Travel Marketing’s Next Sea Change: Are You Ready?

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Online travel and hospitality represent one of the most competitive and sophisticated markets in the world. However, until recently, one of the fastest-growing digital marketing channels in the travel industry—metasearch—was lagging behind other channels when it came to the data revolution that has taken hold within the broader marketing world. That’s changing fast, and the shift represents a fundamental sea change in how travel marketers must manage and optimize their online budgets.

Across the rest of the digital marketing world, the past decade has been defined by an explosion in the availability of rich audience data, combined with an overwhelming move toward automated buying driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence. Comparatively, marketers’ buys through metasearch publishers such as Google, TripAdvisor, Kayak, and Trivago have remained reliant on a number of manual activities and been informed by limited data points.

Now, we’re seeing travel metasearch publishers taking massive strides towards opening up data and automation capabilities to their advertising partners. Soon, sophisticated data inputs and automated purchasing and optimization will be table stakes in the metasearch realm. Today’s travel marketers must start pivoting their campaigns accordingly.

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The Power of Richer Audience Data

As access to data becomes more widespread and automated among metasearch publishers, marketers are going to be able to bid more intelligently within those platforms and better customize their value propositions to individuals. Consequently, travel marketers will be able to fundamentally shift from property-centric strategies to customer-centric strategies. Whereas bidding was once driven by basic considerations such as whether a property had availability and the right amenities based on a user’s search, marketers will now be able to target more deeply according to a customer’s relationship with their brands, by harnessing data from intent indicators such as loyalty program status and travel motivations.

These shifts recognize the fact that the context of travelers is important. Are they traveling for business or pleasure? What devices do they use to search and book? What did their online activity look like leading up to their search? All of these factors influence when, where and how much marketers should invest when looking to acquire customers, and the evolution of this market will open unprecedented levels of access to such insights via metasearch publishers.

Going forward, more publishers will enable sophisticated audience targeting through their platforms—targeting on the likelihood of conversion, loyalty status, past interactions with the advertisers and many other facets. As marketers take advantage of these new options, they have the opportunity to deliver value back to the customers themselves through more-relevant and useful ads.

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Syncing Metasearch with Social

As publishers open up new data and audience targeting capabilities for their advertisers, we’re also going to see the major players continue to deepen their integrations with social networks. This cross-channel expansion represents a natural evolution for metasearch engines. By becoming more integrated with social sites, publishers gain access to important insights into user preferences and activities that can help them expand their relationships with customers and instill greater loyalty. As you might imagine, advertisers will also be positioned to reap numerous benefits from this social data.

The ability to unite metasearch and paid social campaigns will lead to significant efficiencies and open up new opportunities for travel marketers in the coming years. After all, the data that advertisers use to run metasearch and paid social campaigns overlaps a great deal, and cross-channel campaigns can yield insights that support better optimization and performance in both channels.

Metasearch advertising for travel marketers is undergoing a massive transformation—one whose implications extend well beyond its own channel walls. Going forward, travel marketers must resist the urge to think of their metasearch campaigns in a vacuum. Now that audience data transparency is becoming a reality in metasearch, travel brands must seek to unite their engagement and conversion strategies across all channels, from metasearch to social media and beyond.

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