Abta Malta: The travel industry has had another tumultuous year buffeted by the global recession, the chaos caused by the Icelandic volcano ash cloud and industrial unrest from British Airways cabin crew and French air traffic controllers.
However, the industry is resilient and adept at managing change. As chief executive Willie Walsh says at this year’s industry conference The Travel Convention in Malta: “In the end our customers will drive change. We have to adapt and respond to what they want and expect.”
Marketers in the travel industry are under pressure to help deliver sales in a sector that has traditionally taken the short term view rather than developed long term strategies. However, the approach seems to be changing, partially driven by advances in technology, take up of social media and customer demand for more choice.
The upheavals of the past 12 months have generated new learnings for marketers and encouraged new practices, including a greater mining of data and the development of deeper customer relationships. .
The ramping up of social media use has had an impact, both in the need to monitor customer feedback sites such as TripAdvisor and to better develop communications programmes.
Alistair Daly, marketing director at onthebeach.com, told Marketing Week at The Travel Conference : “There is no doubt that in 2010 and 2011 reputation management will form a key part of a marketer’s role, with the explosion of Facebook as a sales and PR tool.We now have a dedicated team of both marketers and customer service agents dealing with people’s queries and questions and we have been one of the first people in travel to launch a customer service app on Facebook that allows people to interact with our customer service team quickly and efficiently.”
Nigel Lingard, marketing director at Fred Olson Cruise lines adds that the biggest realisation for his team has been the adoption of social media platforms by a more mature customer.
“On Facebook one of the biggest group of users are women over 55.They are getting into social media faster than expected.”
The cruise company is now using Facebook to deliver news of its products and offerings to customers that would not receive traditional press coverage.
Former TUI UK customer director Tim Williamson, who has just left the company, adds: “The real lesson of the last 12 months is the implementation of personalisation. Using the new world of digital to create our very very personalised communications to our customers. Getting the best offers out via web analytics of what customers are looking at.”
TUI launched a personalised website tool for customers earlier this year and Williamson says: “Personalized websites have gone down a storm. We have really focused on this. Personalisation is much more the way forward than paid search.”
The disruption to airlines by the ash cloud has spurred companies to develop better communications with their customers and rival travel offerings to flying to up their game.
Philip Price, head of brand marketing at P&O Cruises, says that the company realised it should re-emphasise the “no flying” part of its marketing and by being “clear and precise” in all communications P&O Cruises saw the benefit. In fact, the UK cruise market as a whole predicts growth of 8% next year (Passenger Shipping Association).