The chess moves needed to win back customers from online travel agencies

In a rather bold announcement for a now public strategy, Accor recently announced it aims to regain power from the online travel agencies.

The chain will spend $284 million over the next four years in digital initiatives that (it hopes) will reverse the 60/40 current imbalance to a more acceptable 40/60 ratio and trend away from OTAs by focusing on “being outstanding players at every stage of the customer journey”.

This, on the heels of Expedia Inc’s third quarter results of 50% year over year income growth of $257.1 million.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Bob Gilbert, CEO of Captivation Marketing.

I applaud Accor’s action to win back the hearts and minds (and wallets) of their customer and I offer smaller organizations a strategy for a lot less than $284 million.

Yes, how do you become outstanding players at every stage of the customer journey? We start that journey with the first step: gaining actionable insight from relevant available data. Let’s also acknowledge that every single customer touch point is an opportunity to engage.

Relevant insight provided by available technology will allow you to engage more personally, more frequently and importantly – ahead of the competition and is a key step in regaining control from the OTAs.

Success today, in its simplest form, is all about successfully connecting with your audience.

The key pillars of success have been built by delivering the right content at the right time in the right place for the right price to the right audience.

This concept has not changed but most certainly evolved as technology has allowed us to gain advanced actionable insights into the demographic, psychographic and other behavioral characteristics of the consumer. This allows a high degree of personalization.

The travel consumer of today differs dramatically from the travel consumer of the past. Yesterday’s planning process was linear. There were less research options available.

Today’s consumer is more non-linear in approach, almost a mind mapping process, with one thought leading to another, and then another.

Search engines are the reason for this non-linear travel planning approach. Review sites, OTAs, DMO sites – a plethora of options.

There are so many sites visited in the planning process and can be as many as thirty, according to Expedia. Previous we would visit our travel agent and ask planning questions for a visit to Paris.

Today, typing in Paris in Google gets over 180 million results in about one half second. No lack of information!

So, how do we as hoteliers, destinations, cruise lines, attractions and tour operators beat the OTA multi-million digital marketing spend, win the customer and yield award winning ROI, increase revenue and intent to purchase?

1. Increase and enhance lead generation success

Understand who your customer is. Better still, analyze your high valued customers. It’s this group you want to truly gain valuable decision making insights. Define their DNA.

DNA may vary by strategy. Are you looking for a high spending “One and Done” traveler, or a traveler that is more predisposed to frequent visits?

Perhaps you may want to identify travelers who have visited more recently, that have more top of mind awareness. Whoever your ideal customer is, understand their DNA.

This DNA is what you will use to clone your high valued customers. This will be essential as you embark on getting higher converting guests, visitors, passengers and customers.

Once you have your “cloned” group identified your objective is to figure out where this identified group shop. There are service providers who do a great job in this type of marketing and this effort is much more sophisticated that list rentals.

2. Let technology outsmart your competition

I have always been intrigued by successful non-travel technology and adopting and adapting it for travel, tourism and hospitality.

One such technology was developed in California by higher math PHDs and published Neural Scientists and mimics the way the human mind reasons content.

This technology’s strongest value is early intersection of travel planning before destination decisions are made.

The kicker here is that your rich media banner ads will be dynamically displayed on over one million potential websites ONLY when the content and consumer is considered a match by the technology.

This includes utilizing RTB (Real Time Bidding) strategies. This higher degree of relevancy will lead to higher conversions. This is customer triggered and also incorporates “offsite” retargeting.

Key data is provided enabling you to make strategy shifts “on the fly”. There are a number of service providers that can access many more websites than available through Google’s or OTA channels.

For smaller organizations this lets you to punch above your weight. For larger organizations you can outperform OTA’s.

3. Get a better meta platform

Until now, metasearch engines only allowed the consumer to book through an OTA. Enter disruptive technology.

Today, metasearch has met metadirect, allowing consumers to book directly with destinations, hotels, cruise lines, attractions, tour operators etc.

You are getting closer to your customer and increasing your chances of enhanced personalized engagement.

Embedding a meta direct booking tool within your dynamic display ad will not only increase intent to purchase but provide increased profitability by sending the customer directly to your site.

Tapping in to these newer technologies will not only give you an edge on your competition but also against OTAs.

You will not only be developing your own web of relevance, but you will be able to test, measure and refine. You can now tag along with the travel consumer on their journey as they undergo travel metamorphosis from ideation, researcher, planner, shopper and purchaser.

Your own messaging can also change based upon the point of the travel planning cycle.

Conclusions

Ultimately there is a question of price. Price is relative.

Accor has announced its budget of $284 million. What are the projected costs in the strategies I have outlined above?

These services can be developed individually or bundled. In my experience, a refined lead generation program can start as low as $10,000.

Effective integration of the three strategies discussed in this article can cost about $60,000. Many decimal points to the left of the Accor budget.

This can present a stunning ROI.

Depending on the size of your business, this is a great investment for customer acquisition and provides a positive start to level the playing field with OTAs.

In our efforts to captivate the traveling public, it isn’t only the Big Boys that have all the “toys” to deliver the right content at the right time in the right place for the right price to the right audience.

Today, we are blessed with incredible resources and leading edge technology that will transform insight into action, leading to increased relevance, engagement and conversion.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Bob Gilbert, CEO of Captivation Marketing.

NB2: Hotel chess board image via Shutterstock.

– See more at: http://www.tnooz.com/

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