With the economic downturn, many of us are tightening our belts. What does that mean for travel marketers? Are people still traveling? Should we downgrade our revenue expectations?
Here’s some good news. According to a PhoCusWright report, the U.S. online travel market continues to grow at a pace that far exceeds the overall travel market. Travel is the No. 1 sector in the affiliate industry, and affiliate shoppers tend to buy more than the average shopper. So there are still many opportunities for affiliates in travel – especially when you focus on the trends.
But the behavior of online consumers has changed. Travelers are looking for discounted flights and hotels, vacation packages and weekend getaways – anything that saves money and still allows them to travel. They want value-add-ons like free breakfast, free WiFi, or resort credit. And more consumers are craving meaningful travel experiences, such as eco-friendly.
Suppliers are changing, too. Ancillary revenue from food and beverage, meetings and conferences is increasingly important when room sales are down. Suppliers are adopting social media, video, widgets and mobile to find new customers and have learned it’s mandatory to be global and multilingual.
All of these trends point to the need to be flexible and fast to accommodate the demands of a new travel consumer. So what does this mean for affiliates? How can affiliates capitalize in this economy, especially in travel? Here are 10 tips.
Improve customer targeting. There are huge differences among travelers by generation, as well as domestic and international travelers. If you want to target the most active online travel planners and biggest bookers, you need to know and understand your site’s visitors. Do you know what motivates them? Are you targeting Gen Y or international travelers? Do you have the right content and tools that speak to them? Smart marketers will start to target Gen Y now.
Create the right content. People travel for different reasons and they have unique needs when they travel. Some travel for business, others might be looking for a family getaway, while others require a pet-friendly accommodation. If you want to capture different groups, you should segment your visitors and tailor your site content accordingly. Make recommendations; provide travel tips and present detailed content that speaks to each group.
Use new technologies and fresh creative. The new travel consumer is highly engaged with new technologies, so keep your sites fresh and interesting. Win them by providing online tools that inspire and engage: use videos for higher interactivity, take advantage of widgets, provide a search box to improve conversion rates, make use of data feeds for geo-targeting, test different banners for segmented customer types.
Take advantage of deals. The buzz phrase of 2009 is “travel deal,” so promote those deals, weekend getaways, and “staycations.” They will increase conversion rates. You can even use deals if you have a content site – they aren’t exclusive to coupon and rewards sites. But don’t rely on price and deals alone.
Add Value. Travelers are also looking for add-ons. If your merchant provides special services or has a “no-cancellation-fee-policy,” mention it. Highlight product and service differentiators to inspire trust. Look for opportunities to drive ancillary revenue and promote related products or services together. For example, my chain pays commissions on hotel stays and purchases of its ShopMarriott bed, bath and home décor products.
Establish a member base. Give your visitors the option to opt into email newsletters. You might think this is too time intensive. Start simply with quarterly newsletters. Talk about interesting topics such as destinations or an experience. Email marketing is easy, cheap, and creates loyalty and an additional revenue stream.
Uncover niche markets. There are many niche groups in travel that are largely untapped and thus less competitive: adventure, eco-friendly, community, senior, faith-related, gay and lesbian, African-American, Hispanic and Asian travel.
Test new marketing models. Are you confident you’ve tapped into all major revenue-driving channels? Use email marketing to promote your online mall that you blog about on your favorite social network site. Run geo-targeted local search to drive to your new destination section where you list deals and unique incentives. Give bookers a reason to come back.
Think globally. The Internet is global and there are many more customers to be acquired. Consider tapping into international markets. If you have a positive relationship with your U.S. merchants, explore international opportunities. When expanding globally, consider the following: market potential, sophistication of eCommerce and affiliate marketing in the country, cultural aspects, language constraints, the right affiliate network and technical and cost aspects.
Watch out for new trends. Read industry articles, check sources such as Forrester, eMarketer, and Econsultancy to stay informed about new and evolving trends. Never be a laggard – try to be an early adoptor and jump on new opportunities right from the start.
Ultimately, the economic downturn will come to an end. By taking the right steps now you’ll be ahead of the game.