Travel has come a long way – and while we may not be living the 1950s dream of speeding through vacuum-powered tubes, the rate of change in the travel industry only seems to accelerate, with COVID-19 presenting some unpredictable challenges.
Prior to January 2020 and the ensuing travel shutdown, anyone could access niche global trips via multiple channels — and with more choice and money to burn, they were traveling more often. Global international tourist arrivals peaked at almost 1.47 billion in 2019, dropping to just 402 million in 2020 due to disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Now, even though concerns around changing travel restrictions and impending quarantines remain, over three-quarters of travelers say they are eager to travel in the next 12 months. This represents a huge opportunity for travel brands who are eager to recapture lost revenue, so they need to stand out from their competitors by delivering engaging and relevant experiences. To do so requires a deep understanding of their potential customers and what influences them.
1. Riding the digital curve
In January of this year, TripAdvisor reported that 70% of its site’s visitors were booking for future trips, while lastminute.com experienced a 200% increase in bookings when restrictions eased slightly in October 2020.
The number of travel purchases made online is expected to grow as we move past pandemic restrictions, especially as people report their eagerness to travel once more. But many brands haven’t yet adapted to the flexibility that digital has brought to consumer journeys. While online buying is now a popular choice, the way travelers do it varies.
Reports show that 70% of consumers do their vacation research on a smartphone, yet 80% of travelers in the US still prefer to make the actual booking on desktop. Furthermore, 72% book after last-minute Google searches, and that’s not to mention the huge number of sites individuals visit while researching.
The path to final travel decisions is more convoluted than ever and making sense of it means getting a better grip on fragmented multichannel data. To understand individual journeys, brands need sophisticated solutions that can blend data from multiple sources — hotel sites, social media, loyalty platforms, property management systems, online travel agents, price comparison sites, meta-search engines, and more — into a single source of truth. Only then will they have a solid basis for holistic performance measurement and behavioral analytics that pinpoint which tactics work for target audiences, and where efforts should be focused.
2. Tapping millennial potential
With their collective buying power of $350 billion dollars in the US alone, millennials and Gen Z are a core focus for any brand. And their big-spending habits make them especially vital for travel, with millennials saving up an average of $5,462 for their next vacation compared to the average of $3,444. Yet engaging this sought-after cohort isn’t necessarily easy.
Although 85% check multiple sites before making a decision and 82% rely on online reviews when planning a trip, just under two in five (34%) still opt to book with a travel agent; indicating an enduring appetite for multi-channel choice, and the personal touch.
In short, millennials want it all: the ability to hop between online and offline channels in line with their changing personal needs. For brands, this poses a significant challenge; to spark millennial connections, they must ensure they are always ready to serve the right message, on the right platform, seamlessly for each consumer. Once again, comprehensive insight is key.
Achieving maximum efficiency and accuracy requires a two-step data management process. Firstly, travel marketers must harness smart tools to build their comprehensive data layer, where disparate strains of individual activity are collected and linked.
Next, data needs to be made usable, which calls for a significant degree of wrangling. As well as the capacity to map every stage of the customer experience and align real-time marketing efforts, analytical tools must be able to measure results against custom metrics. By keeping a close watch on how millennial travelers respond to different offers, channels, and approaches, they can gain a granular view of exactly what millennials want, and deliver it on a continuous basis.
3. Embracing smart machines
Amid the digital transformation wave, artificial intelligence (AI) has become a major part of everyday life; and nowhere is this clearer than with voice. Back in 2016, voice search already accounted for 20% of mobile queries, and voice shopping is due to reach more than $80 billion per year by 2023. With explorers increasingly turning to Siri and Alexa to find services and deals, brands need to upscale their AI capabilities.
In part, that will mean enabling streamlined interaction through mobile assistants and smart home speakers. But to meet consumer expectations of fast customized replies, brands must also fuel conversations with speedy insight.
Leveraging AI subsets such as machine learning, innovative analytics platforms can automatically assess massive datasets and uncover hidden patterns. Not to mention reducing the time and resources previously absorbed by human-led analysis; it has been estimated that AI can improve labor productivity by 40% in developed countries, with machines taking over once laborious tasks. Plus, the most advanced tech will also help people do more, making instant recommendations for how data can be used to improve customer experiences and increase return on spend.
Technological evolution is a mixed blessing for travel brands. As progression opens up new avenues of connection, keeping track of explorer behavior and engagement becomes more challenging. But there are many ways to turn tech to their advantage.
By embracing intelligent integration and analytics solutions, brands can take control of disordered data, unlock valuable insight and use it to deliver targeted experiences that drive desired results. Whether their core objective is more advanced bookings, immediate flight sales, or greater long-term loyalty, machine-enabled data mastery presents the best path to success.