Understanding the Unique Considerations When Carrying Out a Digital Marketing Campaign Within the Travel Sector

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Whilst no good marketing agency worth their salt would ever advocate a blanket one-size-fits-all approach to digital marketing, there is certainly some commonality between a lot of industries in terms of the tactics used to help them achieve their goals of higher search engine rankings, greater conversions, improved customer engagement and, ultimately, an increase in sales and revenue.

Although there is no black and white guarantee with anything in the world of marketing, there are certainly stock tried and tested methods that can be applied to brands across different sectors in order to begin the process of reaping the rewards an improvement in online visibility can bring. At the same time however, there are often very unique and distinct considerations to be taken into account that will differ from one industry to the next. Travel is one such market that has a wide range of individual needs that necessitate a more bespoke online marketing campaign than your average ecommerce website.
Below are some of the primary areas of focus when planning a strategy for travel brands.

Recognise the Incredible Level of Competition

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There are some seriously big players operating within the world of travel and gone are the days when you’d find a handful of different independent travel agencies adorning your local high street. One by one the little companies folded or got consumed by the big players. A new breed of travel operator instead emerged, based entirely online in recognition of the fact that the modern traveller had no need for a bricks and mortar high street presence. The Internet was awash with these new agencies, all bidding to outdo one another in price and customer experience, whilst competing with operators over 100 times their size.

Of course just because you operate in a competitive marketplace it doesn’t mean you should cut your losses and give up. After all Richard Branson wasn’t the only person selling records when he began his Virgin empire and Bill Gates didn’t baulk at the size of the task in front of him when trying to compete in a market completely dominated by IT behemoth IBM. Virgin and Microsoft are today two of the most recognised brands on the planet and history is littered with examples of once all powerful brands falling by the wayside to young upstarts who dared to be different and shook up a stagnating marketplace.

The key is to recognise that you are going to be competing with serious global players, complete with multi million pound marketing budgets and workforces on a par with the population of a small country. Treat them with respect and focus on what you know your brand is good at so that you can build from there.

Carve Out a Niche

There are over 411 million results in Google for the generic search term “holiday”. Do you really want to try and muscle in there? You’d need pretty deep pockets if you did. A far more sensible approach with a new travel SEO campaign would be to target longer tail search terms related to the specific areas in which you’re strong. Perhaps you’ve got specialist experience in tailor made backpacking holidays or you can offer great deals on round the world flights. Whatever it is that you can offer that sets you apart from the crowd, jump on it. There may be far fewer people looking for tailor made backpacking holidays than cheap flights to Greece but if those who are looking find you first, you’ve a far greater chance of success than were you to wade in and try to launch an assault on the big money high traffic terms.

Identifying industry trends will also help you to pick and choose the best keywords to target. For example, the UK Office for National Statistics reports that over the past 12 months there has been a 13% increase in UK residents’ visits to “new EU” countries (i.e. those countries that joined the EU after January 2004). If more of the UK holidaymaker’s money is going to Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary then let’s work out a way to muscle in on this growing market. Identify what is attracting tourists to these countries – is it price? Are they fashionable? Do they offer anything specific that’s gaining in popularity? You may well discover that Slovenia’s relatively stable economy, attractive rolling countryside and favourable recent press attention has seen its popularity among hikers soar in recent months. And that’s when targeting Walking Holidays in Slovenia would seem a prudent move.

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Nice place for a walking holiday – Slovenia in the sun.

Target the Converting Terms

Now you’ve recognised who you’re targeting with your specialist holiday offering you can begin to research how your target customer searches for it. The big boys ranking at the top of the organic search results for generic terms no doubt generate a great deal of traffic but invariably much of this traffic won’t convert. People often like to take their time when choosing a holiday and this means conducting research and gathering information rather than diving in and handing over their credit card details at the first opportunity.

If your target customer is seeking a specialist holiday product then the chances are that they’re going to be presented with a limited number of relevant results to choose from. Recognising what they’ve typed to get presented with these options is exactly how you get to the top of the pile and give yourself the best chance of winning that customer’s business. You need to sort the holiday researchers from the holiday purchasers and make sure you appear when they’ve keyed in the intention to buy term.

Engage with Existing and Previous Customers

A customer’s experience will determine their likelihood of coming back for more. Do a good job and you’ve a greater chance of taking that same customer on their next holiday. It’s hardly rocket science. However, what is of particular significance to those in the travel industry is the prevalence of authoritative review and rating sites such as TripAdvisor. If you’ve let somebody down there’s a good chance they’re going to let the world know by detailing their disappointing experience and if you don’t react to this you’re on a hiding to nothing.

Whilst companies across all industries are of course susceptible to negative reviews, the fact that there is such a clear and identifiable forum to air your grievances about a travel company make it all the more important that you keep on top of any and all brand mentions that could negatively impact your business. If someone’s slamming your service offering and no attempt is made to identify the problem and address it, you run the risk of your hard earned reputation being lost forever. It’s not always possible to respond individually to every single comment or review but at the same time the worst thing you can do is ignore them.

This is why any digital marketing campaign for a travel brand needs to allow for monitoring of the dreaded review sites and any associated customer engagement that may be necessary to avert a catastrophic loss in faith in your offering. You ignore TripAdvisor at your peril.

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Beat the Comparison Sites

Although not unique to the travel industry, comparison sites can pose a serious obstacle to your website’s search visibility. These aggregator sites will use every trick in the book to beat you at your own game and outrank you for your own products. Why should you pay TravelSupermarket a commission on a holiday you’ve sold just because they pushed your site down the search results?

The key here goes back to my earlier point about carving a niche and targeting long tail search terms. Flights to Cyprus attracts an average of 18,100 searches a month so the competition is fierce and airlines, tour operators and price comparison sites are all fighting for the top rankings to capture all this traffic. By contrast just 90 odd people will search Backpacking Holidays each month and as a result the aggregator sites have made little attempt to appear in searches for this term as they instead chase the big money terms.

Utilise Social Media to Your Advantage

These days brands are falling over themselves to get noticed on social media platforms, even when the reality is that as a medium it has no relevance to their industry. If you’re an established firm of local solicitors, what can you realistically expect to get from a Facebook page?

By contrast the travel sector is one which integrates seamlessly with social media, if it’s done well. People going on holiday are usually pretty happy about it so taking advantage of this can play right into your hands. The odd promotion, discount code or giveaway will attract eager potential holidaymakers to your social profiles and once they’re following you in the hope of blagging a freebie, you can draw their attention to your latest offerings.

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As a marketing channel social media can be really effective for travel brands, in the same way that people will follow a fashion brand they like, they will follow a travel brand because, ultimately, everyone likes a holiday. The key is keeping them engaged on these platforms. Don’t just push out dry posts listing your latest prices, try and spark a bit of conversation and create a buzz around what you’re doing. Be creative, show some personality and encourage people to interact with you and with one another. An engaged audience is a receptive audience and the more you know about them the better you can target them in the future.

The challenges facing travel brands in a packed online marketplace make it a fascinating sector to work within and it gives marketers a real opportunity to seek out new and exciting methods of getting noticed and attracting attention. As the economy shows signs of kicking into gear we’re set to spend more on holidays this year than the £40 billion that was spent in 2013 (find more travel stats in Joe’s blog post from last month). Therefore getting a slice of this pie is more worthwhile than ever before and thankfully there’s still room for the little guy, provided they take the right path.

You can follow my contributions to the ThoughtShift blog to find out more on travel, retail, content and digital strategy. And why not sign up for the ThoughtShift Guest List, our monthly marketing communication that keeps you up to date on all the latest advice, industry comment and strategic guides from our expert team.

Image Credits

Images are credited in the order of apperance.

  1. Image courtesy of: Fonthip Ward
  2. Image courtesy of: Jürgen Rübig
  3. Image courtesy of: WikiImages
  4. Image courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons
  5. Image courtesy of: Gerd Altmann
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