Attracting clients on “the path to purchase” has been the pursuit of online and traditional travel agents for years, as more leisure travelers seek inspiration and information online during their vacation planning.
Some experts say travel services companies focus too much of their time and marketing resources trying to find the leisure traveler too late in the decision-making process (referred to as the “bottom of the sales funnel”), and as a result, end up competing more on price and less on creating customer value.
“When you are only reaching people at the bottom of the funnel, all you are having is pricing conversations with consumers,” said Seth Forman, vertical director, travel and tourism at Quantcast, a company that assists firms in marketing to consumers.
“This kind of strategy will have a direct impact on your bottom line,” Forman said during a recent Phocuswright webinar, because the consumer at that point is looking for discounts and other concessions to compare with a handful of competitors.
“It’s like operating a retail store. There is a line of people at your checkout, and you’re giving them 20 percent off coupons. How valuable is that? Is that the best use of your marketing dollars?”
Forman believes successful travel companies need to focus more of their marketing efforts on “consumers and shoppers who don’t know about your brand” but are in the “consideration phase.” By doing so, he says, travel brands can increase their sales conversion rates by three times, and increase repeat business.
Timing is everything, inspiration a must
According to Phocuswright research, the typical leisure traveler is picking their destination three months out; booking their airline tickets around two months out; and choosing their lodging between 1-2 months before departure.
However, for longer and more expensive trips, the average traveler is picking their destination 4-5 months out; and choosing their accommodations closer to three months out. For these longer, pricier trips, slightly more than one in four travelers are spending a month or more researching their destination, while 22 percent are spending a month or more researching the various components of their trip.
This is when savvy travel marketers, including agents, can find their way onto the path of the consumer’s purchase. Effective branding addresses the traveler’s inspiration and helps the travel provider appear higher in Google search results, said Mark Blutstein, research analyst Phocuswright, during the webinar. Additionally, their marketing should inspire travelers more than simply sell the latest supplier promotion.
Consumers use Internet and agents for expensive trips
Blutstein pointed out that consumers use offline resources more for their more expensive and longer trips. According to Phocuswright research, for trips of less than $1,500, 46 percent of consumers searched online only, while 13 percent exclusively used offline resources.
However, for vacations costing more than $1,500, 37 percent of consumers used a combination of online and offline resources, pointing out an opportunity for travel agents to interject their knowledge and expertise.
And during this entire research and decision process, travelers are still researching elements of their vacation, which offers opportunities for travel agents to continue to recommend different experiences, and to close on additional sales.
Does your marketing address the "why" of traveling?
The key, experts said, is understanding what motivates clients to travel, and customizing your marketing around their inspiration.
Does your marketing answer the questions travelers have about why they are traveling? Does it inspire people to take a break? Or conjure up images of what a vacation with family and friends will look like if the traveler chooses to work with you?
According to Phocuswright’s 2016 U.S. Consumer Travel Report, a study of the leisure travel habits of 1,724 consumers, the “desire to get away/take a break” motivated 41 percent of leisure travelers to take their last vacation, while 38 percent said it was the opportunity “to spend time away with family/friends.”
Amongst other choices, finding that they had “available vacation time” from work ranked third (18 percent), while 15 percent said it was the celebration of a personal occasion. Rounding out the top five at 14 percent, was a tie between wanting to see natural/cultural/ historical attractions, and attending a specific event.