April 18, 2013
This weekend, my fiancée and I started researching honeymoon trips. And it’s an exciting time for a few reasons: We’re obviously thrilled to get married, and we can’t wait to spend some quality time together on our honeymoon.
But I won’t lie. While we were researching honeymoon destinations, I got ticked off. We were looking for cruises in Alaska, but none of the websites we visited were responding to our search terms effectively. Every page we landed on to book a cruise was static, showing images of other destinations that weren’t relevant to us.
Why weren’t these websites showing us pictures of Glacier Bay? Why weren’t these websites selling me on excursions or appealing to the fact that we are a young couple looking for a honeymoon adventure? All of our interests were probably being detected by data somewhere, but all of that data was being ignored. And it showed in our experience.
It got me thinking about the opportunities travel websites are missing to personalize the trip researching and booking process.
Besides shopping for a house, travel and buying a car are the two top research-intensive purchases most people make. And that means personalizing the travel booking experience online should be more like it was before 1995, when we all met with our local travel agent to plan a cruise. It should be more of a collaboration between the website and the traveler.
There are three big areas worth focusing on:
1. Know Your Traveler
One of the first mistakes is allowing optimization and personalization strategies in the travel arena to fall under the umbrella of “travel marketing.” That phrase begs a huge question: How do you optimize travel? Well, you don’t. Anyone experienced in travel has learned that it’s not one size fits all. Optimizing a rental car booking experience is completely different from optimizing the booking experience for boutique hotels.
As a specific example, the psychology of optimizing flight sales is completely wrong for selling cruises.Yet many cruise websites are still structured like airline websites. But what are the primary considerations when shopping for a flight? Typically, price and consolidating rewards points. Often, when flight shopping, comfort, experience, and social proof are secondary considerations for the booker. Think of it this way: A visitor just “books” a domestic flight, but a traveler “plans” a cruise.
So think about how visitors book the specific types of travel you offer and respond to that. Structure your website, your search, and your promotions around the way your visitors want to book. It’s the first step in something incredibly important, which is creating a natural conversation between the traveler and your website.This conversation occurs in stages, and the traveler will reveal their interests throughout that conversation. That means websites need to understand, through their own data, and respond to the interests shared.
2. Search Relevancy
Creating a travel website experience that drives bookings requires delivering helpful content in the right context. Based on referral search terms entered by a visitor, the website should display promotions that are tailored to reflect that expressed interest. If an in-market traveler searches for “Caribbean Getaway,” the travel website can and should populate with relevant Caribbean offers, packages, and itineraries.
I don’t mean to get on a high horse here, but I will say that if I’ve searched for a specific destination or travel package, I expect the websites I land on to know and respond to that in an effective way, reducing the amount of time it takes me to find what I’m looking for and moving me closer to actually booking a trip.
Search is just one inbound channel where you can get that information, but there are other inbound marketing channels that this strategy can be applied to others like email, as well.
Another thing I realized this weekend is that websites aren’t responding to my location as a visitor – and when my location impacts the price of my travel, that’s a huge deal. Taking a cruise is fantastic, but having to pay for additional airfare in order to get to the port can be a deal-breaker for a buyer.
That’s a frustrating situation: You find a package for $600 and then realize you have to spend $500 on a flight to even get to the port. Instead, travel websites should use the opportunity to geotarget, offering visitors cruises that depart from the nearest port. This strategy makes a visitor more likely to book, and the savings in airfare could open up opportunities to upsell options like upgraded cabins, increasing average booking value.
Obviously, there are many ways to personalize the travel booking experience. But this weekend, as I was shaking my head at my laptop screen, these were the three that stopped me from booking my honeymoon.
And I can’t think of one travel website that wants to see that happen to a visitor that’s ready to take a trip.
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