All around the world, hotels and attractions welcome guests with some of the most modern amenities available. While the travel industry may seem cutting edge once a traveler sets foot in the door, the industry is lagging far behind other industries, including retail, when it comes to digital marketing technology and its use of first-party data to attract new travelers.
Several years ago, retailers were forced to modernize technology to compete with online retail disruptors such as Amazon. Since then, retailers have learned to use first-party data in sophisticated ways to create a personalized, seamless customer experience. Travel needs to do the same if it wants to engage with today’s digital-savvy consumer.
On the heels of a pandemic that stopped travel dead in its tracks and ahead of major changes, such as third-party cookies going away in Chrome, the travel industry is at a crossroads: keep using the same pre-pandemic marketing tactics to acquire customers in changing times and risk getting left by the wayside, or evolve with customers’ desires for real-time personalized engagement to catch the recovery wave.
Using the combination of rich traveler insights, multichannel reach, and intelligent campaign optimization, travel marketers can keep pace with a fast and dynamic environment – and ultimately win traveler bookings and loyalty through a more personalized experience.
The trouble with travel
Unlike retail or e-commerce, travel inventory is perishable - and that adds a whole new layer of complexity. A retailer knows which items are on the shelves, buying trends and when to put an item on sale to sell old stock. In travel, there’s no such thing as old inventory.
If hotels, airlines, and attractions don’t fill the room, seat or space that inventory expires, and an opportunity to engage with a traveler is lost. In the face of sell it or lose it inventory, travel marketers need innovative ways to drive demand.
Subscribe to our newsletter below
Due to the complex path to purchase, marketing strategies shouldn’t be based on static segmentation and demographic data.
Instead, marketers must leverage travel intent and behavioral data to find travelers, build audiences and develop personalized campaigns to incentivize travelers to engage. In fact, consumers are 76% more likely to buy from brands that personalize. With no such thing as an “average” traveler, marketers can’t assume one size fits all. They must keep up with individual consumer wants and needs.
Why first-party data is the answer
In the swath of booking, room, rate and inventory information, first-party data has emerged as a travel brand’s most important marketing asset. Travel behavior has changed immensely in the past two and a half years, and first-party data gives brands important insights into what guests want now. First-party data drives personalization and it also allows marketers to draw from the guest experience across all touch points on the buyer journey.
For example, a traveler may prefer the ease of requesting a towel by simply sending a text over speaking to someone at the front desk, or a repeat guest may ask for a copy of a specific newspaper every time they visit. First-party data includes information that the brand collects, such as site visitors and their interests, purchases across channels, loyalty membership and user-provided information such as demographics and stay preferences.
How to activate first-party data
With 81% of hoteliers saying they have seen a lift in revenue as a result of implementing a first-party data strategy, it’s clear that its key for the travel industry to catch up with industries like retail, but travel brands must learn how to activate that data.
Email addresses are the digital currency of the marketing world, so it’s important to collect emails both online and offline. Retail is well-versed in using promotional pop ups and email receipts to capture email addresses and build customer profiles for targeting purposes.
For travel, a simple strategy is to train front desk staff to also ask for those all important email addresses so the hotel can unlock direct contact with guests, even if they booked using a third-party website. Once a consumer provides consent, that email address can then be tied to a customer profile to market to that person and their attributes or hashed (anonymized) to retarget that traveler and personalize the messaging without a third-party cookie.
In addition to collecting emails, travel brands must work to create a 360-degree customer profile by enriching customer data with behavioral and demographic information. The more information travel marketers have at their fingertips the more they can model and segment their audiences to drive marketing efficiency. Collecting first-party data is a great start, but there’s often a big gap between insights and action.
First-party data forms the foundation to learn about travelers' preferences and take action to reach people in a personalized manner, change creative content, optimize frequency and meet traveler wants and needs.
As the world moves away from third-party cookies, the best thing travel brands can do to set themselves up for success is follow the retail industry’s example: get to know their customers, open up strong on and offline communication channels and react quickly to demand and preference changes.
Only then will the travel industry catch up to retail and find long-term success in this new travel landscape.
About the author
Dave Goulden is vice president of product at Sojern