If you want to win like Airbnb have in the travel industry you have to understand the modern traveler and the lifecycle
It’s been one year since Airbnb launched Trips and, while a recent report from Morgan Stanley forecast a slowing of growth for the hospitality superbrand, nobody in the industry has been foolish enough to say Airbnb’s days of disruption are over.
While hospitality has had to contend with Airbnb’s rapid growth over the last 5 years, Airbnb's vision is far more expansive. Airbnb have built a core competency in how the modern traveller accesses a destination and have used this data to target travellers at every touchpoint in the journey, competing with brands far beyond the confines of hospitality.
So, what can soon-to-be direct competitors like airlines learn and emulate from Airbnb’s approach?
Brian Chesky, at last year’s launch of Airbnb Trips heavily referenced Joseph Campbell’s seminal model of the Hero’s Journey, and if that wasn’t enough of a clue, he even flashed the new app’s main screen with the plane icon and other services. Airlines! Airbnb is coming for you. While his vision of a homogenised ecosystem for all your travel needs is anything but original (Amazon of Travel, anyone?), Chesky went further and defined the experience in-destination as the constant across all leisure travel.
What unites every traveller is their desired outcome: experience in-destination.
Chesky called this the “Magic” of the trip and relegated planning (Google) and transport (airlines) to the “trade-off”: the part of the journey no traveller wants to do, but endures in order to experience the “Magic.”
Brian Chesky's keynote revealed something about this new wave of traveller that airlines have been slow to grasp:
A customer purchases travel but consumes the experience of the destination.
An Airbnb study revealed that almost half of their clientele considered themselves "explorers," prioritising context over amenity: the neighbourhood where someone stayed was as important, if not more important than the accommodation itself.
According to Chesky, the traveller can access the “Magic” of a trip when they:
1) Discover the best neighbourhood (the place that best matches the traveller’s lifestyle preferences)
2) Connect with the local people and access the most authentic experiences that neighbourhood has to offer.
Hence, Airbnb aggregate data to match neighbourhood and local experiences to the individual traveller in a beautifully designed package, effectively delivering the Magic in a powerful marketing play.
The heart of personalisation is understanding what the customer wants and when they want it.
Great content delivered at the wrong time is the same as poor content delivered at the right time.
A study by Google revealed that the battle for the travel customer is largely won and lost in the Inspiration Phase (the phase when the potential customer does not know where they want to go per se, but they are dreaming of going somewhere). Travel brands that engage and add value to the customer's journey in this phase are 67% more likely to win the booking.
Simple arithmetic reveals that average traveller takes 3 trips a year, rendering the majority of the year a time for inspiration. (read 3 Ways Airlines can Send Relevant Emails Year Round).
Airlines have a limited view of personalisation because the parameters of that conversation generally begin when a customer intentionally enters the airline ecosystem or sales funnel. However, the real conversation, as Google revealed, begins much earlier in the inspiration phase of the lifecycle. Airlines have little presence here and have become subservient to search engines and social media companies for traffic.
Top airlines are tackling (and not quick enough) the daunting task of updating and integrating siloed legacy technology and reducing the friction in the booking flow, but when all is said and done there is still this tiny problem of How do we to inspire the traveler into our booking flow in the first place?
1) Every traveller wants to consume the experience in-destination, therefore it is the component of a trip that is most inspirational.
2) The benchmark of that experience in-destination is authenticity. If it's not rendered authentic, it's irrelevant.
3) Authenticity is determined by the strength of connection between the traveller and locals of the place. Tip: when publishing a destination piece always champion the local writer/guide/authority, it increases the authenticity of the piece.
4) Understanding the nuances of the travel lifecycle is paramount for personalised marketing, because it signals when a brand should push a specific product. Inspiration always precedes booking. Most airlines go straight to the booking phase and their marketing quickly becomes noisy and irrelevant.
All of this amounts to inspiring travellers into the airline booking flow.
Remember: If you add value in the inspiration phase, your chances of winning the booking significantly increases.