Given travel marketers’ established role in pushing the boundaries of advertising, a lot of the crystal-gazing that happens in our industry every year involves speculation about exciting developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and other automated innovations.
To be sure, these things are happening, but focusing on this sliver of innovation within travel advertising neglects the mega-forces that are reshaping the industry right before our eyes.
In 2020, the major forces that will influence travel marketing are much more fundamental and far-reaching than any single technology or platform.
Here are the key trends that will have the greatest effect on travel brands’ ability to advertise effectively.
Mobile pressure hits a breaking point
At this point, we all understand the importance of good mobile experiences for customers and prospects. We’ve been talking about this for a decade and opining about the hazards of not keeping pace on people’s personal devices.
All the while, though, travel brands have struggled to translate complex booking activities, as well as their media spends, to the mobile environment. Fortunately, desktop volume has remained high enough to offset lost mobile opportunities.
The fact that mobile optimizations are still such a huge challenge for our industry is one of the reasons that advanced optimizations like AI and machine learning are lagging.
Unfortunately, we’re at breaking point - and some travel brands haven’t even realized it. These days, mobile accounts for the vast majority of brand interactions. Overall user time spent in mobile environments continues to grow, but actual booking behavior on mobile isn’t even remotely keeping pace. That’s because plenty of travel brands still aren’t delivering relevant users experiences to people when they’re on mobile.
In 2020, the mobile experience will be the key distinguishing factor between the travel industry’s big winners and big losers. In many cases, this means that users will abandon companies that offer complicated, multifaceted booking processes in favor of those that let them accomplish the basics on mobile in a frictionless manner.
The fact that mobile optimizations are still such a huge challenge for our industry is one of the reasons that advanced optimizations like AI and machine learning are lagging. Why focus on technology that promises a 5% optimization when the one that can deliver a 50% boost to results still hasn’t been perfected?
Platforms lead in user experience
In travel advertising, we’ve also seen a rapid evolution in terms of the channels and platforms through which users are seeking to research and book their travel. In general, Google and today’s super apps have made more meaningful upgrades to their user experiences in the past couple of years than all the travel brands out there combined.
As a result, these are the environments in which people are choosing to make and book their travel.
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We’ve seen this happen in retail already, with consumers vastly favoring the shopping experiences found on platforms like Amazon, Google, Facebook and others to the native brand commerce experience. Retailers have adapted accordingly, funneling greater ad spend and resources to these preferred user experiences.
Travel marketers, however, have been slow to follow suit. But in 2020 and beyond, the shift in user time spent to platforms like Google and others will continue. The brands that embrace the shift and adjust accordingly will reap the benefits.
Ad platform growth slowing
Here’s the kicker: People are looking to conduct more and more of their business through platforms like Google and Facebook. But at the same time, active user growth on these platforms is slowing.
There’s still significant pressure on these companies to grow their businesses, though, so higher advertising costs, greater competition and compression within this space is a natural outcome.
For travel brands, this means figuring out how to maximize the value of every user acquired through these platforms. What was once a volume game needs to evolve to a focus on lifetime value and improved overall monetization.
Companies get conservative
Finally, let’s talk about the macro-economic outlook. While economists might not agree on the exact “when,” one thing is clear: The unprecedented boom economy we’ve all been playing in isn’t going to last much longer. We’re already seeing the anticipatory belt-tightening begin, and we can expect this trend to accelerate.
For advertisers, this means a greater focus on lower-cost acquisition channels and reactivations, coupled with a willingness to try new things (albeit on limited test budgets) that might help break free of the competitive squeeze being felt on major platforms.
Travel marketers will continue to push the boundaries of advertising as they’ve always done - but with a healthy sense of caution and a realistic outlook on the broader economic forces at play.