How travel brands can move beyond traditional consumer data advice

Knowing the relative data points helps to put marketing plans in the right context and also allows travel marketers to stay relevant in their communications with consumers – writes ADARA chief marketing officer Carolyn Corda

The travel industry’s digital ecosystem is getting increasingly complex. In the Asia-Pacific region, this is especially true as it overtakes North America to become the world’s leading digital travel market.

Against this backdrop, APAC travel marketers who want to maintain relevance in the minds of consumers often look across the wider plane of marketers for ideas and best practices – in a bid to shape their targeting strategies. The problem, however, is that traditional consumer data advice doesn’t necessarily work for travel brands.

Why? Travel marketers are faced with a very specific set of behaviours that make it almost impossible to use data in the same way marketers in other industries do. For example, while travel can be broadly categorised into business or leisure travel, this is complicated by factors such as travel duration, destinations, and purchase behaviour across regions, nationalities and generations.

Despite enormous variations amongst APAC travellers, a majority still want travel brands to lean in. And when Asian consumers don’t seem particularly opposed to sharing their personal data – especially if it means getting a more personalised experience in return – travel brands should really be using this to their advantage.

Indeed, travel marketers must step up their game. This warrants more than just heeding traditional consumer data advice – travel marketers must move beyond the norm to measure and leverage data that truly matters.

Collaborate for more – achieving greater detail through joint forces

Most ad targeting begins with demographic data. However, while demographics can help a retailer achieve a somewhat targeted ad campaign, it becomes a poor indicator of a consumer’s travel behaviour beyond a certain income level. From discerning between business and leisure travel, international and domestic preferences, to loyalty status and more, travel marketers require more specific data to build a more robust understanding of the modern traveller.

That said, the sharing economy is still very much alive and relevant in the travel industry, with travel brands in APAC exploring collaborations and partnerships to achieve this level of detail and granularity in data. Booking platform Triip works with a network of partners as part of a data ecosystem of over 100 million users. In addition, brands could also consider working with a travel data co-op, as in the case of Marriott, Avis, and All Nippon Airways, who each work with ADARA to gain traveller insights and glean critical intelligence that helps them know what travellers need next.

Looking to the present for the future

While customer lifetime value scores and past spending behaviours can shed some light on companies’ future priorities for customer service, discounts and other interactions with customers, sophisticated travel marketers would instead shift their focus from past travel behavior to customer engagements in the present, as well as future travel intent. Simply put, they’d look to the present to shape the future.

Thankfully, we’re already seeing travel brands making some headway. Conversational commerce is witnessing an uptick, as consumers increasingly interact with brands and businesses through messaging services, and brands, in turn, are leveraging this.  Kayak, for example, allows travellers to enter a simple command string into Slack, such as “kayak flights from Singapore to Bangkok”, after which they’d receive a message back with various options.

Hence, beyond being an extension of the existing customer service model, conversational commerce can also allow travel brands to cater to consumers’ entire path to purchase on a single platform.

It’s also heartening to see that ad platforms are beginning to offer options that empower travel brands to look towards future intent – Facebook recently launched Flight Ads for Prospecting, enabling travel marketers to reach people on the social media network who have expressed future travel intent across all stages of the funnel.

Often, these not only result in more seamless and personalised customer interactions, and travel shopping experiences, but also help travel brands better understand the need and intent of the consumer at different stages of the path to purchase.

Data is relative – contextualising is key

Data should always be interpreted in relation to other data and with consideration of the context. For instance, at 24% of the total market share of international tourist arrivals, it might not seem like APAC was commanding that much of the global tourism market. Yet, the strategy team at an international hotel chain looking to expand more aggressively would not remain fixated on this.

Instead, they would view the 24% as an indicator of the growth potential of APAC – if it has been increasing yearly and at what rate compared to the rest of the world. Similarly, within APAC or South East Asia, they will look at the context, such as the growth potential of each country relative to its neighbours, the growing number of tourist arrivals, and existing number of hotels to determine the ideal market to expand into.

Travel marketers should do likewise. While each travel brand has its own bucket of valuable customers, such as regular guests that book suites, or frequent first-class fliers, they should also consider whether these customers might have a higher overall spend with another hotel or airline. Knowing these relative data points will help guide and put marketing plans in the right context, and also allow travel marketers to stay relevant in their communications with travellers.

Innovative travel brands, including Klook and TripAdvisor, are already leading the pack by turning to machine learning and artificial intelligence to contextualise data and improve their service offerings over time. While Klook is banking on AI and machine learning to facilitate smarter search, TripAdvisor, the largest “pre-transaction” travel website, is tagging all of their community content to create metadata that will help create more personalised search results and marketing communication.

It may seem paradoxical, but the problems with traditional consumer data advice notwithstanding, travel marketers actually have a leg up over their peers in other industries. The fact is that only 18% of travel and hospitality companies believe they are digitally mature, far lower than the average of 24% across various industries.

While this means that travel marketers are not maximising the potential of data collected, and that not all elements of the customer insight strategy are in place, this also signifies the unlimited opportunities for travel marketers to get ahead. In the battle for the customer, travel brands must keep pace with their most digitally mature consumers. APAC travellers may be sophisticated and diverse, but there’s nothing stopping travel marketers from being the same.

Carolyn Corda is chief marketing officer at travel data firm ADARA and is based in San Francisco, in the United States – she will be among the speakers at the Mumbrella Asia Travel Marketing Summit in Singapore on May 7


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