COVID-19 brought the entire world to a halt at the end of 2019, and travelling across the world became the unthinkable. In our third year run of the pandemic as we adjust to the new normal and resume a new order of things, travel is slowly opening up across multiple countries, though with regulations and conditions. A result of successful vaccination programmes and robust quarantine programmes that most countries adopted, travel is easing back to what it was. Almost.
What does this mean for the tourism sector and specifically for travel agencies? Will operations be similar to what it was 2 years ago, or will you have to explore new ways of expanding your business? What will the competition be doing now that the opportunity for travel is upon us?
The short answer is now that almost everything everywhere is opening up, all travel agencies will go into rapid-fire mode to try and get as many customers as possible. After 2 years of virtually non-existent customers, they are not in a position not to let this chance slip through their fingers. So are you.
The reality, however, will be a little bit more complex than rapid-fire operations. While all travel agencies will start their advertising in November targeting especially the Winter Vacation makers from Europe and USA, not all of them will follow the same strategy.
It is up to you to stay on top of the game by crafting your own marketing strategy from a range of tried and true mechanisms.
Let's look at some of the most common and quite effective lead generation strategies used for Holiday advertising.
Google Ads, and specifically Google Search ads are one of the best channels used for lead generation. The reason for this is quite simple. Each Google Search ad can target very specific user queries or keywords. This means, advertisers can target people with the matching intent. In the case of travel agencies, they can target people looking to travel, even down to specific locations or specific months they’re looking to travel.
But while this is a great opportunity, the downside is that everyone knows Google Ads. Which means there’s going to be an atrociously high level of competition for these keywords anyway. Once you factor in the fact that all travel agencies will compete even more aggressively due to being inactive for 2 years, the competition and in turn the cost per result will inevitably grow.
A prediction: Considering the circumstances, your budget is likely to deplete without yielding satisfactory results if you were to place focus on Google Ads.
Facebook ads offer a great deal of variety and offer a visual medium for advertising that is not matched by Google. Another factor that is a clear value proposition for Facebook is that people spend a considerable number of hours daily across its many different platforms owned by Facebook (Meta, now.) More time spent in any of those platforms means more frequency of seeing your ad (or ads if you were wise enough to run ads on several Meta platforms)
Facebook offers a plethora of different ad types, but there are 3 ad types that are most commonly used.
These are meant to visually provoke users to engage with the ad itself. Travel agencies can track many different aspects of these ads such as Post shares, Post reactions, Post saves, Post comments, Page Likes, Post interactions, 3-seconds video plays, Photo views, and Link clicks to name a few.
Another type of ad which has grown in popularity over the recent years is ‘Click to Message’ ads. The reason for their popularity is that it allows a potential customer to directly get in touch with a company and find the answers or offers they’re looking for within a few seconds. As a direct way to engage with their audience, this provides companies more opportunity to convert them to customers by building credibility, trust and transparency by way of a direct communication channel.
Landing page ads have always been in demand particularly in the travel industry as they allow agencies to advertise a compelling offer and bring visitors to their website. As travel offers can be quite detailed and cannot be captured in the limited format of the ad in its entirety, this is a great way to provide more details and convert visitors to customers. Bringing visitors to your own web property allows additional benefits such as being able to target them through remarketing ads and being able to set up lead nurture funnels. Some agencies also use ‘Instant Experience' ads as opposed to using a landing page on their website. This provides an opportunity as well, since it allows the user to explore more before clicking on "Visit Website."
Meta search engine is a service that is able to aggregate data from many different search engines. While they don’t maintain their own index of websites, they send a user query to multiple search engines and provide a collated result.
In the context of the travel industry, Metasearch engines refer to websites that allow visitors to compare offers from various online travel agencies (OTAs), other booking sites and hotels. Some of the most common metasearch engines include Trivago, Kayak, Skyscanner, HotelsCombined, Tripadvisor, and most importantly Google Hotel Ads which has now been folded under the Google Ads banner.
The growing popularity of Meta Search engines for travel booking is also contributing to this being one of the most important channels to keep track of. Especially when looking at the markets where meta search engines are most popular.
There’s many benefits for users as well when using Meta Search engines such as the ability to book on the meta search engine platform itself, ability to easily compare prices, easy accessibility of reviews, and the ability to find the best rates easily.
These platforms offer a great selection of choices for advertisers as the ability to pay per click or impressions and improve direct channel bookings. Recently, Google has also introduced features such as ‘free booking links’ to incentivise more hotels to get on their platform.
Marketing through paid and organic newsletters have been a great tactic for many years in the travel industry. In addition to this, finding the right database of emails from various providers and using emails to directly send offers which entice users to book travel has also been very economical compared to the costs of running a multi-channel advertising campaign.
This channel will grow further in the coming years, especially with the iOS 15 and 16 privacy changes being a restriction to traditional digital advertising. With the age of cookie based advertising slowly coming to an end, advertisers will need to look into channels based on first party data such as email marketing more and more in the coming years.
The reason for SMS and text-based marketing to remain a key channel is the high open rate of this channel with some surveys showing open rates upto a 98%. As travel and booking can be quite arduous and complex, this can introduce a lot of stress for your customers. By implementing a text marketing campaign you can reduce their stress with tactics such as timely updates and boarding pass information being passed on to them. Especially as crisis situations can emerge at any given moment with flight changes, delays and cancellation SMSes can be a great way to keep your customers informed.
You can also use this channel creatively by implementing practises such as ‘Travel Updates’, where users can subscribe to SMS alerts that cover your destination. This can also be a great way to generate potential leads. With the right automation tools in place, executing such an idea is quite simple now.
SMS and text marketing can also be a great channel for referral based advertising and loyalty programmes. You can easily keep in touch with your previous customers and entice them to travel again with your agency by sending customised and timely offers tailored to their preferences which you already have with you.
Some agencies also use a few different channels in their marketing portfolio.
While all of these strategies are great on their own, that does not mean everything will work for your agency. While some agencies experience great success with a particular channel other agencies might struggle to replicate the same results. There’s also the fact that if you spread yourself too thin operating across multiple channels and trying to use several strategies you’re more likely to fail across the board as you will not be able to focus on the best platforms.
Before you decide on a specific channel or strategy there’s a few key metrics you need to understand regarding your business and customers such as below.
You need to also carefully consider who your ideal customers are and the type offers that you’re putting in front of your customers before deciding on a channel and a strategy. For example, if you’re offering budget friendly travel options you must keep a very close eye on keeping your CPC low, conversion rates high and maintaining Cost-of-Sales Percentage as low as possible because you don’t have a lot of room to work with.
However, if you are offering luxury travel packages you may need to worry about other metrics such as ROAS and customer lifecycle value and Customer Lifetime value. The type offer will also dictate which platforms you should operate in.
Invest more in Facebook Messenger Ads and Post Engagement Ads.
The main reason that we recommend you invest more in these channels is that we’ve seen a high return on these investments. One reason for this could be that as these ad types don’t take users away from the platform and as such Facebook favours them slightly more.
Use Hyper Targeting to your advantage
Hyper targeting allows you to find the exact audience that you want to target either on social media or on a search engine. In the context of a platform such as Facebook you can target a wide variety of interests, locations, ages, demographics, purchase behaviour, travel behaviour, life events and gender to build the buyer persona you want to target.
By combining the right type of attributes together you can even make unique buyer personas which you can then supplement with unique ad copy, creatives and placements. You can also run A/B tests to quickly identify the best performing audiences for your travel agency.
Going in depth, there’s also the ability to create custom audiences on Facebook. You can use email addresses you already have and upload them to Facebook to target them again with offers. Another way you can use hyper targeting to your advantage is by using ‘Lookalike Audiences’.
For example, you can create an audience of people who have visited your site and made an inquiry. Then you can build a lookalike audience of people similar to those who have performed that action on your website. This allows you to target more of the same types of audiences.
In terms of search engines, you can use ‘Keywords’, age, gender and location to also drive hyper targeting. In Google for example, you can run three types of matching options for each keyword.
Broad Match: Ads may show on searches that are related to your keyword
Phrase Match: Ads will show for a match of the entire phrase or a phrase that includes the meaning of the selected keyword
Exact Match: Ads will only show for keyword or queries that is an exact match of the selected keyword
In addition to this you can also use negative keywords to restrict ads from showing up for certain keywords. For example if you want to run an ad targeting ‘holiday tours 2022’, you can add the negative keyword ‘north korea’ to prevent ads from appearing against searches that contain north korea.
Content that creates engagement can help build a fanbase automatically, thereby increasing TOM (Top Of the Mind Awareness) as the audience continuously engages with the posts.
Here, engagement could be a reaction to a post, a comment, or a share which could be incentivised by giveaways and discount offers, or simply by sharing quality content. In the travel space, engaging content is quite easy to navigate; users generically respond positively to travel and destination visuals.
The engaging posts could either grow organically or, if you have the budget for it, they could run as sponsored ads.
Messenger Auto Responders
Every time a user reaches out to a business, they expect a prompt response. Chances are, if you don’t get back to them within a satisfactory time period, they would give up on you. This is where Auto Responders can come in handy.
You can set up your company’s Messenger to send out an automatic message anytime a customer texts you. This could be an ‘away’ message, denoting that you would respond shortly, or a set of FAQs (make sure to keep them brief!) that the user may find informative.
But it is always advised to respond to the customers as soon as possible, because they need to feel the assurance of being valued as a potential customer.
Team to always respond to messages
As I said before, travelling can be a daunting task for anyone. Potential travellers are often bombarded with offers, and as a result, are often confused and lack direction on many of the questions they want to have answered. The best way to provide value in this situation is to have a team in place that can effectively respond to their questions and help them figure out their travel plans. The right team who can advocate for a better travel booking experience will increase the chance of your agency converting more visitors into customers.
However, this process can be complicated especially when leads are coming from multiple sources to your website. In such cases, you need to have the right tool set in front of you to manage your conversation with clients the right way from a centralised platform, do follow-ups, and produce reporting without a hassle.
This is why we developed ClickConnector, which also gives you the ability to achieve higher first response rates, Engage in real-time communication with your customers and effortlessly manage tasks with curated features among many other features.
As I stated before, Google Ads are incredibly valuable to travel agencies. However, most travel agencies do not optimise Google ads the right way and make the needed changes in a manner that sets them up for success.
Optimizations do not end with just the targeting or selecting the right type of keywords and negative keywords. You also need to constantly improve your ad copy as that is the first touch point by a visitor. You also need to then look at what happens when they arrive on your website.
What are the pages they visit?, how long do they spend on the page?, are they experiencing good page loading speeds? What are the bounce rates and exit rates? Measuring these metrics is crucial to understand how users interact with your landing page. Once you understand this, you can then continue to make improvements and address any issues that they may encounter.
For example, if you notice a high bounce rate, see if adding an ‘exit intent’ pop can reduce this. If they only spend a few seconds on the page, check what type of content changes you can make to the page. If they don’t take action, check if adding a form allows you to get them to submit a query.
All these metrics are easily trackable by using Google Analytics or any other analytics software. You can even add Heatmap software such as Hotjar, CrazyEgg or Mouseflow to understand your users navigation pattern. This may help you to see sections of the website where they spend more time or less time and make continuous changes to improve those times or actions.
In a post pandemic world, travellers will want to speak to real people rather than speaking to automated responses. Moreover, they will have a multitude of questions that will be difficult for a chatbot sequence to answer.
Even prior to pandemic, Live Chat has been the best conversion rate optimization tool in the Travel and Tourism industry. When travellers can speak to a real human, they can often get additional information, communicate their needs more flexibility and in turn receive a more personalised experience.
Keep in mind that most users will be browsing the internet on their mobile device, and as such live chat on your website is a sure fire way to get the most value out of the visitors as they are used to a seamless communication experience on their devices.
Another area where travel agencies tend to overlook is remarketing. They spend a considerable amount of money bringing in visitors from multiple platforms but once those visitors go away from their website, no further action is taken to re-engage them. This is a big mistake as often many of these visitors can be engaged successfully to make a purchase with you as they are the right audience with the right intent.
Platforms have a great variety of ad types and tools that will help you run remarketing campaigns effectively.
For Google these include, Customer list remarketing, Video remarketing, Remarketing lists for search ads(RLSA), Dynamic remarketing and even using the GDN network.
On platforms such as Facebook you can also create a Facebook Pixel to track specific events on your website and build very sophisticated remarketing audiences. Facebook provides a lot of options here for you to choose from.
You can also create custom audiences and lookalike audiences for remarketing in addition to targeting pixel based remarketing campaigns.
Another under-utilised strategy includes remarketing to people who have interacted with a lead gen form. While Lead Gen Forms are great at generating leads at a low cost, they tend to result in poorer quality conversions overall. However, you can circumvent this by running a remarketing campaign on people who interacted with a lead gen form and improve the quality of your leads and in turn, conversions.
Marketing and advertising is never fixed right now, in this digital age where social trends and thereby user behaviour change in the blink of an eye.
The best piece of advice to conclude with therefore is to: adopt and adapt.
Adopt your strategy that your craft with deliberation, taking into consideration key metrics and drivers of your company. Adapt your strategy according to feedback, performance of tools, and conversion rates.
Afterall, the point of a marketing strategy is to get you conversions. Period.
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