Secret Escapes harness Machine Learning to Improve Marketing ROI

 

Traditional marketing saw companies aim to hit the jackpot, make that perfect ad and sell you their product in an instant. Even if they left you with little more than an annoying, unforgettable jingle, they succeeded. The seed was planted.  

But that was advertising before the internet. In the dawn of the information era, where everything is accessible to customers and catchy jingles no longer swing sales to the extent they once did, companies must develop new methods to be discovered and remembered by customers.

Discovered is the key term there. Particularly in the case of the travel industry. We know that smaller travel agencies struggle to compete against the industry’s big players. And that a handful of platforms dominate search engine results and therefore bookings. That’s the downside to having a system that allows well-funded companies with astute business models to gain a global stranglehold. It’s tough on startups, but everyone has to start somewhere.   

But it’s also an opportunity. A frenetic market has its own possibilities.

SEO and Adwords

We know that the majority of travellers are now researching, planning and booking trips online using every device you can imagine. Smart TVs, mobile phones, tablets and laptops. Even voice assistants.

In part that’s out of convenience. These devices are now our gateway to the online world. It’s also because E-commerce is more trusted than it was. Not to mention the sheer amount of content and travel guides online. Organising your travel experience online has become a no-brainer.

However, this move toward digital has a downside: It’s hard for travel agencies to grow and get noticed when people have so many potential options for flights, accommodation, tours and more. Especially when a small number of players dominate the online travel game.

SEO has long been a major determinant of lead generation. However, Google’s Adwords platform provides a way for operators big and small to bypass all of those SEO hoops and put their links directly in front of potential customers.

Google is comfortably among the most popular websites in the world, with 28 billion visits every single month. Its many travellers’ gateway to the internet. So generating leads through the search engine – whether through organic SEO or by paying for them using the Adwords platform – is vital if a travel agent wants to survive and thrive.

Which explains why smaller agents such as Secret Escapes are looking for ways to refine their Adwords techniques, doing whatever they can to lower their Cost Per Lead (CPL) and ultimately, increase the efficiency of their marketing efforts

Improving AdWords Outcomes With Machine Learning

British travel agent Secret Escapes is seeking to solve these problems through the use of machine learning.  

Hang on, you might be thinking. What is this vaguely AI-related buzzword all about?

Well, very briefly, machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that uses algorithms to scan huge piles of data in search of patterns and trends. Patterns and trends that a human couldn’t otherwise spot. It’s being applied already in the travel industry, it’s being used for various things, from fraud detection to developing intelligent travel assistants.

You get the idea: Machine learning is capable of doing a lot of the heavy lifting in a short time frame.

Secret Escapes thought they could use the technology to reduce their CPL.

The membership-only online travel agency, which specialises in luxury packages, decided to adopt a Google Ads Smart Bidding approach called tCPA, or Target Cost Per Acquisition. This is a dynamic, automated approach to bidding that uses advanced machine learning to optimise bids automatically, and tailor bids to each auction.

The test started in Google AdWords’ Draft & Experiments with a seven-day learning phase, then continued until the results reached significance. The team tested across multiple markets at the same time so they could compare outcomes and collect more insights.

When the test was complete, they found that using tCPA bidding on average produced a 23% better click-through rate, 65% more conversions and an overall cost per lead that was 38% lower than their previous bidding setup. In some accounts, they even saw 100% greater impression volume.

So what do those numbers mean in practice?

Well, no doubt a 23% better click-through rate granted the company’s products and packages significantly higher exposure than they would have done otherwise. The devil in the detail also suggests that the ads were improved in the sense that they were better targeted, too.

Which of course contributed to a whopping 65% more conversions.

A 38% lower CPL is also music to the ears of any marketing boss.  

Rumyana Miteva, Head of Search at Secret Escapes was certainly happy with the results. “Machine learning is evolving and automation within Google Ads is getting better and better, which give us the confidence to continue using automated bidding at scale,” she said.

Holistic travel industry marketing

Secret Escapes have proved that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get great results through GoogleAds.

And there’s certainly a lot to be gained from using the platform cleverly. However, here at Travelshift we favour a more organic approach to winning business.

Our marketplace software empowers small operators to dominate their travel niche by banding together, creating awesome content and connecting travellers with the information they need and local experts. It’s packed with tools and pre-made solutions to help your marketplace get off the ground and seamlessly attract both buyers and sellers.

It all adds up to a software platform that naturally creates the quality and quantity of content that search engines seek out. Not to mention an informative, go-to source for those curious about your travel niche or chosen destination.

You can find out more about our marketplace software here. Or contact us today to find out how our software can provide the foundations for your travel industry ambitions.

How To Boost SEO and Build Links For Your Travel Startup

Getting noticed online isn’t easy. Especially in the travel industry, where a handful of platforms dominate search results, customers flit from site to site in search of the best deals and loyalty is a becoming a thing of the past.

But that doesn’t mean that starting up in the industry is a lost cause, or that driving traffic is impossible. There are plenty of ways that you can boost your hits, build a strong presence and work your way up the organic search rankings.

Today we’re going to go through a few of those. But let’s make one thing clear before we do: A prerequisite to taking any of these steps is that you have a solid idea that’s ready to go – a niche travel concept that people are going to be searching for in the first place.

For more information and guidance on that particular hurdle, see here: How to Choose a Travel Marketplace Niche

So, onwards.

Building Links in the Travel Industry

There are a bunch of things you can do to boost your platform’s SEO and improve your Google ranking. But today we’re going to focus on just one aspect: link building. Essentially this refers to the practice of getting other website domains and pages to link to yours.

Generally speaking, the more links you get, the better your domain will rank in search engine listings. This is because Google largely bases search results upon the concept of relevance. If other sites are linking to you for a particular topic, then it shows a level of consensus. It suggests that your site is the place to go for useful information within that sphere.

But it’s not all about quantity. Google’s algorithms are way past being fooled by thousands of bogus links from totally irrelevant sources. In fact, spammy links like that are likely to harm your SEO rather than improve it.

Instead, the source of your backlinks is crucial. The better and more trusted the source (which effectively translates as domain authority), the more impact it will have on the site it’s linking to.

Which sites have good domain authority? Usually it’s those that are established, trusted and reliable. So we’re talking about long-standing company pages, factual encyclopedias and, of course, respected publications.

Respected publications could include popular blogs or more conventional publishers, like newspapers and online magazines. These two groups are the link sources that we’re going to focus on today.

Here’s our rundown of the best way to build solid, SEO-boosting links for your travel industry business.

1 – Build relationships with travel industry partners

Getting great links back to your website isn’t easy. To highlight that point, we thought it would be a good idea to start with a hard method that takes both time and patience.

Like any relationship worth having, building connections with other companies and individuals working in the travel space doesn’t happen overnight. It might also require some legwork on your end to get things started.

Let’s say you’re a travel startup offering motorcycle tours in Africa, like one of the companies we featured in our Gap in the Market series, Wheels of Morocco. There’s a way to gain publicity from other travel companies without letting your rivalry get in the way.

For example, an Africa-based tour company focused on motorcycle trips might want to develop a working relationship with a tour company offering similar experiences in Asia or South America. The two companies aren’t necessarily competing for the same customers – and could each benefit from mentioning (and linking) to the products of the other.

That’s just one example, of course. Travel companies needn’t be operating in the same sector to mention one another and develop a relationship. A food tour company might appreciate the witty product descriptions of a snorkeling trip startup. Why not mention it and why you think it’s so great in an article or social media post about marketing? Share the love and start building those relationships.

This also works with news publications and journalists of course. Which gets us to a key thing that travel industry companies need to appreciate when it comes to publishing content and posting on social media: it’s not all about you. Not everything you throw out into the ether needs to be about your products and services.

The more you mention others and support your fellow travel companies and publications, the more you’ll find that favour reciprocated.

So, to finish off this little section let’s make one final thing clear. This link building strategy is not a quick fix. It will take time and effort. But it’s also important to point out that relationship building comes in many forms. You might want to explore the potential of official partnerships. You might just want to mention other travel businesses in passing on social media or blog posts.

Put your company out there and see what sticks.

2- Become the go-to source

best seo tips for building links in the travel industry

Building relationships with journalists and publications takes time, but it’s worth it in the long run.

We mentioned above that it’s a great idea to build relationships with journalists and publications – both in the travel industry and out of it.

Which brings us to the second way your travel business can secure vital backlinks from publications: become a go-to source. Whatever your travel industry niche, there’s bound to be journalists out there interested in hearing about it, talking about your personal experiences and getting first-hand insight to support their articles.

If you’ve got the time and the patience, cultivating these relationships can be invaluable in the long term.

So start out with a speculative but interesting press release, build up a contact list of relevant journalists and media publications, hit send and make yourself available for further comments.

See where it takes you. At worst you’ll get some easy publicity. At best, you’ll become a go-to source for relevant publications, which could add up to countless backlinks with strong domain authority in the coming years.

3- Get interviewed

how to build backlinks for travel business

Make yourself and your team available for press interviews. It’s a great way to gain publicity and build strong backlinks.

Any travel startup – even those with just a handful of employees – have individuals with interesting stories, insights and expertise to share.

So just as you might send off regular press releases to the media in search of publicity and online traction, why not make your staff available for interviews? That way your team can effectively be the news.

The brilliant part of this strategy is that your potential publications are no longer limited to those dedicated to travel or your travel niche. Instead (or as well) you can target business-focused publications and those that cover startups, local news and something related to your travel niche.

The takeaway is this: just because you’re buried in what you do, day in, day out, it doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of people out there interested in hearing what you and your team have to say.

Again it comes down to building relationships. For example, your marketing manager can become the go-to source for journalists who write about online marketing, or your product manager could be a regular interviewee for a business magazine. Think outside the box and watch the high DA backlinks come pouring in.

It’s also important to realise that getting interviewed is no longer something that’s limited to written journalism. Why not reach out to radio shows, relevant Youtube channels and podcasts? All offer the chance for your travel company to gain publicity and awesome backlinks.

4- Guest Write

Lots of our marketing hints and tips for travel industry startups take the two birds with one stone approach. And that’s a theme that crops up a lot when we’re talking about SEO in general.

For example, if your team members do interviews as we suggested above there are two benefits. The first – from a traditional marketing point of view – is that your name is getting out there. Your products and services are being exposed to a relevant audience and you’re generating leads organically.

The second part of the double whammy is that you’re gaining backlinks, boosting your SEO and creating a virtuous circle or relevance.

That two birds with one stone approach also applies to the art of guest writing. It’s not a new concept, but it is certainly an effective one.

It starts with a simple fact: publications, no matter the industry, are always on the lookout for interesting articles and content more generally. Sadly, the publishing industry isn’t flash with cash and many editors work hard to put together features and opinion pieces alongside general news.

This fact represents a fantastic opportunity for any travel industry startup looking to gain credible publicity and solid backlinks. Instead of being the source or getting interviewed as we’ve mentioned above, why not pitch articles yourself?

The best way to do this is to get in touch with the editors at relevant publications and ask some genuine questions about what kind of content they are looking for. It’s then up to you to pitch interesting ideas and convince them why you or a member of your team is the ideal writer for that article.

Before you know it, your company could be represented with regular guest post spots in a number of publications. Not only will this allow you to carve out a reputation as a thought leader and draw leads to your brand. It’ll also get you a bunch of high domain authority links to boost your SEO.

5 – Keep a finger on the pulse with these PR tricks

Most PR is opportunism, pure and simple. It’s about knowing how to be in the right place at the right time.

From an easy SEO win, there are some easy strategies you can use to get mentioned, quoted and featured by leading publications.

First up, keep an eye on Twitter trends such as #JournoRequest. These will link you directly to journalists looking for sources, inspiration and more. It might take a while, but there’s bound to be a request related to something relevant you can bring to the table. Maybe a journalist is looking for interesting travel ideas or some insights from a startup CEO.

Once you’ve found an opportunity that looks like you could fit the bill, get in touch. It’s as easy as that.

If you don’t want to spend valuable time trawling through Twitter, keep an eye out for relevant stories that have already been published, and follow up on articles with the appropriate editor or journalist. They will always be open to hearing from an alternative source with a different side of the story to tell.

For the ultimate convenience, consider signing up for a press service like UK-based Response Source. They act as a go-between for journalists and companies, connecting publications to people and organisations that fit their query. For startups, the service offers a great way to connect directly with journalists who you know are looking for information and sources.

The only problem can be the expense: So consider signing up for a free trial to see whether it’s worth the money in the long run.

All of these methods exist to help you get in touch with journalists and get your travel company noticed. There’s just one thing to remember: All of these journalists will likely get multiple responses to their requests for comments. So make their lives easier and you’ll have a great shot at being featured.

Whenever you contact journalists, include quotes that address their questions or topic in the first email you send. Outline why your company is best placed to be included.

Make yourself available to provide further details and don’t forget to include an ‘About’ section that offers a quick overview of who you are and what makes your travel company noteworthy.

6 – Create stuff worth linking too

content marketing ideas for seo in the travel industry

Make more content worth sharing and you’ll notice a positive impact on your Google ranking.

Moving away from traditional PR, you should never, ever forget the importance of content marketing.

Content marketing boils down to a simple, necessary truth for any travel company that wants to be successful these days: In the age of online connectivity, if you’re not publishing content and building your brand for others to see, you’re missing out on a vital opportunity.

You’re also missing out on the chance to develop a community-driven platform that can inspire and entice potential customers – something we know a little bit about.

But getting back to content marketing: The whole idea is to create things that other people want to see. At an SEO level, that means creating things that are worth linking too, that people will willingly share and, if you’re lucky (and highly skilled), content that has the chance to go viral.

Some ideas to get you started: An epic, in-depth guide to your travel niche; an online magazine packed with inspirational content; infographics, maps, useful tools that automate a usually tricky task, how-to features… that kind of thing.

7 – Publish your research findings

travel industry seo tips for link building

Don’t be afraid to publicize your market research. Industry insights are worth sharing and people will take notice.

A great way to develop original content and conduct vital market research at the same time is to get out there and survey your potential customers.

In the travel industry that’s easy, because everyone is a potential customer. Why not explore demographic or geographical preferences to gauge who the ideal target market is for the kind of trips your company offers? Then all you have to do is publish your findings in a shareable, accessible medium.

You will quickly become recognised as a trustworthy source of primary data and your backlinks will begin to reflect that.

And it doesn’t always have to be direct. You could explore social media trends or look at travel industry statistics as a whole. Performing research doesn’t necessarily mean sending out surveys and hoping for the best!

8 -Make your content more shareable with name drops

Most people love to show off. It’s human nature. Which is why when you mention someone online in a positive light – whether that’s an individual or a business – they tend to respond.

That natural instinct translates well into SEO. If there’s a particular piece of content out there that you think your readers will find interesting or valuable, don’t be afraid to mention it or link to it.

As well as boosting your SEO by providing relevant external links, you can create posts on social media, tag the companies or individuals that you’ve referenced and watch as they go on to share your material.

A common format for this type of thing is Top X type articles.

For example, if you, as a travel company, put together a feature on the Top 10 places to get travel industry news, you can then share that article while tagging the sites you’ve mentioned. Watch as the backlinks come in.

In a way, this goes back to building relationships. Interact with other companies in the space and you will soon become a point of reference.

9 – Old school link reclamation

Newsflash: The internet is not a perfect place.

Some sites are old and broken. Some links don’t work anymore because they point to sites which are old and broken. And some companies and individuals have gone ahead and mentioned you without providing a link for their readers. How rude.

The solution to all of these issues is good, old fashioned link reclamation. This can often be a tedious business, scouring the web for broken and missing links that could instead be pointing to your company website.

But there are some new tools that help speed up the process, including LinkClump and Buzzstream. In fact, for more information on link reclamation than we could possibly hope to provide in this post, check out this fantastic guide from Moz.

One easy thing you can do before starting any sort of link reclamation process is this: If your startup is starting to build a name for itself, consider setting up a Google Alert. This will ping you an email whenever people are talking about you online.

Then, all you have to do is check if they included a link in their article. If they didn’t, drop them an email and ask nicely for a backlink. Chances are they won’t protest, as they were kind enough to write about you in the first place.

But they might need a bit of persuading. Time is money after all. So try to entice them by sending a link to some extra content on your site that’s relevant in some way to the original mention. Or send them some cookies. Either way.

The good thing about link reclamation in the travel industry is the sheer amount of travel writing and related blogs out there. Search for long enough and you will be able to build a huge collection of potential leads.

Just make sure the links you seek to reclaim are relevant to your travel niche. Spam will get you nowhere.

10 – Build a user-generated encyclopedia

We already covered this to a degree in point 6. But here at Travelshift we take the notion of building content worth linking to very seriously indeed. In fact, you could say that user-generated content is the fuel that makes our marketplace software so successful.

Take our Guide to Iceland platform as an example. Since launching in 2014, our Iceland-dedicated travel guide and booking platform has become the go-to source for Iceland tourist information, with millions of visitors every year. In turn this has helped us to build a highly profitable marketplace with explosive growth and fantastic travel products and services.

Sure, it’s all made possible by the solid foundations of clever marketplace software, but the main reason we are where we are is that we’ve encouraged travellers, local guides and vendors to create inspiring content that allows us to compete with (and more importantly, outrank) travel industry giants.

Want to find out more? Contact us today for more information.

travel search terms seo

 

When Travel Goes Wrong: What We Can Learn From 3 PR Mistakes

Travel is an industry of unknowns and unpredictability. Over the course of a single trip, one traveller might be dealing with or served by countless different operators. Whether it’s booking a trip through a travel marketplace, getting an Uber to the airport or complaining about your hotel, there are always opportunities for an established brand to slip up. PR mistakes occur, by definition, in the public domain. Here are a few of the most high profile in recent times, along with what travel operators can hope to learn from them.

British Airways’ Computer System Failure

Back in May 2017, British Airways had the nightmare of all nightmares, the situation that no airline ever wants to deal with: a power outage that left its IT system crippled. The result was thousands of stranded passengers, hundreds of cancelled flights and an embarrassing ordeal for a brand that prides itself on quality and reliability.

Rumours began to circulate that it was some kind of cyber attack, that BA’s systems had been compromised. The company was understandably cautious about giving too much detail over what had happened. On the ground, airport staff struggled to deal with the hordes of frustrated holidaymakers. It was a recipe for a PR disaster.

The Lesson: Apologise, front-up and reassure

There is only so much that an operator can do when fundamental systems, such as those handling bookings, are wiped out. Although staff on the ground were reportedly less than informed about what was going on, British Airways was relatively quick to issue the following statement on its Twitter account, from CEO Alex Cruz.

With a problem this unavoidable, the only possible PR move was to issue a public statement like this and front up to the problem. The message had clear instructions, an apology, reassurance concerning refunds and a partial explanation. There wasn’t much more that British Airways could do given the circumstances.

United Airlines: The Perils of Social Media, Greed & Repeating the Same Mistakes

In the first example, British Airways used social media to their advantage. They quickly spread a clear message to worried travellers, reassuring them, apologising and going some way to explaining what was happening. The company was able to do this because of the popularity of platforms just like Twitter – Once it’s on Twitter, it’s open to the world.

Read more: Social Media Tips for Travel Industry Professionals

That same level of transparency and potential virility can also be the fuel for a total PR nightmare. That much was confirmed after this disgraceful incident was caught on camera before the departure of a United Airlines flight…

The video shows a paying passenger being forcibly removed from flight 3411 on April 9th, because United Airlines deliberately overbooked its flight and needed to make room for cabin crew. Staff asked for volunteers to leave the plane, and when nobody stepped forward, one unfortunate gentleman was dragged off, literally kicking and screaming.

Understandably, this outrageous treatment caused a stir online and rapidly became a global story. In itself, a complete PR disaster, highlighting all of the traits that travellers despise in industry giants: greed, indifference, disregard and a total lack of empathy.

But the blunders didn’t stop there. In the following days, everybody involved with the airline, from the social media team to its CEO, appeared to make things worse with poorly thought out statements. These only added fuel to the fire. CEO Oscar Munoz referred to the clear assault that had taken place aboard one of his airline’s planes as ‘re-accommodating a customer’.

And it got worse. The social media team appeared to be doing everything possible to keep the fire burning. Here they are explaining how a lack of volunteers justified the passenger in question being forcibly removed:

The Lesson: Sincere PR is the best way to brace for impact when things go wrong

Aside from the initial incident, which was always going to be impossible to explain away, the United Airlines saga went from bad to worse because of how the emerging situation was mishandled. Everyone from the social media team to the CEO badly misread public sentiment and failed to respond accordingly.

Eventually, Oscar Munoz did issue a strong apology. But because this came long after the event and after other statements had served to fan the flames to the extent that United’s stock was plummeting, it wasn’t taken as sincere by the public.

Travel operators need to accept that when things go wrong, they can go viral quickly. As such, teams (particularly on social media) need to be prepared to respond quickly, appropriately and with empathy. Social media teams should also understand that their responses are completely public, and craft messages carefully to avoid further damage to their reputations.

It doesn’t take a genius to see why the footage from that United Airlines flight was so controversial. The company’s inability to see it from the same perspective is what helped the situation escalate to a global news story.

Thomas Cook: What Not to Do When Tragedy Strikes

Often PR situations can escalate because it’s not clear who is to blame, and the parties involved appear unwilling to accept responsibility. This is sometimes the case when a terrible tragedy has unfolded. One example of this is the sad passing of two young children while on holiday with their father in Corfu in 2006. The boy and girl died because of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a boiler leak at their accommodation, which was provided by Thomas Cook through a third party.

Thomas Cook took legal action against the hotel in Greece where the boys died and protested against inquests into the children’s deaths taking place in the UK. The popular tour operator then received £3 million in damages from the hotel and was heavily criticised after the children’s parents were awarded just over 10% of that figure.

It was not until 9 years later after the event that the company’s CEO agreed to meet with the family and issue a formal apology for how the situation had been dealt with. It donated £1.5m to charity and went on to be found guilty after an inquest jury reached a verdict of unlawful killing. The ruling stated that Thomas Cook had breached its duty of care.

The Lesson: Respond to tragedy like a human, not a company

No gesture or words could ever replace the lives lost in a tragic event such as that which occurred in Corfu in 2006.

But in mishandling the situation and its aftermath, Thomas Cook quickly developed a reputation for prioritising the financial cost of the event over the human, lacking empathy and being indifferent to the family and their loss.

For a travel operator whose business is almost exclusively dedicated to family holidays, coming across as a faceless corporation at a time of crisis was the last thing it should have been doing.

When tragedies such as this do occur, instead of shying away from responsibility, travel operators would do well to embrace the situation first and ask question later. Mistakes can be forgiven. Even negligence can be forgiven. But the emotional impact and the damage caused by indifference can linger for years.

Why B2B Travel Technology is Vital to the Industry

Depending on who you speak to, there are different definitions of what constitutes travel technology. As a travel marketplace provider, we certainly see that definition in a different light to a transport company like Uber or an OTA like Expedia. Our job as a (mostly) B2B service is to enable operators to reach as many travellers as possible. We provide the travel technology and work in the space in between operators and customers.

But it makes sense that, as technology becomes more of a feature in our daily lives, travel companies of one sort or another will utilise different aspects and become a part of the ‘travel technology’ family. A case in point is Skift’s Travel Tech 250, which includes everything from deal sites like GroupOn to rental platforms and price comparison websites.

Travel Technology Now Comes In Many Forms

From looking through Skift’s map of ‘250 travel tech companies’ shaping the modern day travel experience, it’s clear to see that travel tech has an extremely broad meaning. It spans marketplaces for travel, transport and accommodation. There are also B2B services covering distribution, booking engines and even travel industry marketing specialists.

As Skift writes, “We recognize that the travel industry is in constant flux, with new brands and disruptors coming on line all of the time. The design we chose for this visualization is exactly that – a snapshot of what the industry looks like today.”

Sure, we might be biased, but we think we deserve a little more recognition here. Not in terms of being included, although that would be nice. But in terms of the significance of what we and other booking engines do. The Skift image is just a snapshot of the industry as a whole, so let’s try to explain why what we do is so vital.

As more and more travellers research and organise their trips online, having a web presence is becoming a prerequisite to winning bookings from international tourists.

But that’s putting it mildly. Having an online presence is a pre-condition to attracting tourists in the same way that having a warm pair of socks is needed if you’re going to climb Mt Everest. There’s a lot more to it than that. There are some serious marketing challenges facing small travel operators that we’ve outlined again and again.

The first – and most important – is being discovered. An online presence is worth nothing unless people can find it. Only once your products are found can you begin actually selling them. This is getting harder by the day for two reasons. First, a small number of B2C travel industry giants dominate search engine results. And by dominate, we mean that you’ll be lucky to get a look in. They’ve got more content than you, more backlinks than you, and you can bet that their marketing budgets far exceed your own.

The second challenge to getting noticed is increased competition from other smaller operators. As they fight to take traffic from the big guys, many smaller travel startups are making life harder for each other.

But it’s not all bad…

But there is a silver lining. There are two, in fact. The first is that once they get over the hurdle of being heard, smaller operators are in a unique position to concentrate on a single niche. They can then easily build brand awareness and customer loyalty around that target market. By definition, smaller travel operators can be lean, more flexible and highly specialised. That’s the personal touch that many travellers want, not a mass tourism package trip churned out by an industry giant.

With specialised knowledge comes a specialised service. And with that comes a trip that travellers remember for all the right reasons.

travel technology - our marketplace platform

Why True Travel Technology is an Enabler

In our view, true B2B travel technology is tech that helps startups in the industry overcome the challenges mentioned above. True travel technology is empowering, breaks down conventional barriers and gives the small guys a fighting chance against established dominance.

Sure: all of the companies listed above under ‘Travel technology’ are, according to Skift, “shaping the modern-day travel experience”. We don’t deny that Uber, Secret Escapes and Trivago are all offering valuable services that the industry couldn’t do without. Yet the key word for us in that Skift definition is ‘experience’.

Shaping the Travel Experience for the Better

Here at Travelshift, we firmly believe that smaller operators are in a much better position to give 21st century travellers the immersive trips and personalised service they’re looking for.

As we’ve mentioned before, there is a fear that the combining forces of big data and seamless integration will leave the largest technology companies in the best position to dominate the travel industry – even more so than the current industry giants. There is no telling what kind of impact even more dominance in the hands of a few major players will have on the traveller experience.

That’s why we are remaining firmly in the corner of the little guys, enabling them to compete with travel industry giants with our unique, feature-packed marketplace software. We hope that the result will be a greater number of specialised marketplaces, catering to their chosen niche and providing the best possible experience to travellers – right the way through from booking to returning home.

Our Travel Technology Gives Smaller Operators The Platform They Deserve

As we’ve mentioned, setting up in the travel industry and offering your expertise to tourists is only the first step on a long, difficult journey. Many fall at the opening hurdles, and many more follow suit soon after that.

That’s why we put our heads together before launching our first platform in 2014 to produce the perfect solution: A travel marketplace that brings together small operators and allows them to reach a larger audience than they could ever imagine when working as individual suppliers.

Take a look at the impact our platform had in its opening few years when combined with the Iceland tourism boom.

Guide to Iceland growth timeline, proving our travel technologyThis goes to show that a small but dedicated (and talented) team can achieve great things with the right travel technology in place. Our aim is for the same platform solution and techniques to be used to develop partnerships and niche marketplaces all over the world.

The result will be the growth of smaller travel operators, as they each benefit from the support and association of a marketplace that’s purpose-built to drive traffic and sales for niche travel sectors. More success among smaller operators promises to shift the travel landscape, provide tourists with more authentic experiences and bring back the concept of ‘loyalty’ to an industry that has lost its personal touch.

All of this takes us back to the title of this post. So why are B2B travel technology suppliers so vital to the industry? Simply put, we support startups and breed innovation. We make things happen.

More Than Just Another Booking Engine

Earlier in this post we compared having an online presence in the travel industry to having a pair of socks at the base of Mount Everest: It’s only the beginning. And the same can be said for having a travel marketplace that aggregates operators in your chosen niche.

Building a marketplace is only half of the challenge. You still need to market it properly, to streamline its systems and drive as many sales as possible.

That’s where Travelshift’s technology comes in. Our marketplace solution has been honed over time and proven in practice. It’s complete with localisation features, built-in SEO tools, flexible inventory systems and much more besides. Most important of all, the Travelshift platform was built and designed to bring in as much relevant traffic as possible.

To do that, we’ve combined a smart, flexible SaaS travel marketplace solution with unparalleled content marketing capabilities. But the key is where that content comes from: The community. By encouraging locals and tour guides to contribute article and blog posts, our platform allows you to amass a huge social media following and drive significantly more traffic into the marketplace than operators can manage independently. With our tools and no shortage of hard work, you can quickly become the leading producer of content in your field.

Community-driven content is a foundation of our success, and we’re convinced that the model can be applied to any number of travel niches.

Trvaelshift marketplace software

Feeling Inspired?

We’re always on the lookout for new partners, exciting startups and talented individuals to work with. If you’d like to be considered, all we need from you is a discovery letter. In the letter, you should indicate as concisely as possible the following elements of your proposal:

  • Define the market. What are you trying to aggregate?
  • How do you plan to bring in suppliers and/or access inventory?
  • What is your preferred form of partnership (joint venture, revenue sharing agreement, etc)?

You can send your discovery letters to info@travelshift.com.

The travel industry is an exciting and thriving sector with a seemingly endless amount of business opportunities and prospective ventures. We love to team up with intelligent and creative people and enjoy receiving new proposals. Get in touch with us today!

The Changing Trends of Travel Industry Marketing

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?

Changing traveller attitudes toward advertising

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.

The growing importance of social media

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.

Content is King

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…

What counts as content?

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.

What is the point of content marketing?

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…

Perpetuating traffic: The by-product of great 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?

Content marketing in the travel industry: How and where?

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?

The How

‘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.

via GIPHY

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.

content marketing travel

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.

The Where

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.

Instagram content marketing travel

Instagram is the perfect platform to build a loyal band of followers.

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.

Things to think about

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.

Read more: The Power of Influencers in the Travel Industry

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?

Where Travelshift Comes In…

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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!

How Travel Agencies Can Benefit From the Mobile Revolution

If there’s one thing the travel industry has had to come to terms with in recent years, it’s the increasing influence of mobile platforms. Not only are smartphones and tablets dominating travel research, social media and bookings themselves, compatibility with these platforms has also become a vital factor in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). With that in mind, this week we’re going to look at how travel startups can harness the power of mobile platforms, cut through the noise and create long-lasting, profitable bonds with tech-savvy travellers.

Why does your travel platform need a mobile strategy?

Mobile devices are becoming more prevalent among travellers, ut it’s not only during trips that these come in handy. The majority of people now research trips from a mobile device, while the amount of people making bookings on these platforms is also on the rise.

Here are a couple of enlightening charts from our colleagues at Skift, one the few publications that keeps an even closer eye on the travel industry than we do.

mobile marketing for travel

Skift

Clearly, there is an upward trend for mobile bookings around some of the world’s most popular destinations. What also needs to be taken into account is the ability to make bookings while travelling that mobile platforms provide.

Below is another chart, which suggests that travellers are more comfortable using traditional purchasing methods when it comes to flights – although this number is also steadily rising.

Mobile marketing

Skift

So what does this data tell us? It’s obvious that having a smooth mobile platform that travellers can use for research and bookings is vital in this day and age. There’s plenty of room for more growth in mobile bookings, so travel agencies and marketplaces that fail to prepare will have prepared to fail.

First of all: Optimise for Mobile

The first step here is fundamental. If travellers can’t easily use your marketplace or booking system on a mobile device, you’re going to miss out on sales. It’s as simple as that. Your platform needs to be optimised for browsing from these devices. Compatibility and ease of use are doubly important when you consider that, as well as losing revenue, you will be punished in search engine rankings for having a poor mobile experience.

That’s right: Google will be less favourable to your platform is the mobile experience sucks. Take a look at these three facts, courtesy of Marcus Miller at Search Engine Land:

  1. Today, more people search on mobile phones than computers
  2. People are five times more likely to leave a site if it isn’t mobile-friendly
  3. Over half of mobile users will leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load

With these in mind, the first steps toward any mobile marketing strategy should be to:

  1. Concentrate on ease of use and mobile compatibility
  2. Ensure your website is responsive from mobile platforms
  3. Do everything you can to improve your page loadings speeds

These factors can be addressed in many different ways, from streamlining the process for filling in forms, to shortening menus and simplifying the search process.

Read this post on optimising sites for mobile for more information.

Use mobile to personalise the experience

Once your platform is optimised for mobile, the obvious advantage of being in your customers’ pockets is the ability to personalise their experience.

Here’s a great example of what we mean, from hotel giant Marriot.

Marriott personal service with app mobile

The Marriott App

The new Marriott Rewards app has been designed to give users a tailored experience. It adjusts depending on which point the traveller is at in their journey. The app will offer content and advice related to trip planning, the day of travel itself, transit and the hotel stay.

Smart devices are now everyone’s indispensable travel companion, as more and more travellers increasingly expect to have their needs satisfied using their mobile phone,” said Marriott International SVP digital George Corbin.

Marriott is using mobile to introduce and revolutionize the next generation of customer service to travelers worldwide, delivering a far more personalized and anticipatory stay experience.” – Marriott International SVP digital George Corbin

Marriott International vice president of loyalty, Thom Kozik, highlighted the connection between offering a personalised experience and the customer loyalty that ensues. “Many people have an emotional connection with their mobile devices and apps they’ve downloaded,” he said. “We know some of our most loyal guests stay with us upwards of 100 nights a year. For them, along with members who stay less frequently, we can become a valuable part of their travel experience on a device they engage with 365 days a year.”

Personalising a traveller’s experience via mobile can involve anything, from using their name and treating them as a genuine person, to tailoring offers and sending them promotions they have a track record of being interested in. A strong mobile experience gives a travel agency the opportunity the connect with customers directly and treat them as genuine people – there’s no better way to build a relationship.

Location is Key

Plenty of research and bookings occur during a trip, not before it. Sure, the big stuff (flights, transfers etc) will probably be arranged before departure, but on longer trips it’s highly likely that excursions, activities and maybe even accommodation will be booked while on the road. This highlights the need for our first point: Optimising for mobile. But it also raises the importance of localisation.

Localisation is something we’ve discussed before, in our piece entitled ‘Translation & Localisation; Travel Agents Must Adapt to the Global Marketplace‘. The idea is simple. Plenty of travel operators work in the shadow of huge, internet-dominating travel giants. We all know who they are. One key to getting the upper hand is focusing on localisation; becoming a trusted source of bookings and information in your chosen area.

An Ipsos study back in 2014 found that 88% of people make local searches on smartphones, while 61% want mobile search results optimised to their location. It’s clear that if you can localise your mobile offering with geographical offers, maps, driving directions and local search results, you’ll be giving travellers what they want.

Enable mobile transactions

It goes without saying that if you want to make the most of the mobile booking trend, you need to enable mobile transactions on your website. But this doesn’t only stand for transactions of money. Anything that stands to help travellers avoid queues or delays is a positive step. After all, nobody travels through a love of standing in line. Mobile integration of check-ins, room service and reviews can all help to make travelling a more seamless experience.

Moving services onto mobile platforms can boost customer satisfaction. A study by The Center for Generational Kinetics discovered that at 40 percent of millennials prefer customer service that’s totally online. Self-service and support via mobile ticks all the boxes of this growing trend.

Rewarding mobile users

Done right, enhancing your mobile offering comes with its own benefits that travellers will appreciate. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there. Mobile users taking advantage of self-service systems and following your advice on local activities should be rewarded in some manner. This might be by building a loyalty scheme that gives travellers discounts over time, or offering specific rewards for travellers who provide feedback or share their experience on social media.

Be the Concierge

We’ve written before on how many travel operators are beginning to use messaging platforms to offer a new type of customer service. The vast majority of mobile travellers will have access to instant messaging platforms such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. As a travel operator, there’s a huge opportunity to harness these mediums and provide travellers with real-time customer service.

Smartphones and tablets are providing the capability. It’s up to your agency or marketplace to make the most of it.

Stay one step ahead

There are plenty challenges faced by travellers no matter what the destination or trip type. For example, how many travellers have difficulty explaining where their accommodation is to a local driver? How many travellers want to learn some basic phrases in the native language of their destination? How many travellers want easy access to city guides and local things to do? The answer, of course, is millions.

These are all small problems with simple solutions, but mobile offers the key: accessibility. If you can provide directions in the local language, a guide on local things to do, and general assistance in anticipation of a problem, travellers will thank you for it with loyalty.

Make the most of social media

We can’t speak about the importance of mobile without touching on social media. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are primarily, or in some cases exclusively, accessed via mobile platforms. Because of this, a large part of any decent travel operator’s marketing plan will focus on these avenues. Travel is an industry driven by curiosity and aspiration, so if you can invoke these emotions through a strong social media strategy then you’ll be on to a winner.

social trends in the travel industry

No mobile strategy would be complete without a focus on social media.

Post pictures and inspirational videos from your locations or trips, and encourage your customers to share their experience on social media with their networks. Competitions are also likely to spread around platforms such as Facebook and Instagram like wildfire.

Travelshift can help you build a marketplace that’s optimised for mobile

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Want to build a travel marketplace but intimidated by all the technical challenges? That’s where Travelshift software comes in. Our proven solution is fully optimised for mobile use, and comes with a range of features to help you compete with established giants in the travel industry.

Proprietary SEO technology and easy localisation help you use Travelshift to build a community-driven platform that puts content marketing at its core. Want to find out more about the explosive traffic and limitless sales that Travelshift can put at your disposal? Check out our case study for more information.