There was a shift felt across the travel industry when Booking.com announced in November that they would be more than doubling their investment in television advertising. Considering that this Priceline Group-owned company was born of the digital travel era, and remains a leader in digital marketing, the move was surprising... Why would an online pioneer like Booking.com step backward into broadcast media? The answer isn’t simple, and it goes far beyond a single decision in Booking.com’s marketing department.
Nothing is ever what it seems
There is a broader shift underway in the travel industry, and its impact is being felt by everyone in the space.
It’s the reason Priceline Group is eyeing more TV spending; it’s also the reason the Trivago guy is going to be seen more frequently on the smaller screen.
Travel brands need to diversify their advertising investment in an effort to reach travelers directly, and at all phases of the travel planning and booking journey.
Additionally, there is a renaissance going on in the "classic" marketing channels; programmatic decisioning and media buying is now becoming commonplace in TV and radio and direct mail marketing.
This is a reflection of the efficiency and effectiveness that can be achieved from the proper and intended use of programmatic, but it is also addressing a need for more and better options in a brand’s marketing mix.
Another driver of this shift is the travel supplier brands themselves. Airlines, cruise lines and major hotel chains like Hilton and Hyatt are trying to reclaim the loyalty they’ve lost since the rise of the OTA.
It wasn’t that long ago that travelers would “only” cruise with Royal Caribbean or “only” stay at Starwood hotels.
Now, the typical U.S. household will spend, on average, 45 days visiting over a dozen websites, over 140 times, before departing on a trip.
Direct and to the point
Travel supplier brands are losing that direct contact with their best customers and prospective customers, and taking a hit to revenue along the way.
They want bookings coming back through their sites directly, and they also want the opportunity to reconnect with those customers and regain their loyalty.
A growing number of travel brands are attempting to capture attention earlier in the buying cycle, when the vacation is still a just a dream.
Resorts, destinations, cruise lines and even ‘private accommodation’ providers are trying to inspire consumers to plan a vacation by planting ideas of beaches, spas and cosmopolitan cities chock-full of museums and entertainment, in their heads.
The goal is to inspire the consumer with a vision of the perfect vacation, and then get them to book directly.
Beyond inspiration, some brands have other motives for pursuing a booking direct strategy.
When JetBlue severed ties with several OTAs earlier this year, its intended goal was to cut costs by bringing travellers back to its own site for bookings.
JetBlue.com, the airline’s website, is the least expensive way for the company to sell tickets.
To manage this successfully, they’re going to have to get in front of their prospective guests in a more targeted, more engaging, and more persuasive way and stay on this course for the long haul.
Elephants, rooms and more
Travel brands need to follow Booking.com’s lead and start diversifying their spend. We know that the lion’s share of digital spending goes to the "duopoly" — Google and Facebook.
Brands advertising on these two channels are pitting themselves directly against OTAs and Google, to reach the same audiences and acquire that booking.
Perhaps a smarter move would be to follow the advice of your trusted financial adviser, and not invest all of your money in gold (or stocks or bitcoin), right?
Instead, travel brands should consider other channels conducive to storytelling, such as TV, radio/podcasts and print.
In the digital age, these “old school” media methods often benefit from the same big data used to target audiences online, so they’re far more efficient than they used to be.
Broadcast media holds a captive audience better than a digital ad, which can be blocked or scrolled past.
The brochures that travel companies use to sell their products can have the same high impact they have always had, but now they can be tied to digital intent, so that they’re sent only to visitors who have taken action on your website.
Not to mention brochures and catalogues last a lot longer than display ads: recipients will keep them on hand for reference for days and weeks after they’ve been received.
I like to say: “When was the last time someone taped a display ad to their refrigerator?”
Travel was one of the very first industries to experience digital disruption, and it’s going to be among the first to get ahead of it.
By investing wisely in multi-channel, targeted marketing strategies, all travel brands have the opportunity to strengthen their direct customer relationships.