Google’s Global Localization is Every Traveller’s Dream

Smartphones and Google maps have revolutionised the way we travel. Together they’ve rendered traditional maps (almost) obsolete, put the power of navigation inside everyone’s pocket and connected all of that insight with localised information about things to do, see and experience.

But combining GPS with localised maps isn’t always enough for a seamless or ultimately useful experience.

The trouble with GPS

We’re all familiar with the little blue dot that pinpoints your location on Google Maps. This process relies on GPS, which in turn relies on the delay of radio signals from dedicated satellites to nail down your exact position.

But GPS is fallible. Travellers wandering around big cities: London, New York, or San Francisco, for example, are often left frustrated. How is it that these tech capitals struggle most with localisation? Well, it’s actually really difficult to pinpoint your location when the signals you need to do so are blocked and delayed by tall buildings. Signals get reflected and your access to the sky is limited.

The result is something we’re all familiar with, too: Wildly inaccurate placements on the map; your little blue dot in the middle of a nearby river (worrying) or on a completely different street to the one you’re actually standing on (inconvenient and counterproductive).

The below image illustrates the signal issues caused in dense urban areas. It’s taken from a post published by Tilman Reinhardt‎, a software engineer at Google Maps.

GPS signals bouncing off facades in an urban environment.

Apart from generally getting things wrong, GPS has another major limitation that impacts travellers every day: It determines location, not orientation.

The direction you’re facing is pretty important when you are exploring a foreign place. It’s no good saying north or south if you don’t know where those are. Travellers don’t tend to carry compasses these days. And the sensors in smartphones designed to provide orientation can often be undone by nearby interference.

As Reinhardt‎ explains, “Magnetic objects such as cars, pipes, buildings, and even electrical wires inside the phone, resulting in errors that can be inaccurate by up to 180 degrees.”

Read more: Google Street View Expands to South African National Parks

The next step: Google’s ‘Global Localization’

Google’s solution to inaccurate GPS and orientation is to combine a host of the company’s technologies into one seriously powerful – and rather intuitive – navigation system.

“We’re experimenting with a way to solve this problem using a technique we call global localization,” writes Reinhardt. “…which combines Visual Positioning Service (VPS), Street View, and machine learning to more accurately identify position and orientation. Using the smartphone camera as a sensor, this technology enables a more powerful and intuitive way to help people quickly determine which way to go.”

Being at the overlap of travel and technology, we thought it would be a good idea to delve into this concept in more detail.

So let’s start with VPS, Google’s Visual Positioning System.

‘Visual Positioning’ in this sense is pretty literal. Just imagine you are walking in an area you are not very familiar with or haven’t been to in a while. The first thing we do it orient ourselves with landmarks that are familiar: that church spire in the distance, the McDonalds on the corner, the train station on the next street.

Google’s Visual Positioning System is based on this same intuitive method.

‘Global localization’ relies on a combination of techniques and technologies. A key component of the solution is the camera attached to your smartphone.

Rather than using GPS, VPS uses imagery to see the world as we do.

Its first task is to create a map by analysing your route, taking a series of images which have a known location and analyzing them for key visual features. This might be the outline of buildings or bridges, or other permanent city fixtures. The system then creates a large scale and searchable index of those visual features.

Next is the really clever part. To localize the device (and therefore its user), VPS compares the features in imagery taken live from the phone to those in the VPS index.

It’s a great concept. The global localization system will have a huge database of images and recognisable urban fixtures. Then, when you’re in a location with GPS instability, it can compare the real world through your smartphone’s camera and use that information to guide you with perfect accuracy.

Of course, the accuracy of any system like this is entirely based on the quality of that image database. Where can Google possibly go to get a location-specific database of landmarks and urban areas?

Of course: Street View.

Street View gets a greater purpose

We can all remember seeing Google’s odd little cars driving around our streets, mapping roads and building up to the eventual launch of Street View. The option to take a virtual walk on Google Maps has become something we all take for granted.

“To deliver global localization with VPS,” says Reinhardt, “we connected it with Street View data, making use of information gathered and tested from over 93 countries across the globe. This rich dataset provides trillions of strong reference points to apply triangulation, helping more accurately determine the position of a device and guide people towards their destination.”

But it’s not that simple of course. When your phone shares live images with Google to try and get a sense of your location, the view will no doubt be different than from Street View’s huge dataset.

Think about the angle of the image, the weather and the lighting. The building colours may have changed, too. The challenge is to devise a system that’s able to filter out these temporary changes and recognise landmarks for what they are, no matter the time of day of the minor changes that may have occurred over time.

Which is where artificial intelligence comes in. Or to be more specific: Machine learning.

“That’s why a core ingredient in this new approach is applying machine learning to automatically decide which features to pay attention to, prioritizing features that are likely to be permanent parts of the scene and ignoring things like trees, dynamic light movement, and construction that are likely transient. This is just one of the many ways in which we use machine learning to improve accuracy,” says Reinhardt.

Read more: Report Digs into Travel Technology Trends for 2018

Combining Machine Learning with Augmented Reality

Google being Google, it’s not enough to use Street View, your phone’s camera and machine learning to provide a new way to guide you around locations. The search engine giant also wants to incorporate augmented reality (AR) into the process.

If you’re not familiar with AR, it’s essentially the practice of overlaying virtual images onto the real world. Pokemon Go is arguably the biggest mainstream example of it to date. But it’s not restricted to the world of entertainment, as Google wants to show.

If we imagine that Global localization will become an additional option within Google Maps that users can turn on when they need it, how does AR fit into the picture?

Well, with increased precision comes more possibilities. “One of the newest features we’re testing is the ability to use ARCore, Google’s platform for building augmented reality experiences, to overlay directions right on top of Google Maps when someone is in walking navigation mode. With this feature, a quick glance at your phone shows you exactly which direction you need to go,” explains Reinhardt.

That is a nice idea, right?

google street view augmented reality directions

AI-powered camera experiences from Google are nothing new. Google Lens allows you to search for what you see, for example. But Reinhardt argues that “the ability to overlay directions over the real world environment offers an exciting and useful way to use the technology that already exists in your pocket.”

Read more: Deep Dive: The Travel Industry’s Social Media Marketing Landscape

Google is central to the future of travel

As the original online behemoth, Google is the established point of reference for anybody using the internet. But who could have foreseen that the search engine giant would go from aggregating website searches to becoming a huge player in the global travel industry?

As we well know, appeasing Google is key for any successful travel agent, particularly with more trips researched and booked online through computers and mobile devices every year. The company is increasingly packaging its own travel deals as well, rather than simply being a conduit for other agents.

But Google is also becoming a major player in the travel experience itself. You have Google Translate – the go-to tool for anyone travelling through a foreign country and trying to pick up the language as they go. You also have Street View and Google Maps: navigational tools that make travel more accessible than it’s ever been before.

And now, Google wants to take that to the next level with Global localization, combining existing data from Street View with machine learning and augmented reality to turn your smartphone camera into an active part of the navigation process.

No more unstable blue location dots. No more walking up the street the wrong way as part of an annoying orientation process. Just easy, accurate directions.

We can’t wait to try it.

Deep Dive: The Travel Industry’s Social Media Marketing Landscape

This deep dive takes a closer look at the social media marketing trends shaping today’s travel industry. How are travel agents using social media to connect with customers? Which social media sites are the most powerful? And most important of all, which techniques are working? 

This analysis is based on Travel Market Report’s recent Outlook on Social Media. We’ve trawled through it and cut it down to the best bits so you don’t have to. 

We hope you find it useful, insightful and packed with takeaways that you can start applying in 2019 and beyond. Enjoy!

Social Media: The Ultimate Equaliser?

When discussing our marketplace software, one theme that constantly comes up is that of competing with the major players. For any agency or tour provider setting up in the travel industry, it’s an uphill battle to even get noticed online. That’s why our proven solution brings smaller providers together in a way that amplifies their reach and evens out the playing field.

But social media works in a different way to search engine rankings. On the one hand, huge industry names are more likely to draw a following and, of course, have bigger budgets to push into direct marketing and content production. But on the other hand, the social media landscape is more egalitarian that search engine rankings.

That’s because it’s a total equaliser. Everyone starts from nothing and even small travel agencies and tour operators can gain a large, loyal following. So long as they use the platforms correctly.

Doing things right is the Holy Grail here. So what can Travel Market Report’s Outlook on Social Media tell us about how travel agencies can position themselves, how brands can rise and fall through social media, and what kind of interactions lead to successful conversations and conversions?

The Importance of Having a Social Media Plan

The rise of Social Media has led to an interesting challenge for all small businesses, not just travel agencies. How do you strike the right balance between building an audience, projecting your philosophy and being goal oriented: driving traffic to your website, selling, that kind of thing?

This balancing act, on top of uncertainty around using Social Media and its tangible benefits, has led to a weird phenomenon around its use for business purposes. For example, the Outlook on Social Media report found that 43% of respondents have a formal social media plan versus 41% who don’t and 16% who weren’t sure.

You read that right: Less than half of the travel agencies surveyed have a formal plan in place for Social Media management.

However, of those agents who said they had generated $25,000 or more in sales from their Social Media efforts, 59% said they had a social media marketing plan.

So what conclusion can we draw from these findings? Well, for starters, they suggest that having a plan is linked to increased sales through social media channels. But we can’t say why for sure. It might be that having a plan means that posts are more consistent, more cleverly targeted and more thought through.

Or, it could be that travel businesses that approach Social Media with rigour and thoroughness apply those same attributes with great effect to the rest of their operations.

The question of whether or not to adopt a formal Social Media plan gets right to the heart of our uncertainty about using these platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like have been designed to amplify spontaneity. The last thing many travel agents want to do is come across as contrived (and boring). So perhaps that fear is holding many travel operators from seeing the full potential of Social Media marketing.

Is your travel agency one the many posting inconsistently, without a formal plan, and unsure over what the aims and aspirations are?

Here are three quick tips to get you moving in the right direction…

  • Know your intended audience and post with a purpose. In other words, get yourself a plan, or at least an idea of who you want to target and the kind of content they are going to find inspirational.
  • Don’t get caught up in the rush to gain followers. On platforms like Facebook and Instagram, your ultimate goal is always going to be conversions. More followers doesn’t necessarily mean more conversions. What’s arguably more important is engagement. Buying followers or encouraging follower growth through other devious means is self-defeating and not a good way to start.
  • Keep learning. The social media landscape is constantly changing, so you have to adapt and keep up. So do that however you can: attend webinars, read articles just like this one, continue your own research. Whatever it takes to improve your knowledge of the landscape.

SEO Counts for Social Media, Too

You might think that SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – is strictly related to the content of your website. But Social Media platforms are part of the internet too, so there are techniques you can apply across the board.

The algorithms that determine the content on Social Media platforms are also similar to those that govern Google search results. For example, users on Instagram often rely on keywords to find the content they like and are interested in. Plus, the amount of engagement a post gets will dictate how widely it gets pushed.

how are travel companies using social media to sell?

There is a quite staggering admission from respondents in the Outlook On Social Media survey: 40% didn’t know what SEO is and only 23% apply it to Social Media operations.

A related contention was that nearly 60% of respondents don’t use or track hash tags or weren’t sure. As the primary way that people discover content they are interested in on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, that is pretty unforgivable from a large number of travel agencies.

55% of respondents who said they had sold at least $25,000 via their social media efforts do use hash tags. #TheProofIsInThePudding.

Social Media Analytics: Testing Your Methods

The running theme here is that travel agents and advisors are perhaps not taking the potential of Social Media marketing seriously enough.

That is borne out in our next statistic. Just over half (51%) of agencies use the analytics provided by social media to gather information about their target audience. And only 37% of travel advisors use analytics to gauge the effectiveness of their own social media efforts.

Social Media is crowded and competitive space, so keeping tabs on your methods and results is the only way you’re going to improve. Best of all, every platform provides insights and metrics into the performance of your posts, so there’s no excuse not to test and track your results.

What Type Of Social Media Posts Appeal to Travellers?

We’ve written at length in the past about Social Media tips for professionals working in the travel industry. We’ve also discussed the power of an effective video strategy and the impact of video content from a content marketing perspective.

There are few industries as reliant on visuals than travel. Beautiful, aspirational photos and videos are often what it takes to push travellers toward a particular destination and make a sale happen. They are the means through which a compelling story is told.

The proof is there for all to see. Posts on platforms like Twitter and Facebook tend to receive more engagement if images or videos are included. While videos on landing pages can increase conversions by up to 80%.

More than two-thirds of agents (68%) who responded to the survey said they use video in their social media.

Significantly, around 79% of those respondents who said they had sold at least $25,000 worth of travel via social media in the past year said they use video. 

So what about the general theme of posts? What have travel industry professionals found to be the most effective? As you’d expect, at the top of the list are the most visual posts: Photography from the travel of agents themselves (65%) and beautiful travel photography (63%).

But then there are more conventional marketing tools: 62% of agents found special offers to be an effective form of content.

Interestingly, it appears as though travellers aren’t so keen on hearing about practical things or negatives. Only 28% of agents found it effective to post travel alerts about weather or other disruptions.

Social Media Objectives & Lead Generation

A running theme through Travel Market Report’s research is that many industry professionals aren’t exactly sure what they are doing on Social Media, what their aims are and how to measure success.

It would appear as though we are in an experimental phase at the moment.

how travel agencies are using social media

Social Media interactions are having an influence on sales, no doubt. At least 11% of travel advisors and
agencies said they have been able to generate at least $100,000 in sales through Social Media efforts.

33% of advisors claimed that using the platforms available had resulted in at least $25,000 in sales over the past 12 months. But there’s an interesting difference here with agencies, of which just 25% achieved similar results. This could be because the role of travel advisor is relatively new compared with an agency, and that the advisor service is more relatable and easy to target towards Social Media-savvy travellers.

Again though, we see that a minority of travel industry professionals are approaching things in a coordinated manner. Tracking sales wasn’t universal. 38% of advisors and 29% of agencies said they “don’t or can’t track sales.”

One agent offered an explanation for this: “It is difficult to draw straight lines from client interaction and a sale. Social media is part of an overall strategy of engagement.”

The discrepancy between there being money to be made via Social Media and a lack of professionals actually tracking sales can be partly explained by our next statistic. When asked about their Social Media objectives, this is what respondents had to say.

As you might expect, gaining new customers was the number one reason that advisors (87%) and agencies (86%) use Social Media. But for agencies, it’s also about ‘building awareness and positioning expertise’ (82%).

Marketing to existing customers (77%) took the second spot for advisors. In total, around 50% of respondents use Social Media as an advertising platform with specific objectives in mind.

All of which suggests there is are myriad reasons to be active on Social Media if you are trying to sell travel. The breadth of those reasons may explain the lack of focus towards either one in particular. Not to mention the fact that these platforms offer a place where you can do all of those things and more simultaneously.

Read more: How To Boost SEO and Build Links For Your Travel Startup

Which Platforms Are Proving Popular?

One major question that travel professionals have when considering Social Media marketing is: Which channels/platforms are best?

With limited resources and several platforms to choose from, it’s important to focus efforts in the right place.

Here are the results indicating the most popular Social Media platforms for travel agencies and advisors.

Which social media platforms do travel agencies use

So what are the headlines? Well, despite what we know about the power of visuals in marketing travel, Instagram sits in second place behind the mighty Facebook.

But the gap between Facebook and the rest is stark. Almost every travel agent or advisor has a Facebook presence. That may say more about Facebook’s dominance than anything else. But it perhaps misses the fact that millennials are abandoning Facebook by the million and switching onto other networks.

This generation is, as we have discussed before, hugely into travel and has growing buying power. And that’s before we mention the coming tsunami that is generation Z.

So let’s take a closer look at the stats. Facebook is by far the dominant social media platform when it comes to the travel agency community. 97% of respondents confirmed that they use it for their business.

Instagram (60%) and LinkedIn (59%) came in second and third respectively. Twitter was used by 38% of respondents followed by YouTube at 28% and Pinterest at 26%.

Again here we see that the travel industry as a whole is neglecting the opportunity to tap into Social Media networks most frequented by younger travellers. That YouTube is the focus of efforts for just 28% of the industry is a big surprise, particularly given its size as a platform and its emphasis on inspirational video content.

The compelling nature of visuals comes to the fore with a stat released by Travel Market Report’s: Agents that said they had sold at least $25,000 via social media in the past year were statistically more likely to use Instagram (72%) than the overall population.

How Are Travel Companies Using Paid Advertising on Social Media?

With so much uncertainty around the use and effectiveness of Social Media to sell travel, it’s not surprising that the percentage of travel companies not running paid adverts is significant: Around half don’t run any kind of paid campaigns.

Travel advisors are less likely to engage in paid advertising on Social Media than agencies, but for those that do, Facebook dominates again. 61% of agencies that run paid ads do so on Facebook. 44% of advisors do the same.

Despite being the go-to platform for millennials and dedicated to visuals, Instagram was used on a paid basis by 10% of advisors and agencies. 5% of both groups said they used paid adverts on LinkedIn, perhaps due to having a focus on business-related travel. It’s also where professionals with money to burn tend to congregate.

Only 3% of advisors and 1% of agencies used paid advertising on YouTube. Is that the definition of untapped potential? 

Final Thoughts

There were some really interesting statistics in there. More travel professionals than we expected couldn’t tell you what a hash tag is. Few utilise SEO tactics in their Social Media campaigns. Facebook is dominating the efforts of many despite it being left behind by the younger generation.

There’s also an obvious shortage of travel agents and advisors who go into Social Media with a plan in mind or any intention to track lead generation and progress. Without those key foundations, it’s difficult to make progress and adjust your methods to improve results.

It’s also difficult to build consistency unless you have a structure in place. And that’s key to growing any type of community following.

But plenty are ahead of the curve and doing things right. Below are the bookings per month made, on average, by agencies and advisors through Social Media platforms.

You can expect these figures to rise in the coming years as travel industry professionals get to grips with how best to harness the power of Social Media.

First Plastic-Free Commercial Flight Takes Off

Heading into 2019, one  trend in the industry that we’re keeping a close eye on is the desire for more sustainable, environmentally-friendly travel options.

Sustainability means different things to different people. For some it’s a case of recycling and using public transport, for others it means going full Vegan and never setting foot in a car again.

The sad fact is that air travel is one of the most destructive consumer habits, at least in terms of its carbon footprint. But let’s face it: It’s not going to stop anytime soon, particularly as the global travel industry relies so heavily upon it.

Instead, travellers are looking for operators, accommodation and experiences that have a sustainability ethos in line with their own environmental ethics and concerns. This might mean finding an activity to do in another country that goes hand in hand with conservation: volunteering at a monkey sanctuary, planting trees, that kind of thing.

But, as we explored last summer, the wider industry is slowly waking up to a simple truth: protecting the natural world goes hand in hand with the travel industry’s long-term future.

Because of that, hotels and airlines are taking steps to make their operations greener. Last year, Alaska Airlines became the first airline in the US to ban straws on its flights. RyanAir pledged to become plastic free by 2023 as part of a five year ‘Always Getting Better’ plan.

palstics waste

Read more: In Depth With Zen Resort Bali

Hilton announced plans to eliminate the use of straws in all of its 650 global accommodations, as well as plastic bottles from its conferences, by the end of 2018.

So things are going in the right direction, particularly with regards to single-use plastic waste – so often an unnecessary luxury that the majority of travellers can do without and won’t miss too much.

Which brings us to wet-lease specialist Hi Fly. The Portuguese company is a go-to organization for airlines when they need extra capacity in the short to medium term or during peak season, as well as an on-demand carrier for government officials and defence personnel.

The Hi Fly brand is operated by two affiliated airlines, one based in Portugal and the other in Malta.

Hi Fly operate the world’s first plastic-free flights

To top off all of that positive environmental travel news in 2018, at the end of the year Hi Fly operated the first-ever passenger flight without a single single-use plastic item on board.

The ‘plastics-free’ trial involved four flights by Hi Fly’s Airbus A340. The first flew into the history books on December 26th when it took off from Lisbon on its way to Natal, Brazil.

Over 700 passengers took part in the trial overall.

Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri said the move was just the beginning, as part of the airline’s wider environmental ambitions. “This historic Hi Fly flight, without any single-use plastic items on board, underlines our commitment to making Hi Fly the world’s first ‘plastics-free’ airline within 12 months,” he said.

“We take that commitment very seriously. We are obviously excited and delighted that Hi Fly will be the first airline to attempt such a feat.” – Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri.

It may well be that Hi Fly’s relatively small operation makes it a lot easier to make these kind of wholesale changes.

Having said that, its bigger competitors have reacted to the news with similar commitments. As touched upon earlier, RyanAir’s five-year plan to become “the greenest airline” will soon mean “initiatives such as a switch to wooden cutlery, bio-degradable coffee cups, and the removal of plastics from our range of in-flight products,” according to chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs.

Rival easyJet also confirmed this week that they are “currently introducing new hot drinks cups which use a plant-based lining and are compostable and replacing plastic drinks stirrers and spoons with wooden alternatives,” speaking to Telegraph Travel.

“These are the first steps in a wider programme to review and where possible replace single-use plastic items on our flights. We also already offer a 50p discount on hot drinks for customers who use their own reusable cup.”

Read more: The Challenges of Mass Tourism in the 21st Century

Preventing needless pollution

The human footprint left behind at some of the world’s most popular travel destinations is bad enough. But the trouble with plastics and their increasing concentration in our oceans is that they are likely to wash up in all sorts of places.

Single-use plastics, such as shopping bags and drinking straws, represent the epitome of our globalised, consumerist world: Cheap enough to make and use to be totally disposable, but everpresent and totally non-biodegradable. The result is that they clog up the very places travellers want to travel to.

Not to mention their impact on the natural world. One million seabirds die each year die from ingesting plastic, for example.

“Our corporate mission is based around sustainability and we work hand in glove with the Mirpuri Foundation to make sure that our corporate practices match our wider responsibilities to the planet,” says Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri.

“The test flights will prevent around 350 KG of single-use, virtually indestructible plastics from poisoning our environment. Over 100,000 flights take off each day around the world and, last year, commercial aircraft carried nearly four billion passengers. This number is expected to double again in less than 20 years. So, the potential to make a difference here is clearly enormous.”

“We know we may encounter some initial teething problems, but we are confident of addressing these over the coming months. We know, too, from the feedback we have received from client airlines and passengers, that it’s the right thing for the airline to be doing.”

“Future generations will remember small steps taken today”

Pedro Ramos, the Director-General of Tour operator Alto Astral, the company who chartered the flights between Lisbon and Brazil, said he was delighted that his company had participated in what amounts to a small but key industry event.

“Everyone at Alto Astral is excited to be involved in this adventure and we believe that future generations will thank those of us who have been prepared to stand up to try to make a difference now. Hi Fly has long been the leader in the field of corporate environmental responsibility and sustainability, and they have rightly identified, as a key objective, the early elimination of plastics pollution. It’s been great for us to see how, in practical terms, they have gone about replacing so much in order to kick-start this elimination process.”

“All together for a better world, we say.” – Pedro Ramos, Director-General of Tour operator Alto Astral.

So what does plastic-free mean in reality?

Well, among the many single-use plastic items that have been replaced are cups, spoons, salt and pepper shakers, sick bags, packaging for bedding, dishes, individual butter pots, soft drink bottles and toothbrushes.

Put that way, you can see why making the shift across a huge airline is going to be a big task. Finding the right suppliers around the world is no mean feat. But at the same time, it’s also a sign of how small changes can make a big difference.

Hi Fly’s environmental team used bamboo cutlery, no shortage of paper packaging and containers that, once used, could be easily composted.

The first plastics-free test flight was Hi Fly first major step to making its entire fleet ‘plastics free’ by the end of 2019. For the global players in the travel industry, these steps are tricky to implement but easy to justify. And with a groundswell of traveller opinion in support of moves just like this, hopefully all of our travel will be looking greener in the near future.

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.

These Robots Have Serious Travel Industry Potential

Ah, robots. We meet again. For an industry so reliant on customer service and authenticity, you’d think travel companies would steer clear of employing too many non-human workers.

But no, the race to innovate never stops. Particularly when adaptable robots can provide easy customer service, free labour and, in some cases, an extra security measure.

Here are three travel industry robot stories that have caught our eye in the past few months.

Meet Eurostar’s newest recruit: Pepper the robot

Eurostar is deploying Pepper robots to help with customer service on train platforms

If you’ve ever dared to venture out into the world and use the trains in a major city, you’ll know how easy it is for your well-organised plans to be derailed. Particularly if you’re planning to travel between countries in Europe.

Racing to get to the train on platform 3, travellers can often realise too late that a grave mistake has been made. Platform 3 does not have the train they thought it did. If only things could be made easier. If only things could be more accessible.

Well, high-speed rail operator Eurostar is aiming to make that a reality. The solution? Robots.

When we talk about robots, it’s easy to think about a huge warehouse. Thousands of machines crammed in doing the same monotonous task over and over again. On the plus side, they never need to stop for a toilet break. On the downside, they’re not known for their people skills.  

Few robots are known for their approachable personalities. Most are more likely to calculate the chances of you having a good morning than say ‘good morning’.

Eurostar is aiming to break that stigma with Pepper, a humanoid robot made by SoftBank robotics.

Read more: Report Digs in to Travel Technology Trends for 2018

Pepper enters the fray

The train company, which connects the UK to cities in mainland Europe, is introducing Pepper to give travellers information and assistance.    

London’s St Pancras is the first station to host the new Eurostar scheme. Pepper will give information on train times, platforms, prices, and more. Eurostar hopes that technology on platforms will improve their customers’ experience.

A customer service agent that’s always happy to serve?

Pepper has an in-built tablet that lets customers access an interactive map of St Pancras station to more easily find their platform. It also includes train-specific information to give customers an idea of what’s to come on their Eurostar service.

Pepper uses a camera, microphone and no small amount of computing power to help it understand different facial expressions, speech and even body language. The ability to adapt to your behaviour could enable Pepper to respond to even the trickiest of customer situations. And if you for some reason are not in a rush you can even take a selfie with Eurostar’s new recruit.

For many travellers, the idea of getting journey information and advice from a robot might be a strange one. But the European rail giant believes this is a step that will raise the bar for customer satisfaction, as well as providing customers with young children extra entertainment on the platform.

Eurostar’s head of digital, Perrine Allain, said, “We are always looking for new ways to innovate, and explore technologies that can help enhance the overall customer experience.

“Pepper offers a fun way for customers to find out more about their journey and destination, and we look forward to hearing the feedback from our customers so that we can continue to improve their experience.”

Eurostar is launching the Pepper pilot at St Pancras to begin with. The company has confirmed plans to move the robot to another of their destinations in the new year.

Read more: Artificial Intelligence Will Change the Travel Industry Forever

Robot security guard to patrol Tokyo station for Olympic Games

A robot security guard ready for the tokyo olympics

Another robotic train station assistant has been unveiled – this time in Japan’s capital of Tokyo. But this one is focused on security rather than customer service.

Perseusbot is the joint creation of the Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Institute, Seibu Railway Co, IT firm Nihon Unisy, and AI computer vision developer, Earth Eyes. The robot is due to join Japanese railway staff in 2020 for the Olympic and Paralympic games.

The project is being implemented to help preserve the peace and ease the burden on security staff during what will be a busy time for Japan’s capital.

With terror attacks on the rise around the world and tensions heightened at large-scale public events, Perseusbot will form part of additional security measures at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Read more: How to Choose a Travel Marketplace Niche

A robot to protect and serve

Perseusbot is 167.5 centimetres tall. Its aim will be to assist railway staff once the games begin. The robot will patrol station platforms and combine security camera footage with an onboard AI to detect and report suspicious people or objects.

Perseusbot will also send alerts to the smartphones of security guards. It’s being trained to recognise items that have been left unattended and aggressive movements made by travellers.

Earth Eye’s AI technology has been used in the past to spot shoplifters. The company website explains how the technology can be used alongside video feeds as a security measure, to “detect and notify suspicious behaviour as soon as possible… it shows the deterrent effect of preventing crime in advance.”

The team responsible for the robot will need to be careful that prejudice and bias don’t infect the AI’s training data. We’ve seen that happen before, most notably with Microsoft’s ‘Tay’ – arguably the most dramatic example of AI gone bad.

The bot was connected to social network Twitter to learn through conversation with the public in order to learn from its interactions. However, it ended up being taken down after a number of inappropriate tweets.

Clearly, Tay lacked the neutral input required for its training data and was quickly shut down by an embarrassed Microsoft. With Perseusbot the risks are higher.

This is the real world and the diplomatic costs of racial profiling, for example, could be significant. If the system is predicated on biased training data, the AI  could pick up some bad habits and do more harm than good in 2020.

Alibaba’s Space Egg steps up to the plate

alibaba space egg for hotel room service

Alibaba is also entering the domain of robot customer service. But this time our mechanical friends won’t be assisting travellers in a train station, they’ll be rolling around hotel corridors instead.

Alibaba’s ‘Space Egg’ offers a glimpse into the future, one in which human porters are obsolete and replaced by indefatigable AI-powered robot servants. The Space Egg was revealed in mid-September in Hangzhou, China before being put to work in October at a hotel in the same city.

On the face of it, the Space Egg has been designed to replace traditional porters and represents the latest step in the hotel industry’s bid to automate roles previously occupied by human workers.

But Alibaba says the robot can take over menial tasks, trundling room service from the kitchen to guests’ bedrooms, for example, allowing staff more time to spend on keeping guests happy.

How do you like your eggs in the morning?

The Space Egg works by connecting to the hotel’s Wi-Fi network, the kitchen and a dynamic ordering system. It receives an order from a smart device found in each guest’s room.

The robot then knows where to collect it from – usually the kitchen – and how to navigate around the hotel. The Space Egg uses built-in directional lasers to communicate its intentions and moves around while avoiding obstacles and people. It can even tap into the hotel’s Wi-Fi network to open elevators, and has facial recognition software that enables it to make small talk with travellers.

The rollout promises to take the jobs of low-skilled hotel staff, which could, in turn, maximise the profits of hotels and improve efficiency – something that’s been the driving force behind projects like Japan’s Henn-Na, a hotel entirely staffed by robots.  

Lijuan Chen of Alibaba AI Labs stated that the robot will “bridge the gap between guest needs and the response time that they expect. The robot will be the ultimate assistant for hotel guests who want everything quickly and conveniently at their fingertips.”

Final Thoughts

So there you have it: rail operators, hotels and transport authorities around the world are exploring how robots can improve and, in some cases, protect, the travel experience.

Which is an interesting concept. You’d normally associate brands like Eurostar and any traditional hotel with an appreciation of the value of human contact. It’s often the little things, the friendly words and small gestures, that make a trip memorable and help to instil that sense of loyalty.

But ultimately the benefits of robotics can’t be overlooked. Whether that’s in terms of performance: a robot that can recognise crowd safety issues in a flash; or through relentless drive: the ability the provide customer service and intra-hotel delivery without sleep, food or pay.

Perhaps the wave of travel industry robots is just a matter of time.

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