When was the last time you used a travel agent to book your holiday?
I honestly can’t remember when I did. In fact, being a millennial, I may never have used one.
In truth, I’m much more likely to trust Clive from Blackpool and his opinions on the best hotel to stay in Rome. He’s a complete stranger, but I’ll look at his photos of the rooftop bar, his comments on the size of the hotel rooms and how he rated the Aperol Spritz out of 10. But I wouldn’t trust somebody working for a travel brand to tell me the same.
This is because Clive is an authentic human with no other motive for writing his review than to inform others. He understands the feeling of booking a dream holiday and it matching up to his expectations. He doesn’t have sales targets.
People trust people, which becomes a headache for the travel industry.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The travel industry can establish authenticity through digital to regain the trust of the traveller. But to do this, it needs to realise that it’s not in the business of selling holidays – it’s in the business of selling dreams.
Here are four ways travel brands can sell dreams through digital:
Understand the customer journey
It’s crucial for travel brands to help craft the beginning, middle and end of travellers’ dreams at the right time and in the right way. Online behaviour comes in three parts when it comes to travel, and its cyclical nature means awareness is key.
During the pre-booking period, prospective travellers will passively trawl the internet, conducting their own research: finding inspiration on Instagram, collecting it in an easy to view place on Pinterest and reading reviews on Facebook. Use your channels to pre-empt this behaviour. Royal Caribbean have done it by creating thirty different boards of inspiration on Pinterest, ranging from Alaskan Expeditions to eight hours in Jamaica. Conde Naste Traveller is another great example, providing 1.3 million followers with content on their newsfeed that has to be saved to their ‘dream destinations’ list immediately.
During the trip, travellers become more active online. They will share photos of themselves on their channels and want to tag your hotel or restaurant or experience. Make sure this is accurately set up, ready to go and repost any content that helps propagate the dream of your holiday experience – from the perspective of a real person. Although tempting, giving into gimmicks won’t sell the dream. A Snapchat filter with your brand name slapped across the bottom costs a lot, but looks cheap. Nobody wants to remember that dreamy beach scene with the word XYZ HOTELS written across the bottom. Money is better invested in enhancing the holiday experience through useful in app functionality. A good example of this is the Airbnb app – which pre-empts the first thing you will do when you arrive at your destination by providing you with the postcode to your ‘new home’.
After the trip, travellers tend to move on to the next big thing. Keep them active at this crucial time so that future travellers can be passive in the beginning stages of booking their trip. Encouraging them to write reviews builds an authentic experience, and can be done on your brand Facebook page. Offer some kind of incentive for leaving a review, but crucially, remain on brand when responding to negative reviews. For example, the tone of voice playbook that was developed for Avios travel rewards had to work for the customer service team too, so that they were able to maintain the brand tone of voice when responding to queries.
Getting the basics right
Nobody likes to be jolted from a dream – which is why a seamless UX journey is vital when it comes to booking travel. Ryanair realised this in 2014 and invested heavily in improving their booking process. The same should apply to a customer’s digital journey. If I click on an inspirational social post with a perfectly crafted piece of copy and image and it takes me to the homepage of a travel brand rather than directly to booking, I will lose interest and quickly do my own research and comparison. Make it easy for me to stay interested by making sure your platforms work seamlessly together to get that holiday booked.
It’s also the little touches that should be classed as basics today. Wifi access is one example. You’ve finally got me to commit to your hotel brand among millions of others. Well done. I arrive and the first thing I’ll do is log on to send a cheeky snap (logo free) of me in my hotel room. But wait – you’re asking me enter my email address, age and name? Or actually pay for the service?! Don’t irritate the consumer with extra steps or data capture. Make it easy for them to share the dream experience you’re giving them by using your Wifi right away.
Understand the dichotomy of the travel consumer
Too many travel brands refuse to acknowledge both ends of the spectrum when it comes to travellers. On the one hand, the oversharers will holiday spam their followers from the minute they book their flight, inspired by content creators they likely follow. For them, broadcasting their #sorrynotsorry content is very much part of the dream.
At the other end of the scale, we have those that are content to take a break from content: the digital detoxers. Their device will be dormant while they are away unless they absolutely need it – in fact, 30% of people chose a holiday in 2016 that meant reduced phone access, according to a Digiday study this year.
Identifying and acknowledging both of these extremes means understanding that both have an idea about what constitutes a ‘dream’ holiday. Make it easy for the oversharers to get their content out there while they’re away. Reward them for sharing with loyalty points, shares or competitions. But at the same time, leave the data detoxers alone while they’re away, contacting them when they’re back on the grid instead.
To truly succeed at digital in an authentic way, travel brands need to have an identity that the consumer can buy into.
Airbnb is the perfect case study. As they own no property, community is their unique selling point and has become a brand mission that is baked into every aspect of their marketing, from the app interface, to online blogs and neighbourhood guides, down to their Belo logo. But the real evidence is that I’m made to feel like I’m part of something when I book through Airbnb, and that I’m getting an authentic experience. Authenticity breeds trust. Of course, very few travel brands can be like Airbnb because they offer something unique, but the point is that they have an authentic purpose that they believe in.
So find your mission, and be authentic when delivering it. Be like Clive from Blackpool. Proclaim proudly on your channels in your tone of voice, through your unique identity – so I can find you easily, listen to you carefully and buy the dream you are selling me.
Or, if you’re struggling to do that, work with authentic people who can sell your dream for you. Engage appropriate influencers that speak like me, speak to me, and bring a human element to your sales pitch.
Authenticity is crucial to effective digital marketing. As we’ve seen, the new generation are fluent in social media and see through advertising more than any other. The travel industry has the opportunity to claw back the attention and trust of the traveller by using the very digital tools that may have undermined them in the first place. Build a seamless, trustworthy and authentic digital experience and the industry will once again help make traveller’s dreams come true.