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Data-Driven Marketing in Travel: 6 Areas of Change to Consider

  • Jed Mole

    Jed Mole

Created at September 11th, 2018

Data-Driven Marketing in Travel: 6 Areas of Change to Consider

With an estimated 11.1% of growth predicted for the global travel industry by 2022, opportunities are clear for travel and hospitality brands.

Supporting this anticipated growth, the industry has undergone substantial change; increasing digitisation, shifts in buyer behaviour and evolving buyer expectations have created a complex, often fragmented marketing landscape.

As a result, meeting the expectations of a changing travel population to deliver a seamless, personalised customer experience that fosters loyalty, can be hard to achieve.

Indeed many travel and hospitality marketers continue to face challenges in:

  • Tackling the omnichannel experience
  • Dealing with fragmented data points and technology silos
  • Having inaccurate or incomplete data sets

Despite this, marketers understand the changing travel landscape and are able to utilise an omnichannel approach to attain a single customer view, and use insight to personalise the customer journey, will be those who resonate.

So, how is marketing in travel evolving, and what do data-driven marketers need to consider to succeed?

6 Areas of Change for Travel Marketing

1. Digital Transformation

From planning to booking a trip online, digitisation now impacts the entire travel experience:

  • According to Acxiom’s Expectations Vs Experience report, almost half (46%) of leisure travellers booked their last flight through an airline’s website or app.
  • Almost half of travellers 20-34 now shop for and book travel on smartphones.
  • Three in five travellers shop for travel products on a computer, compared to only a third who shop on smartphones. And of those who end up booking online, three-quarters complete the purchase on a desktop.
  • In 2016, Market Realist claimed that online booking accounts for more than 40% of total travel sales.

Of course, the digital travel experience extends beyond pre-trip searching and booking. In-destination research; for trips and activities, as well as sharing experiences and engaging on social channels, has created high expectations for digital customer experience.

For travel and hospitality brands to succeed (and compete with online travel agencies), they must be able to ensure a positive digital experience – pre, during and post trip – using data to recognise, personalise and deliver the right messaging to customers at the right time.

“Today’s tech-savvy travellers expect transparency and embrace innovation. Digital channels offer brands the chance to build closer, smarter relationships with clients, while apps and other tech can provide guests with greater customisation, control and convenience. These new technologies have transformed the hospitality landscape and paved the way for new services and choices for guests.”
-Benoit-Etienne Domenget, Chief Executive Officer, Sommet Education, 2018

2. Data and Insight

According to The State of Data in Travel Survey 2017, 65% of travel organisations, had a dedicated data, analysis or insight team, with 75% of these businesses expecting to increase their data analytics budget in 2018-19.

For travel brands to be able to personalise individual traveller’s journeys across channels, it’s increasingly crucial to embrace an omnichannel, data-driven approach. Enabling more responsive, relevant customer experiences, a focus on data empowers brands to execute personal, appropriate messaging at the right times, in the right places to deliver compelling experiences that exceed expectations and drive loyalty.

3. OTAs (Online Travel Agents)

With increasing digitisation and evolving customer expectations for easy, accessible digital travel brand experiences, it’s unsurprising that online travel agencies (OTAs) and travel start-ups are growing.

With multiple ways to book travel online, travellers have hundreds of sites and apps to choose from – and will favour brands who can offer a simple, convenient and relevant experience. As OTAs often have greater digital agility over legacy brands, it’s here that they may have the advantage:

  • According to Statista, by 2019, the online travel industry is forecasted to grow to $762 billion.
  • 40% of leisure travellers shop on OTAs compared to just 30% who shop on airline, hotel, and other supplier websites.
  • According to Acxiom’s Expectations Vs. Experience report, millennial travellers under 35 tend to be more price-sensitive and brand-agnostic, and clearly favour OTAs for hotel bookings. They are almost evenly split between OTAs and airline sites for flights.

Regardless of whether a travel brand is an OTA or otherwise, it’s clear that the ability to deliver a cost-competitive, relevant and seamless cross-channel experience is the answer to secure favour with travellers today.

4. Experience Vs Expectation

Customer expectations of travel itself are also evolving. Today, traveller’s preferences lean toward unique, personalised experiences that provide the culture of a new place – rather than a simple ‘photostop’ experience.

With travellers looking to purchase trips and experiences that match their particular personal interests (specialist tours and trips, curated adventures etc), travel brands that are able to use data to track individual preferences and provide a more tailored, matched experience, will be those that stand out.

5. Millennial Audience Expectations

Alongside digital change and evolving expectations, travellers themselves are changing:

  • According to Forbes, millennials are the most important consumer generation for the travel industry because they place a great deal of importance on being unique and spontaneous
  • Millennials are also more likely to spend more on a vacation – on average spending $1,312 on each vacation – an 8% increase from 2016 spending (Forbes)

With millennials expected to comprise three-quarters of the global workforce by 2025, meeting the needs and expectations of a millennial traveller base is crucial. For travel brands, that increasingly means intelligent, insight-led engagement. For example, 33% of those aged 27-34 use mobile throughout the entire travel lifecycle – just 5% of those aged 63-75 do.

6. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Considering data-driven marketing trends, Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the travel industry by offering deals to customers as well as accelerating growth. As a result, adopting AI will be increasingly important for travel companies to predict customer behaviour, intent, and unlock revenue opportunities through enhanced customer experience.

“The use of AI among travel firms will explode in 2018, further blurring the boundaries between tech companies and travel companies as they increasingly use AI, driven by data and analytics, to deliver faster and more personalised results. “Powered by platforms with built-in intelligence and learning, travel providers will keep up with demand for an abundance of information and options delivered in real-time.” – Simon Ferguson, Managing Director, Northern Europe, Travelport, 2018

How Data-Driven Marketers Can Adapt

As the travel and hospitality landscape changes, achieving an accurate customer view to deliver intricately personalised experiences will only become more crucial.

In a competitive marketplace, consumers expect to connect and interact seamlessly with travel organisations across multiple channels and devices. Those marketers that achieve a true omnichannel approach, to recognise each guest individually and personalise experiences pre, during and post travel, will be those that meet demand and stand out long term.