Judging by the destination content airlines continue to dispense and customers continue to ignore, there's an opportunity for innovation.
In a recent survey* of travellers we asked: How much time do you spend researching a new destination?
1-3 hours of research: 46%
4-6 hours of research: 30%
7+ hours of research: 24%
When you consider how much we underestimate the time we spend online, these figures are undoubtedly conservative.
These figures provide a clear insight: when a customer purchases a flight, they are not buying an Aladdin magic-carpet view of the world, but rather they are purchasing the experience in destination.
A traveller’s first impression of a destination is through content. Their experience in-destination is largely anchored in how the expectations created by destination research are met or exceeded.
Airlines have long understood the need for destination content and have typically adopted one of two approaches: use a white label travel publisher to populate all their marketing or licence and syndicate the content of an established travel publisher.
These approaches have statistically a low conversion rate and are largely ineffective in the inspiration phase of travel because they lack curation (contextualisation) and customer life-cycle awareness (timely delivery).
From surveys, we know the airline brand that is relevant and makes the destination experience accessible in the inspiration phase is most likely to win the booking and the loyalty of the customer. (See How Airlines Can Increase Direct Booking)
It benefits the airlines across the entire customer lifecycle to increase engagement in the inspiration phase. While the internet solved public relations by democratising communication, it created a new problem: the battle for customer engagement.
To increase customer engagement airlines need to adopt a smart approach to their content.
Smart travel content is powered by a layer of intelligence that enables the content to be matched to a customer’s personal lifestyle preferences, and delivered at the optimal moment in a customer’s travel lifecycle.
Lifestyle preferences and lifecycle timing are the two metrics of customer relevance in digital.
The travel industry is vast and complex, and travel marketing is no easy task, but part of the difficulty of having relevant content lies in how one defines “local.”
In a recent survey* we asked travellers: How important are local experiences when you visit a new city?
63%: very important
35%: moderately important
3%: not important at all
The difficulty with “local,” as with any term that has bandied about an industry for too long is it begins to lose specificity. (See Your Service is Not Personalised Enough)
Hence our follow-up question: How would you define “Local”?
Approximately 80% of the travellers we surveyed defined “local” as that which was unique to a place and the natives that live there. The remaining 20% defined “local” literally, in terms of proximity.
The challenge is every city has many versions of local, each tethered to the people who live in a specific neighbourhood. The modern traveller navigates the city by interests and the districts that celebrate those interests, which is no different to the way natives navigate their own city.
Ask yourself “Where do I like to go in my home city, and why?” And you will see a specific route through your city emerge in correlation to your interests.
Our research reveals a clear relationship between a place and the people that spend time there.
Each traveller has a unique set of expectations when visiting a new destination that can only be fulfilled in specific neighbourhoods in that city.
If you think of your experience with a Lonely Planet guide, of the 100+ recommendations, you might highlight 10 that are of interest to you. The rest are largely irrelevant. Evident within your highlighted content is a profile of your personal lifestyle preferences or a specific version of that city that would best appeal to you.
Airlines use nuanced customer research to inform every aspect of their brand, their business class, the food they serve, their inflight entertainment; observe the number of airlines adopting a premium economy class.
With this level of attention to the customer’s needs, why would a generic, one-size-fits-all approach to destination content be appropriate?
Airlines still own the top of the trip planning funnel, but for how long?
The last decade has seen the rise of third party providers that supply everything in travel beyond the jetway. The problem is these providers are now encroaching on the inspiration and booking phase of the customer journey, rendering the airline (at worst) simple logistic providers between locations. Personalisation is no longer a goal, but a necessity for any brand seeking to survive the transition to digital and the mass consolidation evident in the industry today.
An airline’s best defence against the threat of third party providers is the strength of relationship (brand) with their customer and their presence in the inspiration phase; this relationship often begins and, in part is maintained by destination content.
The opportunity for airlines is to do this with great specificity, increasing engagement by taking their cues from the interests of their customers.
But, as with any window of opportunity, it is time sensitive: the window is closing.
*Travel survey was conducted August 2016.