Portland Holidays’ sophisticated database allows the tour operator to call up instantly its customers’ travel spend and favourite types of holiday so that everything from direct mail campaigns to one-off special offers can be personalised.

SBHD: Portland Holidays’ sophisticated database allows the tour operator to call up instantly its customers’ travel spend and favourite types of holiday so that everything from direct mail campaigns to one-off special offers can be personalised.

Maintaining customer loyalty in the travel industry is not an easy task. Consumers are bombarded with promotional material whether they are wont to travel or not. Television commercials, poster campaigns, classified and display advertisements in a range of media, exhibitions and direct mailings assail the eye perhaps 20 times a day.

At certain times of the year, travel promotion builds up in a crescendo; there are special offers to beat competitors’ special offers; more discounts for forward booking; and an increasing number of affordable, attractive destinations.

Given this level of marketing activity, and despite the resurgence of overseas travel after the recession, it is unsurprising that travel companies and agencies are looking harder for ways to hang on to their customers. Even in growing markets, as every marketer knows, keeping an existing customer is much cheaper than hauling in a new one.

Portland Holidays, Britain’s largest direct booking tour operator, has installed a sophisticated database system to keep in touch with its clients. The company deals directly with the public without using travel agencies, and is therefore in a good position to track response to promotions, and its clients’ travel spend and preferences. The company is now able to take full advantage of all this information.

Last summer Portland installed MarketPulse, a high performance database marketing package that claims to be unique in allowing instant analysis and access to vast amounts of marketing data.

MarketPulse has been on the market for three years and users of the package include Marks and Spencer, Next, Littlewoods, Sears, Air Miles and BT. Portland is its first travel industry client.

Martin King, vice-president, European operations at MarketPulse, says: “In the past, companies have been encouraged to buy very expensive specialised computer systems designed to hold an enormous quantity of data. However, if you wish to ask a question relating to this data, most such systems grind to a halt, unless it is a simple query such as matching a name with an account number.

“MarketPulse provides answers in seconds rather than minutes, and can provide complex statistical analysis. It allows the user to work interactively with the data. One response may trigger off half a dozen more requests for related information. This is one of the strengths of the system.”

MarketPulse now holds records on Portland Holidays’ customers and their transactions over the past fifteen years. With a basic database of 1.6 million customers and prospects, this is a staggering amount of data.

Records include socio-demographic and lifestyle information on clients including their travel history, the size of their family, what newspapers they read, how many times they have been to any particular country, the time of year that they generally travel, hotel preferences, and the amount of money spent.

It also includes response to marketing literature and promotions, for example, whether a client has ever responded to special offers; whether they booked on the basis of a full brochure or a postcard, and how many times a year they have been targeted.

So how does this help Portland Holidays to service their customers? “Knowing the identity of our customers and the frequency and pattern of their booking habits allows for creative marketing initiatives and a level of personal service rarely found in our sector of the travel business,” says Lucinda Hicks, general marketing manager at Portland Holidays. “All this is essential to maintaining customer loyalty.”

Portland is able to isolate customers that have booked in the past, but who have stopped spending, and can take advantage of tactical opportunities. For example, if there is late availability on a holiday that one customer has enjoyed in the past, a special offer for the package can be sent to them. The marketing team is able to re-stimulate lapsed customers, who, nine times out of ten, are more receptive than completely new prospects.

A much higher level of customer service can also be provided very cost-effectively. If a customer calls up with a query or problem, their past history can be called up, and an appropriate response put together.

Those customers who do not respond to direct mail can be separated from those who do, and promotional campaigns can be adjusted accordingly. MarketPulse allows direct marketing campaigns to be selected and run within a matter of days.

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