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By Joseph Reaney, editor at Melt Content
There is no shortage of travel content on the internet.
Explore the sites of any major travel agent, airline or tourist board and you'll be bombarded with a never-ending stream of travel content, including blogs, email newsletters, photo galleries, videos, competitions, surveys, games and social media marketing campaigns.
Yet for all the travel content served up by the industry, only a very small percentage offers tangible results.
In a recent address at the 2013 Abta Travel Convention, John Straw, chairman of the Digital Advisory Board at Thomas Cook, declared that the travel industry was failing to make the most of its online travel content.
“It is something that collectively as an industry we are not good at – content,” he claimed. “We are good at dragging people in their millions to our websites... [but] then not converting them into sales.
“The industry average of conversion is 0.3 percent, which is one in 300. [Most people leave websites] because they're not satisfied with the content we have shown them.”
This sentiment was shared by Nigel Huddleston, industry head of travel at Google, who said: “As an industry, we are trying to push the consumer to the booking point when they are not ready to book. Very few sites inspire the consumer to get to the booking process.”
So how can you produce inspiring online content that results in discernible commercial success?
We spoke to a selection of travel industry experts for their opinions and insights into creating travel content that sells.
Micaela Juarez, former head of marketing and communications at World Travel Market and a member of the judging panel for The Travel Marketing Awards
Juarez believes the three most important considerations when creating travel content (in no particular order) are:
“Travel content makes noise,” she said. “And the more noise you can achieve the more your brand will be talked about.
“However, the majority of travel content is ineffective [in terms of sales]. In travel, there is too much imagery of a couple on beaches which could be anywhere in the world. “Companies are lacking the innovative ideas and approaches that make them stand out.”
So what does she suggest to rise up above the noise? Go social.
“In my view, it's vital to fully embrace social media. Although there's little concrete evidence that social media leads to bookings, the fact of spreading your message across platforms must increase the chance of people knowing about your brand, its message, and its offers.
“Now, more and more organisations do special offers on specific social media, and that helps track bookings and how many advocates you get as a consequence.”
Juarez highlights the InterContinental Hotels Group as a travel company that is committed to social media, with a 24/7 operation that allows them to engage with their customers instantly, one-on-one.
However, she is keen to point out the social media is only effective as part of a larger whole. “Any campaign should be multichannel (web/TV/advertising/events etc.) and fully integrated for it to have a major impact.”
Juarez also believes there is a great deal of scope for making more effective video content that translates into sales.
“What I feel [the industry] is lacking is video content that is engaging and tells the story and message you want to convey. There are not many vlogs out there that work, and I feel this is a missed opportunity.”
So what travel content has caught her eye in the last twelve months?
“Anything that is bespoke and tailored to the traveller's needs will appeal to me. [The luxury travel agent] Carrier has come up with a good concept, which has a visual impact and is very bespoke.”
The website allows you to save hotels, destinations, offers and more to your personal travel planner, and then share them with friends and family, or send them to a Carrier expert to tailor a special holiday.
It also offers a more unusual feature that appeals to Juarez. “I love the 'surprise me' button, which will only show me holidays which are not tailored to my preferences.”
Other campaigns that captured Juarez’s attention in 2013 include the social media marketing campaign by Secret Escapes (which converted its email newsletter promotions and Facebook posts into significant sales) and the January – AKA 'Tanuary' – sales promotions by Virgin Holidays (which broke sales records last year).
Melt's Content Picks
Here are three great examples of online travel content that sells...
Interactive Booking: Thomas Cook
In summer 2013 Thomas Cook implemented a new interactive element to their travel content model. It was called Ask and Answer. This allowed consumers to ask questions during the booking process, which are then immediately answered by TC experts. It gave customers a chance to learn about the small details that sell a booking, but weren't necessarily already advertised on the website (popular questions included how long it takes to get from airport to hotel, and how many electrical sockets were in a room). When this feature was placed on accommodation sites, Thomas Cook's conversion rate increased by 147 percent. Meanwhile, the time spent on the site increased by 127 percent and the allocated booking value increased by nine per cent.
Savvy Social Media: Tourism Australia
From the start of 2012 to the end of 2013, Tourism Australia grew its Facebook fan base from 1.2 million to 5.2 million. The page, which unashamedly advertises Australia's wildlife, landscapes and cultural events to the delight of its followers, has a 'timeline' populated by users (scroll back to the 1890s to see snaps of real Aussies) and a wealth of photos which are seen by millions worldwide (and are regularly 'liked' more than 100,000 times and shared more than 15,000 times). Head of Social Media Jesse Desjardins reveals that the page's growth has coincided with an increase in international spend and arrivals. “Although it’s impossible to attribute all of this to our social activities, we do know it plays an important part in any travel decision.”
Inspirational Videos: British Airways
Although a relatively new campaign, with no results yet revealed, we're certain that British Airways are onto a winner with their YouRope campaign. Launched in November, this digital video campaign allows potential customers to 'choose their own adventure' in the popular European destinations of Barcelona, Berlin, Paris and Rome. There is a video for each destination, from which you can choose options to suit your personality (for Barcelona, choose 'Night' or 'Day'; for Paris, choose 'Classic' or 'Curious'). Crucially for sales, viewers can then download the itinerary for the video tours, and view available travel packages to inspire their own trip.
Joel Brandon-Bravo, UK managing director Travelzoo
Brandon-Bravo also believes the most successful travel content has three attributes. Firstly, it must be useful: “People online are looking for content; they might ultimately transact, but all searches are looking for information about a destination resort or inspiring ideas of where to go.”
Secondly, it must be engaging. “People spend just seconds scanning a page before deciding whether to ‘bounce’ (leave) or continue... so strong imagery, concise headlines and small, bite-size chunks of text are vital.”
Thirdly, it must be relevant. “No point pulling people in with photos of kittens if it isn’t what you offer. If you sell luxury, the site presentation and content should reflect this. Making it relevant involves research. What terms are your potential customers using? What questions are they asking? Address those concerns.”
“I feel the travel industry has under-invested in content. Those that do invest generally see positive returns.
“When I was at Frommer’s, quality content about the destinations managed to get Virgin Atlantic to number one in the natural search results for ‘Flights to New York’ (and organic traffic flowed.)
“BA.com sold a million pounds worth of flights per month, just off the back of its destination content. TripAdvisor is the largest travel website by traffic, and it's a hub for user-generated content. At Travelzoo, we focus on the quality of the deals we publish, as we gain more new subscribers by people sharing our emails than by any other channel for driving new subscribers.”
Like Juarez, Brandon-Bravo believes in the power of social media. “It’s important to realise that social media isn't just another sales channel.
“Selling via your social media audience will generally lead to them disengaging. It is important to build a two-way dialogue with your audience; understanding customers is the cornerstone of running any business, so social media is a gift.
“The larger the following you have, the wider reach (friends of friends) you can engage with. Recommendations from friends have always been a key influencer in travel decisions... and social media platforms have amplified the influence people have on their circle of friends.”
For inspiring travel content, Brandon-Bravo again goes back to his previous role at Frommer's.
“The most ambitious projects we undertook included destination guides to over 220 countries and cities for KLM/AirFrance in six languages. It involved 80 writers and translators working to short deadlines and a continuous refresh of content, which again needed re-translating. Complex, large, but rewarding in terms of the traffic and engagement for KLM.”
And when it comes to other companies' travel content, Brandon-Bravo says there are a few that stand out. “Scott Dunn balances inspiring imagery with a ‘what/where/when' browsable navigation, which is how the consumer is looking for content. Audley Travel have also done a good job with the ability to browse content by type of break.
“Carrier have taken a magazine approach, following what the better fashion 'e-tailers' are doing. The bar has been raised in the luxury travel market; you can't survive if you don't stand out. This will soon trickle down to the mid-range and bargain ends of the market. Improve or die; that's the evolution of everything.”
Andrew Shelton, managing director at Virgin Holidays
Shelton believes the ways to great online travel content are relevance, creativity and uniqueness.
“Too much online travel content is dated and formulaic,” he claimed. “It needs to be both relevant and interesting.”
However, he is wary of social media marketing as a significant driver for sales. “Social media is important, but it comes with a list of ‘watch outs’. Consumers are wary of brands overstepping the mark.” His sage advice: proceed with caution.
So what online travel content works for him?
“At Virgin Holidays, we have developed some great content. The latest great piece we did was called ‘Give Me a Break. We sent comedians on a trip of a lifetime, created by our followers on Twitter and Facebook.”
The campaign involved four renowned comedians – Shappi Khorsandi, Ellie Taylor, Justin Moorhouse and Danny Wallace – and allowed social media followers to decide where to send them.
Ultimately, the destinations ranged from South Africa to Sri Lanka, and on their trips the comedians made video diaries, which were posted on the Virgin Holidays website (with links for viewers to book their own trips to the same locales). “It was such a good idea, it was copied within two weeks,” says Shelton ruefully.
He also highlighted the work being done by Virgin across the pond. “I really admire our partners in the US, Virgin America. They are creating some very clever stuff and getting amazing cut-through.”
The US airline has an extensive portfolio of online travel content, but their most successful recent content has actually been offline: a song-and-dance in-flight video. Yet this has not merely been delighting on-board customers – the video has more than 8.5 million views on YouTube, and has led to a huge rise in web traffic.
What's the conclusion?
So according to our interviewees, creating successful online travel content comes down to a few key factors. Between them they believe that commercial content should do the following things...
There is no doubt that all of these things can contribute to creating successful online content that sells. Yet there is one more factor, highlighted by all of our interviewees, which is arguably the most important of all.
Relevance is key from the very start of the sales process. Search engines are increasingly building 'relevance' into their algorithms, and the arrival of technologies like Hummingbird – the latest update to Google Search – has made relevance more important than ever.
This new algorithm focuses less on keywords and more on queries; it takes into account the multiple meanings of words (synonyms), and the relationship and context between them (semantics), and attempts to better understand the intention of a query, rather than just its content.
It uses a probability score to deliver results, ranking these results by which appear to best fulfil the searcher's requirements, rather than simply by which have content most closely matching the search terms.
So, increasingly, online travel content which answers a specific user need, rather than simply being a slave to keywords, will bring people to your site. This is the relevance of the content to your potential customer.
But from there, it is vital to ensure the content you deliver is also relevant to the product you are selling. It should complement your company and – ideally – be something that can only exist as part of your website.
If both forms of relevance are evident in your online travel content, you will have delivered a clear through-line from customer to product. And in many cases, that means an uninterrupted route from search to sale.
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