November 22, 2013
Travel companies are improving the customer experience on their websites by providing consumers with more personalized offers and other relevant information, said Nathan Richter at The PhoCusWright Conference, held this week in Hollywood, Florida.
Travel suppliers can generate more revenue by infusing online shopping sessions with customized information based on individual search choices and other preferences, said Richter, Monetate's director of client solutions.
Carriers and destinations in the travel industry increasingly leverage the preferences of new and existing customers—everything from search choices to previous bookings to loyalty club memberships—and use that data on their websites to encourage more customers to book, not just look, during online sessions.
Richter participated in the PhoCusWright workshop "The Modern Traveler: How Data and Technology Impact the Buyer Journey," together with Tina Alexander, associate vice president, digital and web marketing, at Celebrity Cruises.
The workshop also provided industry research showing that a growing percentage of consumers are doing more travel planning with mobile devices, particularly tablet-style computers, which have marketing capabilities distinctly different from those of smartphones.
"Tablet is a huge area for us," said Alexander of Celebrity Cruises, because these portable devices have both transactional features and image-display capabilities that can help consumer to "imagine yourself on vacation."
Operational problems can undermine even the best travel website, though. Richter said the research firm Gartner found that 89 percent of consumers who have a bad experience on a website will avoid that website in the future. "This could be broader than digital," he said. "This could be seven hours [in a plane] on a tarmac as well."
Upselling and cross-selling opportunities on a travel supplier websites hinge largely on their ability to make consumers aware of special offers of interest to them during online shopping sessions. "There is a tremendous amount of opportunity here, but the question isn't which one works. It's which message works for what customer," Richter said. The goal in highlighting additional services beyond basic travel is "to really get them to see the value of that up-sell."
For example, during the online travel-shopping experience, people who want to fly abroad might get extra motivation to do so if an airline loyalty program would award them bonus miles for booking an international flight. Richter said this kind of special offer during an online shopping session tends to get the best response from international travelers. On the other hand, domestic travelers with flexible schedules respond best to messages about low fees for itinerary changes.
Richter said travel companies can encourage consumers to spend more by sending them multiple marketing messages while they shop online, but the key is "doing it in a meaningful way," not inundating consumers with unwanted offers: "You want to make sure you curate it, so that it resonates with what might work best for them."
Carriers and travel destinations increasingly provide different website navigation experiences to new customers and to existing ones, particularly members of loyalty programs that accumulate miles or points redeemable for travel services. Online booking engines that recognize loyalty numbers can trigger marketing messages tailored for these customers, Richter said.
At Celebrity Cruises, "we have an entire section on the site dedicated to loyalty" because repeat customers require special attention, Alexander said. For example. compared to first-time cruise passengers, members of the cruise line's loyalty program tend to have more specific preferences with respect to the size, features and location of their staterooms.
Richter said consumers are beginning to notice efforts by travel websites to personalize the booking experience. He said research indicates that 60 percent of consumers expect travel websites they previously visited to record and recall their individual preferences. As a result, he said, the performance of travel companies depends more than ever on "this whole 'know your customer' area."
Michael Seemuth is a freelance writer and editor based in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area. He’s written for Florida Trend Magazine, South Florida Business Journal, and Dayton Daily News.