By Lisa Farrar Wellman
Summer comes with fewer responsibilities, more white space on the calendar and inviting weather that encourages all of us to step outside normal and into extraordinary. Or at least, that’s the message travel marketers are trying to remind potential travelers of right now - especially with Americans taking less vacation days than they have in decades, many travel marketers are reminding travelers why taking those days and going on those new adventures is important.
While Americans may not be taking as many vacation days, they’re still spending. Americans alone spent more than $100 billion on summer vacations in 2017, a survey from Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index shows; that’s a 12.5 percent increase over 2016. How do you market your brand to not only keep up with these sun chasing wanderers but actually take charge and guide them right to your front door? Let’s dig into some of the trends marketers are using.
Lights, Camera, Action
This summer, look for video to continue growing - whatever the platform. The Digital Marketing Institute says that 51.9% of marketing professionals indicate that video is the type of content with the best ROI. Customers connect with video and recollect visual messages, so don’t forget to use video on your brand’s website, as well. KISSmetrics found that a video call-to-action produces 380% more clicks than a sidebar call-to-action. Video can truly be powerful, but for those starting out consider keeping content light and short. According to Wistia, the ideal length is two minutes (a 90-second video engages the same as a 30-second spot). Plus, always take the time to include captions (many people never bother to turn sound on) to increase viewership by 12% (Facebook, 2016).
Introducing a new program, idea or contest? Watching a video is just easier than reading. Use video to show the steps instead of writing out directions. Your audience is more likely to remember both the program itself and how to enroll in it. Remember the dimensions that work best on each platform and ideally edit and film in a way where it’s easy to crop into square, vertical or horizontal video.
Using video on social media is a fantastic way to engage with your audience via user generated content (UGC). Let your customers tell your story through their own visuals. Almost 70% of those surveyed in Chute’s 2018 Travelers Preferences Report said they would like to see more photos and videos created by real travelers sharing their experiences.
“We are currently running our summer consumer campaign in Canada,” says Robin Anderson, Global Marketing Manager of Travel Yukon. “The creative platform is Don’t Wait for Someday, which strives to hit travelers where they live by highlighting mundane, everyday situations and reminding consumers they need to visit the Yukon, soon, to get out of their routines and not to put it off any longer.”
“We aggregate user photos and videos and seek permission to use their content in our marketing,” says Anderson. “We have an exceptional Instagram following (over 70,000) and we occasionally offer photographer takeovers of our Instagram page. We also host select influencers on in-Yukon tours designed to provide them with exposure to incredible scenery, people and activities so they can share it with their audiences. We, in turn, share the content with our social following.”
Make It Personal
According to the American Marketing Association, the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages each day. You have to cut through that chaos or get lost in it. Use customer data to fine tune your marketing efforts. Know their favorite drinks or hotel room preferences. Keep track of their dress size or preferred fashion designer. Even the smallest budget has room for consistently knowing repeat customers.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics are being used more often to provide smart content to travelers. Holly Pavlika of Collective Bias, writes in Forbes, “In 2018, we will see the death of marketing to segments — smart content will drive the demand for communicating with one single customer and catering to their needs.”
Fierce competition for travel dollars means more and more vacationers expect personalized experiences to make their trips Instagram-worthy. They don’t just want the vacation their neighbors had. They want to be catered to and personally known, understood. Savvy travelers, even budget ones, want to be wowed. Your brand needs to provide just that little something extra or watch as your customers drive off into the sunset with your competitors.
Eighty-five percent of travelers do not make specific plans until they are already on their vacation. This means they don’t have time for a lot of research or comparisons. Your website needs to load quickly and be easy to navigate (this includes your mobile version). Remember that 30% of all mobile searches are related to a location (Google, 2016). Unfortunately, most travel destinations provide information via a website that can easily become outdated or loads too slowly. Don’t be those guys.
Thirty-eight percent of bookings happen the same day or up to two days before the chosen activity (Phocuswright, 2017). Customers obviously want flexibility. Create an online booking system (with real time updates) to satisfy both the early planner and the spontaneous explorer. Don’t punish your customers for booking last minute either.
Instant communication also involves service after the sale. Pay attention to your online reputation by responding to both compliments and complaints whether they appear in Yelp, your inbox or on your company’s Facebook page.
Hook but Promote Holistically
You’re always promoting the overall experience of your travel brand, but be on the lookout for specific summertime draws you might have missed. Pay attention to what’s happening in your own backyard, so when a new restaurant opens or a local attraction gets a facelift, you can capitalize on it. Then, make sure your customer service personnel know all the details and have the inside scoop for your customers.
Families hit the road during the summer because kids are out of school and activities like piano lessons and soccer practice grind to a halt. City tourism offices can hook them in with a promotion offering family value packs to the pro-baseball team’s latest series while also maintaining regular marketing for the area in general. Students are also free and breezy in the summer so meet them where they are (the beach, clubs, concerts) and introduce your brand with an offer like complimentary appetizers in your restaurant or a buy one, get one on horse riding or kayaking excursions.
“Every year brings something completely new and exciting in Tampa Bay, and that determines how we prepare for the summer,” says Stephanie Fred, public relations for Visit Tampa Bay. “If there is a new roller coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, we will target family travelers. If there is a food hall like waterfront Heights Public Market or the trendy Hall on Franklin opening, we are going to target adult travelers. With that said, we will normally use the new attractions as a hook, but continually push the destination holistically.”
In the travel industry, everyone wins when visitors come to town. Guests show up for a concert but stay to visit the art museum and dine in the warehouse district. Building relationships with your fellow attraction brands or local businesses can widen your audience and optimize resources. Hone in on possible partners in your area and make it happen.
You’ll often see sightseeing companies promote their services in hotels, but dig deeper and connect with the not-so-obvious choices. Invite the city symphony to perform its spring concert on your grounds. Provide pastries from a local bakery in your lobby. Set up a reciprocal relationship with the theme park down the road offering discounts to each other’s customers. Partnerships should be mutually beneficial but don’t just think in dollar signs. Partner with those who will maintain or enhance your brand’s reputation.
“We have hundreds of partners throughout Hillsborough County,” says Fred, “and they are pivotal in helping us promote the destination to visitors. We also partner with other tourism boards to promote the region and share the market. Working together allows us to be more efficient with our dollars all the while strengthening our relationships with our neighboring cities.”
So many people travel during the summer that you might think getting travelers through your doors would be a cinch, but our world is vast and beautiful. Every travel-related marketer out there is competing for those limited summer dollars. Grabbing and holding visitors’ attention isn’t easy but it is definitely possible. Get it done.