Facebook wants to become a stronger player for driving trip inspiration and travel bookings, particularly direct bookings.
With U.S. travelers spending 20 percent of their time on mobile on either the Facebook or Instagram apps, Facebook’s new Dynamic Ads for Travel product is designed specifically for hospitality and other travel brands to help them retarget consumers browsing those apps and other web sites for travel ideas and inspiration.
Dynamic Ads for Travel, which officially became available in June on Facebook and Instagram, is rolling out its new destination catalog this week. A few travel brands such as InterContinental Hotel Group, Marriott, and Trivago have been beta testing the ads since May.
Facebook told Skift that Dynamic Ads for Travel’s destination catalog (see example below) is designed for travel brands seeking to display images of destinations in their ads. If someone has been browsing a travel site and researching trips to Paris, for example, that travel site can retarget that person with an ad with a carousel of images of the Eiffel Tower or Louvre Museum instead of displaying specific hotel properties in the destinations. An airline could display images of New York City for travelers who have been searching for relevant flights rather than displaying an image of a plane, for example.
Hotels can also retarget travelers within Facebook’s mobile apps who viewed a hotel on Hilton.com, for example, by showing an ad featuring the hotel they viewed along with similar hotels in the area with real-time rates and availability. Airlines could also show relevant hotels to people who purchased flights on their website or in their app.
Travelers won’t notice many differences with the appearance of Dynamic Ads for Travel from regular Dynamic Ads, the older iteration that’s been available for the past year. Retargeting and the number of images and kinds of images travelers are shown are the novelties.
Booking sites have been maximizing the potential of Facebook’s advertising photo and video carousels, said Vernon Vasu, CMO of Singapore-based ReFuel4, a marketing technology company that’s a Facebook marketing partner that refreshes Facebook ads using artificial intelligence and A/B testing. ReFuel4 works with travel brands that haven’t yet transitioned to the travel specific ad product. “It took a while for brands to work out how to effectively use Facebook’s photo carousels,” said Vasu.
Below is an example of the Dynamic Ads for Travel product in the Facebook mobile app with Hawaii’s Waterford Lux Resorts.
trivago and IHG See Higher Conversion Rates
Trivago and IHG have both been using Dynamic Ads for Travel since May and have seen better performance with their Facebook advertising compared to older Facebook ad products.
Trivago told Skift it’s taken advantage of the new ad product’s ability to respond to demand changes faster than other products. “[The Dynamic Ads for Travel] in general performed better than previous Facebook products,” said Thomas Wrobel, head of performance marketing for Trivago. “Due to the development of the ads for travel specific needs we are often able to have a higher conversion rate and [click-through rate] on these ads than on the broader classical Facebook products.”
Trivago, which is preparing for its IPO, is one of the more aggressive travel brand advertisers, particularly with TV advertising. “Dynamic Ads for Travel are a really good product to target some users that you cannot get through classical advertising channels that we use,” said Wrobel. “But I could not say it will substitute one of the other ad products or channels. It’s a good part of the current marketing mix.”
IHG is using Dynamic Ads for Travel to highlight benefits of its loyalty program, IHG Rewards Club, and also increase bookings on its brand.com sites. “We are looking to engage customers based upon what they have researched on our IHG brand websites,” said Michael Menis, IHG’s senior vice president of global digital and voice. “We can focus by brand, location and by stay dates with the exact live pricing. We are also in the process of adding ways to highlight hotels that may best suit travelers’ preferences. Carousel ads are used to show multiple properties or markets in aggregate from searches within seven days.”
The brand views the new ads product as part of its ongoing promotion of its loyalty program, said Menis. “We want to make sure we are reaching our [existing members] but we also want to highlight the benefits of membership in IHG Rewards Club, which is available to all travelers.”
IHG said the new ads led to a 50 percent increase in scale, or the brand’s ability to reach relevant travelers who are actually looking to book a IHG brand hotel. It’s also seen a 20 percent lower cost per booking for the ads. “The ads have a direct effect in bookings generated as we’ve seen that we are able to place content in front of consumers towards the bottom of the purchasing funnel,” said Menis.
Travelers’ Use of Facebook for Travel is Growing
Some 20 percent of the time that travelers spend on their smartphones are spent on Facebook and/or Instagram but travelers are using both platforms for different purposes.
Facebook and market research company GfK surveyed 2,400 U.S. travelers ages 18 to 64 from November 2015 to May 2016 who had booked a business or leisure trip in the last three months. Not all respondents were Facebook users. GfK also recorded data on how 97 people used digital devices before booking a leisure trip. Data from the survey show 53 percent of respondents found ideas for their most recent trip on Facebook, 38 percent found ideas on Instagram and 31 percent found ideas using Facebook Messenger.
With millennial respondents, 68 percent said they found their trip idea on Facebook, 60 percent said Instagram and 42 percent said Facebook Messenger. Both platforms have their advantages for trip inspiration, with Facebook friends sharing stories and tips from trips and Instagram users posting photos of iconic backdrops. The survey also found that people in the U.S. who posted with the hashtag #travel in July 2016 visited Instagram 20 times per day, seven days a week.
Christine Warner, Facebook’s head of travel, told Skift that since September 2015 Instagram has garnered more than one billion “actions” from ads such as web site visits, mobile app installs or bookings, though those aren’t exclusive to travel. “Travel is one among many areas where we see real passion from our Instagram community,” said Warner. “For instance, a recent study on consumer behaviors across Facebook and Instagram showed that travel is among the top five areas of content that parents seek most often on Instagram.”
It’s clear that, while Instagram is where travelers find eye-popping photos that help drive wanderlust, Facebook is where travel discovery, if not planning, is taking place. “While we know travelers are using both platforms’ on their path to purchase, we do see that Facebook is more of a discovery platform, while Instagram offers inspiration,” said Warner. “So a traveler might be more likely to turn to Facebook to ask their friends and family about itinerary ideas, while they would turn to Instagram to follow a travel brand for an insider’s view into possible destinations.”
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Photo credit: Facebook's new travel advertising product. Facebook