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Online travel marketing is broken, content marketing is the solution

Online travel marketing is broken, content marketing is the solution

“Where do you want to go?”  This is the question that every travel review site and online travel agency (OTA) asks when you visit their site. If you’re a traveler who knows where you want to go, the user-directed search model works. However, if you’re a marketer of travel there are three fundamental problems with the current stable of online marketing options available to you. 

The first problem is this approach ultimately leads to commoditization and lower profits.  According to a recent PhoCusWright survey, a full 36% of users cite, “Looking for the lowest price” as the primary reason for using an OTA. Look up your favorite OTA; every one of them has some variation of “Cheap”, “Save” or “Best Price” attached to their brand. These sites can drive bookings from predisposed users shopping for a deal, but they offer limited options to tell your brand story and build value. This limited ability to build your value is by design. This makes your price point a key factor in the traveler’s decision making process.

Customer Experience
User experience is another issue. According to the same survey, direct booking enjoyed a 93% user satisfaction rating compared to a 51% satisfaction rating among those using OTA’s. Clearly, focusing on the direct channel will yield much higher profit margins and user satisfaction. As such, at DreamPlanGo we’re strong advocates of helping travel brands build direct relationships with their audience through content marketing tactics that serve to nurture those users along their journey to becoming a customer.

Building Awareness
The huge challenge in all this is building awareness that leads to intent and action. We talk to travel marketers every day who tell us they could drive more tourism dollars if only more people knew about their destination. The problem is, the vast majority of online marketing options like review sites and OTA’s require existing awareness and desire. Creating that initial awareness and desire isn’t easy or cheap. The problem is most “top of the funnel” strategies for building awareness are not efficient or accountable. Take banner ads as an example. According to a Solve Media study, we’re more likely to scale Mount Everest than we are to click on a banner ad.

Content Marketing is the Solution
Michael Brenner, VP of Marketing and Content Strategy for SAP, offers us a great definition of content marketing: “Content marketing is about delivering the content your audience is seeking in all the places they are searching for it. It is the effective combination of created, curated and syndicated content.”

Content marketing typically refers to owned media channels, and owned media infers that you have an audience. This leads back to our original problem. Even if you already have a substantial audience, how do you nurture them to action, and how do you effectively find new travelers - if they don’t know about you? How do you effectively get new people into your funnel so you can share your story, build awareness and attract visitors and bookings?

A Better Option
In our work with travel clients over the years, we’ve observed that there is a huge void at the top of the marketing funnel. All the focus and marketing dollars are spent on the bottom of the funnel - at the point of transaction which leads to commoditization.

We created DreamPlanGo to fill this void in travel marketing, and connect destinations to travel enthusiasts in a way that is efficient, effective and measurable. We developed our web site and social community with the goal of helping our audience discover new destinations and providing them the tools they need to plan their trip.

For our clients our process is simple: We develop highly-customized content campaigns based around our client’s KPI’s, such as: visitor guide downloads, traffic, engagement, registrations and ultimately bookings. We then promote our client’s content based on their audience targeting criteria.

We’ve found that telling our clients’ amazing brand stories to our growing community of travel enthusiasts is one of the most effective ways that travel marketers can acquire and grow their audience. Because this audience was drawn to the brand through content, they will be more receptive to receiving ongoing content - which builds an enduring relationship that leads to more business.

Make the Shift
Content Marketing fundamentally shifts the travel marketer from selling on price to selling based on relationship, content and value. Once you make the transition to focus more on the top of the funnel and invest in telling your story to your existing and new audiences, you’ll have more visitors, more profits and deliver a much better customer experience.

Scott Severson is an Internet trail-blazer and a passionate advocate of digital content marketing. As the President of DreamPlanGo, Scott works with a broad array of brands, destinations and agencies to put content to work on their travel marketing goals.