Generative AI is a friend – and a foe
The travel industry is awash in predictions on how tools like ChatGPT will or won’t change the way we do business. It’s probably not binary, and the truth is likely somewhere in between, depending on what your business is and how you use the tool.
Generative AI can and should be leveraged for tasks like generating website metadata, templated product descriptions and even email copy. But start using it for brand storytelling or drafting your company’s mission statement, and it will likely betray you.
Obsessing over the next shiny object won’t serve marketers well either.
Remember when many said augmented and virtual reality would upend the customer journey? Do you recall the last amazing AR/VR product you saw in travel?
Yeah, me neither.
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Don’t get me wrong, the OpenAI infrastructure is a once-in-a-generation product. Under-resourced teams, especially startups, should be thinking about creative ways to leverage generative AI to work more effectively and efficiently.
But if there’s not an immediate and natural fit with your business and product, that’s OK too. Forced adoption of new technologies can backfire and drain more resources. During the pandemic, many brands rushed to figure out their Clubhouse strategy, only to see the platform fall out of favor a few months later.
In this hyper-polarized world where consumers crave authenticity from brands, marketers would be wise to practice restraint with tools like generative AI, using it as a complement, not a replacement.
Google won’t be unseated as travel's top search engine
There’s been consistent chatter around how platforms like TikTok and yes, ChatGPT, will soon overtake Google as the primary “search engine” powering the user’s buying journey. For sure, younger consumers are increasingly turning to TikTok as a discovery engine, preferring its bite-size clips to pages upon pages of search results.
This is more about the verticalization of search versus one platform replacing another.
TikTok for video. Instagram for images. Amazon for retail.
The thing is, Google indexes (or tries to) all of this content. Last year, Google started including TikTok content in some search results because it realized certain cohorts prefer rich content results.
Google execs also know their core products are being threatened and are taking steps to shore up functionality to ensure this doesn’t happen. Even Larry Page and Sergey Brin have been brought back to the Googleplex to help build their next gen AI-driven search engine.
YouTube, a Google property, became a video advertising powerhouse of its own, fueled by pandemic growth.
That said, certain companies, like Tripscout, have made inroads into transforming social media platforms like Instagram into a bottom funnel channel for brands.
Still, travel is a considered purchase. We’ve all seen the stats — customers visit dozens of sites before making a purchase. For marketers, having a solid handle on their customer demographics and psychographics is a prerequisite to figuring out where to attribute budget across channels.
It’s more likely that 2023 is the year marketers start to really understand their attribution models versus seeing Google vanish as a major driver of both traffic and revenue.
“Carbon offset” can no longer be thrown around in marketing messaging
If you believe Google trends, it looks like we’ve reached peak carbon offset.
Today, more and more customers believe offsetting isn’t the answer to solving the climate crisis. You can thank the rhetoric from many a travel brand over the past five years for that.
Whether it was lack of awareness or simply laziness, too many companies tried to check the sustainability box by trotting out a bevy of low-quality offsets. Some might have done more harm than good.
Of course, there are genuine and quality offset products out there. But due to the increase in the cost of carbon and other factors, these are becoming harder to find. (By the way, if you’re wondering where to turn for quality offsets, neutralizations, and carbon removal, Chooose is doing solid work, as is Cooler.)
Recently, The Guardian broke a story on leading voluntary carbon offset provider Verra. Turns out, 90% of the products were “phantom credits” and did next to nothing to reduce carbon emissions. To be sure, the issue goes well beyond travel, as companies like Gucci, Shell and Disney used Verra as the underpinnings of their sustainability strategy.
For travel marketers, this presents a conundrum. How to talk about sustainability efforts without coming across as “greenwashing”? For many small and medium-sized businesses, the marketing team is on the front lines of climate communications, and there are no easy answers.
It starts with a holistic approach to sustainability. It’s not just about the environment, but how your brand enriches and engages local communities. Or it could be about your company’s approach to animal welfare or policies to prevent human trafficking in the hospitality space.
Speaking genuinely about what you are doing, and being transparent about the gaps, is almost always better than insulting your audience with language that has since been deemed untrustworthy.
This is (finally) the year to get serious about first-party data
At this point, you’d be justified in thinking that Google is crying wolf regarding the removal of third-party cookies. After all, the original deadline was mid-2022, followed by the end of 2023. Now it’s looking like the second half of 2024.
But don’t let yourself be lulled into complacency. These ad trackers are going away, mostly because Google is bound by its commitments made to the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the country’s antitrust regulator.
Regulators aside, this decision should be celebrated by marketers.
No consumer likes being followed around the internet anyway, and rich, accurate first-party data gives companies a competitive advantage when it comes to delivering the right message at the right time to the right person.
As Dave Goulden, vice president of product at Sojern said in this recent PhocusWire article, “First-party data drives personalization, and it also allows marketers to draw from the guest experience across all touch points on the buyer journey.”
But it’s not enough to just harvest first-party data as marketers. We need a way to analyze it to make decisions. This is where new data warehousing and business intelligence tools come in. Travel brands need to get serious about ensuring their teams have the data infrastructure necessary to grow in 2023 and beyond.
Independent hotels can compete with Airbnb on marketing experiences
Back in September, I listened to Brian Chesky say that Airbnb was going to double down on promoting experiences. Since then, not much has happened, likely because they’re making too much revenue off their core product.
On the other side are independent hoteliers, who are constantly looking at ways to authentically connect with their guests and the communities around them. With Airbnb seemingly continuing their pandemic policy of focusing on homes, this presents a real opportunity for independents to look at methods for creating, curating and distributing experiences.
The experiences sector is exploding post-pandemic, and according to Arival, up to 50% of tour operators still don’t use a reservation system to process bookings.
Companies like Way, which recently raised $20 million from investors like Tiger Global, make it easy for lifestyle and boutique hotels to create and promote authentic, local experiences that boost their brands and provide ancillary revenue, while raising loyalty and guest experience.
Hotels have a captive audience in guests who have chosen to book with them versus a big, global brand or short-term rental platform. While the physical guest experience on property matters, so does the guest experience once that person steps off-premises.
Airbnb has famously succeeded by doubling down on their brand. Hoteliers who attach experiential products to a booking not only build their brand, but also become less reliant on revenues related to occupancy and average daily rates.