While this structure may not appeal to the more casual traveler, it targets a core customer base of frequent flyers to support retention rates.
4. Use content to influence decisions
According to Expedia, seventy-eight percent of travelers are influenced by informative content from destinations or travel brands. Reaching consumers with the right content at the right time should therefore be an integral part of any customer engagement strategy. Feeding data from multiple sources into a single platform can help marketers better understand what will ignite the imagination of travelers.
However, now that consumers have more control over how they are communicated with, it’s vital that brands deliver content in the right way – so don’t walk blindly into using chatbots and voice search because they seem like the ‘Next Big Thing’. Make sure you understand how your customers want to engage with you and structure your investments to help you to land the message in the most impactful way.
With 83 percent of millennials saying they would let travel brands track their digital patterns if this would provide them with a more personalized experience, it’s clear that this is an industry where consumers are looking for help and as many relevant suggestions as they can get before making a purchase. And while consumers want maximum choice over all elements of their holiday – from flights to accommodation to day trips – it is ultimately easier to make purchases through one provider.
Travel companies must understand exactly what their customers want in order to sell beyond their original proposition, or these additional purchases will be made elsewhere, and they’ll lose their opportunity to make the critical incremental revenue they need to turn a slim loss into a slim profit – millions of times over, with each and every traveler they take on board.