How Will You Market Travel in An Economic Crisis?

In times of spasmodic financial markets an atmosphere of extreme uncertainty may cause a steep dip in travel and we wanted to explore ways in which travel marketers might use their website as the centerpiece around which to build a Plan B.

We contacted Ralph Thompson, President of EBrains, a notable marketing company that has worked with over 100 destination travel clients and a sponsor of 9th E-Tourism Summit in San Francisco, for his advise on the topic.

Which of the tools in the online marketers’ arsenal would be most effective during an economic slowdown where you need to work various segments.

That depends on what business you’re in. We have to first determine who the customer is and whether they are prone to visit websites as a matter of regularity.   If customers are under 25 and/or domiciled in other countries (especially Europe and Asia), I would say mobile communications and applications should be added as a consideration. If they are over 65, I would say use gatekeepers (children and grandchildren) to connect because the phone is measurable but very expensive and print is not as measurable therefore I don’t know what my ROI is.

If you are a marketer of tangible products and/or services, your website becomes your number one cost effective marketing communications connection. The site gives the marketer an ability to connect both with push (aggressive outreach to reinforce the relationship) or pull ( content that causes a more of a connective dependability).

The intangible benefit here is your brand. The website gives you the opportunity to raise intangible value if you can make the consumer include your website in their daily communication routine.

What are the most cost effective tools to market travel products online?

In my opinion, the most cost effective tools are a well maintained website with outreach driving relationships through search marketing (both organic and pay-per-click where it’s proven cost effective). Search marketing offers the second highest online return on investment to marketers based on multiple studies and surveys of marketers. The highest return on investment online is the continued email marketing to a database that has good hygiene and is continually built and segmented. The reason for this is that it’s trackable and you are able to calculate lifetime value. And, now, more than any time in an economic cycle, you need to stick with measurable investments.  Unmeasured home runs are risky during a time when you need to stick to the fundamentals.

The website should have the capability to interact with consumers. The 2.0 environment is one where brand value is achieved through consumer interaction and advocacy. Consumers need and want easy ways to provide user generated content which causes brand stickiness. The downside is you need to be prepared to deal with the “brand damagers” who have had a bad experience or just want to slam your brand. This means more of your attention on what’s being said about your brand both on your site and throughout the social communities, blogs and news groups online. While you may not be able measure this form of “earned” media to the bottom line, I do know the opinion of marketers in recent surveys is that earned media is the third highest return on investment. And social marketing is no more than online earned media.

What tips would you have for travel marketers in the short term?

The biggest tip is to pay attention to your target audience. This is not about you. It’s about them. Ask them and they will tell you what their preferences are.  Additionally, they will tell you their preference through their behavior (clicks to further actions down the marketing funnel) on your website.

My second biggest tip is to stay focused on what gets measurable results during this time and don’t let all the flashy fun stuff in online and interactive drain your most valuable resource. This is about you! And, your time is even more valuable in today’s economic.  It’s easy to get sidetracked. Now, I’m not advocating that you stop testing and evolving. After all, we’re all about marketing evolution. But, for now, you might consider letting someone else evolve, observe their evolution and follow it. With today’s technology one can adapt quickly. Just look at how fast search marketing became a $12 billion dollar business.

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Filed under eTourism Summit San Francisco, Travel Industry

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