The Travel & Tourism sector is constantly expanding and changing, thanks to the digital revolution. In this ever-changing ecosystem, what do companies need to do to build a convincing brand identity, capture new customers, and retain them over time? Travel & Tourism is one of the wealthiest industries in the world.
In 2017, the annual number of tourists in the world increased by 7%, reaching a record 1.4 billion. For comparison, consider the fact that there were “only” 900 million tourists in 2010, according to the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
More importantly, tourism is a sector that is experiencing unprecedented change, thanks to digital transformation. Despite this, the margins for growth are still quite large. If in Europe alone the annual expenditure on tourism was around €450 billion in 2017, the latest forecasts show that figure reaching €532 billion by 2027 (Ninja Marketing data).
If you had to choose a single keyword to summarize the radical changes in the world of tourism that have occurred in the last decade, “disintermediation” would be the first one that comes to mind. Rather than going through intermediaries, companies have to go directly to the individual traveller who is now is at the center of the business.
When it comes to travel, tourists now have an unprecedented amount of options to choose from. We can book accommodation, modes of travel, dining options, excursions, or any kind of experience with a couple of clicks or with a few simple taps from our smartphone. We have the opportunity to read reviews, opinions, feedback, available by the thousands for some destinations or experiences before we decide to buy.
We can also download dedicated and functional applications, and we can easily compare prices and even crowdsource recommendations through Google and social media. In short, we can get a detailed idea of what is possible and what it will cost, well in advance of our arrival. Above all, we have the possibility to choose a tailor-made travel experience based on our desires, our needs, our characteristics, and our budgets.
Finally, we can evaluate and review every aspect of our experience and share that with our network. In such a landscape, the challenges for companies in the tourism sector have multiplied, are more complex and multifaceted than ever. However, as those involved in marketing know perfectly well, more challenges also mean more opportunities.
How can a solid, recognizable, and attractive brand identity be built in this complex playing field? How can you get the attention of travellers and turn them into your own customers? How can you make their experience unforgettable, turning users into marketers? How to increase engagement and loyalty? And ultimately: how can we guarantee growth in market shares, revenue, and turnover?
There is not a single recipe that can answer all of these questions. In this post, we want to establish some cornerstones on which we can orient ourselves. We’ll start with an analysis of traveller behavior and how they choose their destinations, accommodations, and experiences? Then, the second step: how can we keep track of these behaviors? Finally, how can we be ready in the right place and at the right time? And how do you create a lasting relationship with customers?
1. “Digital tourist” – That is, how you choose, prepare and book a trip, in the digital age
It’s a common experience for all of us: the way we choose our travel destinations and book the accommodations has changed radically. With our analysis, we start from a specific but very significant target to identify the trends on the horizon: millennials.
Seventy-nine percent of young people between 18 and 24 watch videos and photos published by friends on social media, and they are often the starting point for inspiration when it comes to choosing a travel destination. They also want to make sure the information they are seeing is authentic: 44% are concerned about the legitimacy of the reviews they have read before choosing (source).
So, here’s what emerges from this initial data: social networks are of central importance, especially when it comes to images and even more so for videos (which have been shown to be most effective in terms of communication); the key role of reviews and “digital word of mouth,” and, last but not least, young people know that not all reviews and opinions are equal when it comes to choosing. If, at this point, we broaden the focus of our investigation, we see how the customer journey in travel is more than ever a digital journey. This is true for millennials, as well as other groups, and it’s increasingly so for older age groups.
The Politecnico di Milano university, in collaboration with Doxa, has revealed that the majority of tourists use the web in all stages prior to their trip: 88% look for information and 82% book or buy something (accommodation, means of transport or activities at the destination). Digital has not only transformed the way people choose and book but has also had a decisive impact on their travel behavior. For example, 44% of the sample surveyed purchases some activities on the internet and, once at their destination, 86% use applications to support the experience. Finally, the post-trip: sharing one’s experience is increasingly central to the behavior of digital tourists. From sharing the story of their trip through images posted on Instagram to reviews on sites like TripAdvisor or other sites, to the willingness to respond positively to commercial offers post trip.
This includes targeted campaigns (through social or AdSense, for example) or up-selling and cross-selling actions via email. These last points, in particular, must be kept in mind by those who deal with marketing and customer care in the sector, with the awareness that today there are the tools that can help them go beyond target segmentation and clustering.
In fact, you can go as far as personalizing your messages: the most effective way, the one with the best results in terms of engagement, conversion, and loyalty. We will talk more about it in the third and last point.
2. Big data – getting to know your potential customers
At first glance, the online behaviors of people looking for travel inspiration for destinations, accommodation, and experiences, can appear completely unpredictable. The path followed isn’t the same for everyone. Instead, we often go from one channel to another (from portals to social networks, from the desktop to mobile, from specialized sites and blogs to dedicated apps).
“It is a behavior that is very reminiscent of (television) channel surfing, but it takes place between physical and digital channels,” said Filippo Renga, director of the Digital Innovation in Tourism Observatory of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano. “Tourists, and more markedly the most digital, switch from one channel to another frequently, using up to three different tools (online and offline) in the inspiration phase and four for research in the most extreme cases, with habits that change significantly, especially for travel needs, but without significant differences between long or short holidays.
So, how can we keep track of all of this information? Big data can be an essential ally for marketing and customer care in any sector, but it’s of central importance to the tourism industry. Learning to collect and organize (often with the help of Artificial Intelligence systems) the huge amount of tracks that travelers leave online is essential on multiple levels: from revenue management, to reputation management, from market research related to competitors to managing user loyalty.
Knowing how to analyze the data means knowing who is “in front,” dividing the audience of customers (actual or potential) into increasingly specific groups that can be approached with targeted messages and actions that are as tailored as possible. In other words, targeting the right product or experience to the right people, at the right time, with the right price, through the right channel, and knowing how to make the most of what Google has defined as “travel micro-moments.”
3. Brand identity – Stand out, get recognized, interact
Probably, the most complicated mission in the crowded Travel & Tourism market is to be recognized, to stand out from the crowd, and, consequently, to obtain one of the rarest and most precious goods in the digital age: attention. And finally, to maintain this attention and transform it into loyalty. How do you do that?
Here too there is no recipe that can be considered universally valid. But in the words of Bruce Horner, Head of Media and Alliances for Travelocity, there is a fundamental point that makes the difference: “Differentiation is not just about the product, it’s about creating a meaningful brand identity that connects and engages with consumers.”
This brings us to the crux of the matter. Creating a solid brand identity is about knowing how to establish a dialogue. Marketing is intimately intertwined with the customer experience. Today, this means addressing each user in a personalized, omnichannel and interactive way with tailor-made messages that attract attention, maintain it, and create loyalty.
Brand identity and market positioning, as a result, are played right here: the image of a company, in the age of digital, is above all the image that its customers give it. In summary, the challenge is played above all on personalization: an ancient mechanism that finds new life in the most innovative technological tools.
To learn more about trends that will impact your marketing and customer strategy in the travel sector, download our free infographic.