From off-the-beaten-path locales to memorable experiences, travelers’ needs and wants are evolving, opening the door to new opportunities for savvy brands and impacting the way travel advertisers approach their marketing efforts.

In an effort to discover how marketers can best influence travelers’ purchase decisions online, the Bing Ads research team partnered with Phocuswright to conduct a search trends analysis, the results of which I’ll be sharing in this column.

Since nine out of 10 travelers turn to an online source when planning, comparing or booking a trip, here are six trends travel brands can watch to help build their marketing and advertising strategies in 2018.

Exotic new destinations

Ever thought about traveling to Maldives, Iceland or Rwanda? As it turns out, these three locales have made the list of top 25 trending destinations, based on year-over-year search volume growth.

Reasons may be increased airline capacity or the addition of new non-stop routes. Also, the proliferation of social media has helped boost the popularity of more non-traditional locations.

Keeping tabs on trending locales allows travel brands to monetize these destinations before competitors. Watch the airlines for route announcements. Data-mine hashtags on social media to see which new destinations might be gaining in popularity. Finally, take advantage of AI-enabled dynamic ad creative to match your offerings to travelers’ evolving preferences via search queries.

International jetsetters choosing Bing

With a 10 percent year-over-year (YOY) increase in overall search volume and an 11 percent increase in clicks, Bing continues to grow its global reach.

In particular, Bing saw major lifts in travel search volume in key markets like Canada and Europe, with especially high growth in Belgium, France and Switzerland. This is good news for travel advertisers looking for high-value customers.

Alternative accommodations are becoming mainstream

According to research published in April 2017 by Phocuswrightprivate accommodation sites like VRBO and Airbnb are growing twice as fast as the overall travel market. And 70 percent of this audience are frequent travelers who spend more and are more likely to plan long trips.

But this group does not book rentals exclusively; they often consider hotels as well, depending upon services and amenities. This research resonates with me in part because I’m planning an 18-day international trip, and I’ve been researching both Airbnb and hoteliers for accommodations through different segments of my trip to maximize my travel budget.

Boutique hotels are also gaining in popularity, especially among millennials looking for unique, upscale experiences. The net of this for travel advertisers is that travelers are more open than ever to a variety of accommodations.

Search ads still influence purchase decisions

The number of bookings via online travel aggregators (OTAs) surpassed direct bookings in 2016. But travel advertisers can still influence these purchases using search ads.

In a Bing Ads research study designed to help three hotel brands correlate the value of search to purchases made on OTAs, researchers examined the booking activity of two groups of online searchers that ended up on OTAs.

Group A was exposed to a hotel brand’s search ads on Bing, and Group B was not. It turns out searchers who were exposed to a hotel’s ads were more likely to visit the hotel brand’s property page on the OTA. For one brand in the test, people were 10 percent more likely to visit the brand’s page after seeing search ads and, for another brand, they were 50 percent more likely to do so.

Loyalty members shop around

According to the joint Future of Travel study from Microsoft and Phocuswright, 93 percent of US travelers are enrolled in airline loyalty programs, and 64 percent are enrolled in hotel programs. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t shopping around. Data indicates that even loyalty program members comparison shop across multiple travel sites, especially during peak months.

Fortunately, loyalty members are more likely to engage with online search ads. Up to 71 percent of travelers using general search are more likely to engage with an ad.

The key is to keep giving loyalty members reasons to choose your brand. Tempt active members through highly personalized offers, and re-engage inactive members through free incentives or points.

Travelers seeking memorable experiences

More and more travelers are searching for and booking memorable experiences online. In fact, Phocuswright reveals the fastest-growing travel segment, activities, comprised 10 percent of the travel market share in 2016. Gross bookings for online tours and activities are expected to grow from $12 billion in 2015 to $27 billion in 2020. That is substantial!

Additionally, activities suppliers using third-party reservation systems like TripAdvisor and Ctrip have quadrupled since 2011. Remarketing is a great opportunity to target travelers searching for things to do at their destination. Think about using in-market audiences in tangential categories to reach travel consumers.

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