Travel industry marketing is changing. And, for better or for worse, travel operators need to adapt. In this blog post we're going to be taking a closer look at how travel marketing is being turned on its head, what challenges these changes pose to operators in the industry, and how Travelshift software can help you overcome those challenges.
We'll start at the beginning. Why is travel marketing being transformed? And what are these emerging trends in travel industry marketing that operators need to get to grips with?
Quite fairly, we think, travellers now have much higher expectations of brands and operators when it comes to marketing. Younger tourists (-30) in particular are increasingly tech-savvy and spend more time online than any generation in history.
This has several knock-on effects. The first is that brands now need to work harder to grab travellers' attention. The move away from traditional forms of advertising on TV and in print is well underway.
But it's not as simple as moving marketing efforts online. Many of today's internet users are immune to spam campaigns, neon banners and click bait. They've seen it all before and won't be falling for it anytime soon. They are adept at filtering out irrelevance and heading directly to what they're looking for, fast.
This leaves operators with an obvious challenge: be relevant or get left behind. Be informative and inspiring or be ignored. Be interesting or watch your revenue shrink.
Nowhere is this trend played out more than in the sphere of social media. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are unique places where travellers can create their own bubbles of content that are tailored to their 'likes' and interests. Let's look at this in more detail and think about how travel industry marketing needs to adapt.
Social media is the new travel marketers' battleground. It's where millions of potential customers are active, engaged and there to be influenced and sold to. But the increasing importance of social media platforms is forcing marketers to adapt. In the travel industry, it's not enough to spread links to your products and special offers.
Travel operators need to be more creative than that.
Instead, operators are pivoting towards creating long-term relationships with potential customers, through the creation and promotion of inspiring content. It's this element that is seeing a massive rise in terms of budget and focus.
We've previously highlighted the importance of content marketing, and quite rightly, too. This is an area where spending is on the up because it's an easy way for travel brands to connect, engage and grow an audience. According to a Skift report on the state of content marketing, "the aspirational appeal of such content, combined with its increased credibility, helps it succeed with travel customers."
But it's not enough to simply produce content. First travel operators have to define what content even is, and what kinds of content they're going to use to spread their message or philosophy.
And once that has been done, and content has been created there are still plenty of challenges. But first...
The answer to the above question is largely subjective. For many travel brands, the simple act of posting something on social media might be seen as content marketing. For others, it might be the production of a GIF, eBook or podcast to go alongside a new product release.
All of these possibilities have an element of truth about them. Sure, anything can be content, whether it's 140 characters in a Tweet or a 10-minute promotional video. But to understand what content marketing is really driving at we have to think about its purpose. Only once the aim is clear can travel brands think closely on the message and the medium.
Content marketing is not just about putting your stuff in people's faces. It's about become established, a leader, a respected voice in your field.
In many cases, it's entirely separate from the direct-sales marketing we're all familiar with. Instead of pushing a specific product with an in-your-face advert, content marketing aims to build an audience and grow an operator's influence.
It's not supposed to be marketing-y.
Instead, the fundamental principle goes something like this: If you, as a travel provider, produce content that entertains, engages and informs your target market, they will be more inclined to buy your products and trust your brand as a result.
We're a lot more cynical than we used to be when shopping. Our relationship with advertising has changed. Travellers now appreciate honesty and authenticity. They want the truth, and enough information to make informed decisions.
The concept is simple and it's proven to be effective. And there's another reason that travel brands are investing so much in fresh content...
Great content is great for SEO - there's no getting around that fact. On the one hand, travel operators can create extensive written content that will be shared and viewed by thousands of readers. This, in turn, will generate more sales through a higher amount of traffic to the website in question.
But more content also boosts traffic organically by bumping agencies up the search engine rankings. Because of this, a by-product of any content marketing efforts is usually in an increase in relevant traffic and a natural growth in sales.
And it's not only written content that boosts your traffic. Search engines also take into account an operator's popularity on social media platforms and the reach of their brand beyond a simple website. This means that having a strong presence as a content creator on sites such as Youtube is also highly beneficial.
From this, we can clearly see that content marketing is an easy way to perpetuate traffic and sales. This also goes some way to answering one of the questions posed above. Namely, what kind of content should travel operators be using as part of marketing campaigns?
So the two main questions here are what types of content should travel operators be using to reach potential customers, and where should they be employing these tactics?
'Content', as we have seen, comes in many different forms. But to be an effective content marketer in the travel industry you need to understand which of those forms pushes the buttons of prospective travellers. More often than not marketing in this industry is about aspiration and inspiration.
For that reason, content often needs to be visual and engaging. Sure, there's room for thought-provoking writeups and detailed travel guides. But pictures still say a thousand words. Videos say even more.
So let's focus on media content for the time being. It's not only that pictures, videos and GIFs have the potential to highlight a product or destination better than words ever can. In an online world where we sift through huge amounts of information in seconds - whether it's on timelines or scrolling through a website - media content offers immediacy. A quick fix, a powerful punch of inspiration.
Because they force an immediate reaction, snippets of visual media stand out on social media and general websites. It's a medium that people can engage within seconds without complication.
If something can be engaged with quickly on social media platforms, it's more likely to be shared and spread. As well as being increasingly good for SEO, this peer to peer sharing can be the foundation of the authenticity a travel brand is trying to develop. Even in the digital world, a share or recommendation is a pretty big compliment. It suggests that a travel operator is doing something right.
Take Facebook, for example. The world's most popular social media platform has seen a huge rise in the use of video content on its pages.
Twitter last year introduced its new GIF search feature, encouraging users to share media content to improve the quality of their tweets. And then you've got Youtube, the video behemoth that's quietly become the second-largest search engine in the world, with countless hours of video content uploaded and watched every day by people all over the world.
Youtube also gives travel operators the ability to create channels, which fans can then subscribe to and watch regularly. That same video content can then be shared across social media platforms. Which leads us to an interesting question:
If we agree that visual media content is 1. the most effective at portraying aspiration and inspiration that travel lovers love and 2. growing rapidly in terms of engagement across the web....
Should every travel operator be a media organisation?
It's difficult to get away from this as a conclusion. But it needn't be an intimidating one for those working in the travel industry. As the traditional need for travel agents has evolved, customers are looking for more than great prices. They want information, insight and inspiration. If a travel operator can offer those things, the need for conventional marketing could disappear completely.
A few of the platforms we've already mentioned are prime for content marketing campaigns dedicated to travel. Facebook and Twitter, in particular, offer easy avenues to viral content if the media is engaging enough.
But other platforms, including Instagram and Youtube, are also proving popular arenas for content marketing - just with a slightly different edge. Although photos and videos can also go viral on these platforms, the focus is more on building a fanbase, a group or subscribers or followers that receive regular updates and believe in the message travel brands are portraying.
But of course, it's not only on social media platforms that content marketing can boost travel brands.
You'll struggle to find travel operators these days who don't provide some kind of insight, information or inspiration to potential customers, free of charge. Most often this will be in the form of blog posts, travel guides and other shareable content.
The post you're reading right now could be deemed a form of content marketing, for example. We're not simply trying to sell you our services (indeed, we haven't even mentioned them yet) - we're addressing the issues of interest to our target market, establishing ourselves as visionaries in our chosen field and generally informing, entertaining and inspiring the next generation of travel startups.
Those same techniques can be found in blog posts, website content, email newsletters and more.
With the move toward content marketing, different challenges are now being faced by operators in the travel industry.
The biggest challenge is obvious: How do we make and measure great content?
Although we've highlighted the popularity of images and video on the platforms above, that's by no means the end of the line. What type of content depends very much on the audience and product in question.
Another huge challenge for travel brands is finding talented content creators, whether that's writers, video editors or creative thinkers - they don't just grow on trees, after all. Because travel businesses are primarily setup to give their customers memorable experiences, content creation is not usually an area of expertise.
Perhaps for that reason, we've seen an interesting trend develop in travel alongside the popularity of social media: partnering with influencers.
In many ways, these influencers provide a shortcut to exposure. The idea is simple: pay a well-known, influential figure to feature your product or service, and reap the rewards by reaching their audience directly.
But working with influencers comes with an interesting set of challenges.How do you go about choosing who to work with? And what's the best way to measure their effectiveness and ensure high-quality results?
What if you could create your own 'influencers' and measure their impact on your travel business in real time?
You might be wondering how all of the above could possibly be related to Travelshift. As you may or may not know, we build travel marketplaces. We're not a content marketing agency. We don't specialise in creating original media, so what do we know about content marketing?
We lied about only building marketplaces. We also build communities. And we've pioneered a whole new type of content marketing off that back of it. We call it community-driven content, and it works like this:
Our proprietary marketplace software allows our clients to build travel platforms with a difference. Built into these platforms are all the tools you need to bring together a community of writers and bloggers. In the first application of our software, our community of Icelandic locals, bloggers and travellers helped (and still helps) drive a huge amount of traffic through our GuidetoIceland marketplace.
You can read more about our GuidetoIceland marketplace in the case study.
With our community-driven framework, the authenticity and insight of locals and genuine travellers do plenty of the content marketing for you.
Interested in finding out more? Get in touch today!