Travel sites take hi-tech marketing tools on board

The travel industry is predicted to make significant strides forward with their online services in the coming year, trying to move beyond e-mail marketing and other similarly basic techniques.

“We are now seeing several airlines and travel companies using things like desktop applications, customisable [information] feeds and other elements to communicate to customers in real time without having to use e-mail,” said Gray Sycamore, head of digital at agency The Marketing Store. “We’re going to see brands trying out some interesting stuff.”

Both airlines and online travel agents are taking advantage of the new tools. Qantas, for example, ran a competition giving away flights over 20 days, based on a desktop widget. In the US, Southwest, now the country’s largest airline, has also been trying out desktop alerts.

Sycamore reckons more will follow their lead when Microsoft launches its new operating system, Vista, in January. It should make it easier for consumers to use such tools. The advantage for brands is that they can communicate with consumer on a regular basis without using e-mail, which can get blocked by spam filters.

“Many other brands that have had issues in the past with e-mail-based technologies will see these innovations going mainstream,” adds Sycamore. “The budget carriers are very interested in it from a cost point of view. The full-services airlines are going to look at add-on services for premium fares. The question is how fast brands will get on top of this.”

Meanwhile online travel agents are also trying to improve their offering, sometimes with notable success. Lastminute.com says its sales have risen by 200% after using behavioural targeting technology from Touch Clarity. “As we learn more about our customers we can increasingly improve our service to them,” says Marko Balabanovic, director of personalisation at Lastminute.

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