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If hotels aren’t paying enough attention to mobile right now, they’re missing out. That’s the primary message Facebook Head of Travel, Christine Warner, has for hotel brands.
Warner recently spoke with Skift about opportunities for hotels in the mobile space, and — not surprisingly — the importance of using mobile platforms like Facebook and its Instagram unit to not only increase brand awareness but, in some cases, also convert users into guests, too.
Skift spoke to Warner prior to Facebook’s roll out of its new City Guides feature, which allows Facebook users to connect to hotels to book rooms through the Facebook app, albeit the link takes them directly to the hotel’s website. We did ask Warner if Facebook would ever consider becoming its own online travel agency or booking platform and this is what she told us at the time:
“Facebook, as you know, is committed to helping advertisers from all industries drive their business objectives,” said Warner. “We often say that we want to be our partners’ best minute and dollar spent. The travel industry really accepts this. We know that people are spending more time on mobile, and we’ll continue to help our travel partners capitalize on this shift.
“Dynamic ads for travel is a great example of that. We recognize the need for our travel partners to be able to leverage our platform to be able to drive direct booking, and so we launched dynamic ads for travel. I think what you can expect to see in the future is the evaluation of DAT [dynamic ads for travel] to expand to other categories like air.”
Facebook hasn’t divulged many details about its new City Guides product, including whether it takes a commission for every direct booking that is facilitated through the app.
A spokesperson said: “We’re testing a redesigned surface on city pages that showcases information about your city. This content already exists on Facebook, and during this test we’ll be centralizing it in a way that is more personalized and relevant to you. So, this new feature can help people get a better sense of their city, or a city they’re visiting through their friends’ eyes.”
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Skift: Why is mobile so important, especially for hotels, today?
Christine Warner: The world has shifted to mobile. I’m not sure how familiar you are with some of the stats, but anecdotally, there are more mobile devices in the world than there are people. If you’re talking about mobile technology in a mobile world, you have to take Facebook and Instagram into account. In our recent announcement, we shared that we reach over 1.8 billion people every month, and 1.2 billion of those people are coming back to us every day.
If you think about what that means for marketers, there’s an opportunity to reach people on mobile devices. This is especially true for the travel industry, because across Facebook and Instagram both combined, we make one out of every five minutes spent on a mobile device. Recently, what we really wanted to dig into, better understanding the traveler’s behavior around mobile, we commissioned a study called The Mobile Compass.
We really tapped into this to better understand behaviors in a mobile world, and we learned three things about the guest experience that I shared on the panel that I think are really grounding and important for our conversation for how hospitality brands can tap into Facebook and Instagram today.
First, we thought that the experience of the hotel begins ever before the stay. What I mean by that is, every brand has the opportunity to talk to people in a more personalized way through mobile, and the path to purchase has become increasingly more complex. We found in the study that from the moment that someone sees an ad and is inspired to take a trip, to the moment that they actually book, 43 days pass. That traveler is going to over 56 travel-related touchpoints. They’re doing this also across devices. In the study, we saw that 50 percent of people are turning to their mobile phone first when it comes to researching a trip.
The second thing we learned is that people want more personal, mobile-centric communications. This is from travel providers. They’re looking for not only more personalized offers through advertising, but also they want to be able to connect in a more personal way, in the palm of their hand, through platforms like Messenger.
The third thing that we looked at, travelers welcome inspiration. I think you and I can both agree that thinking about your next vacation is a great way to spend downtime at work. Travelers welcome inspiration from not only their peers but also from partners and hotel brands, and through really immersive storytelling canvases like video.
These three key things that we learned from this study really helped illuminate why Facebook and Instagram is so important to the travel industry and to the hospitality space more largely. That’s because during this advertising process that I just spoke about, travelers spend five times more time with Facebook than any travel-related touchpoint. We’re with travelers every step of the journey across every device, regardless of where they are in the journey, from inspiration to planning to booking. There’s a clear opportunity for hoteliers to not only tap into Facebook and Instagram while they’re planning their trips, to reach people while they’re planning their trips through personalized advertising, but also to create experiences that are so rich and so memorable that people want to share them.
As far as what I shared at the ALIS [Americas Lodging Investment Summit] conference, that was a lot of the focus: to really help the travel industry and specifically the hoteliers understand why it’s so important to, one, think about building out marketing communications that are mobile first, to reach people regardless of where they are in their booking journey, and second it’s imperative to really invest your time and resources into channels where people are spending more and more of their time, like Facebook and Instagram.
What I found from everyone else on the panel is that creating mobile experiences needs to be woven into the way that any hotelier thinks about connecting with a guest. I was surprised at how aligned we were on that.
If you think about it, mobile unlocks the opportunity to connect with people in a more personalized way and to allow them to have what they want when they want it. For an industry that’s been built around creating personalized, incredibly enriching experiences for individuals and their friends and their family, there’s no better platform to really engage with a traveler than through mobile, whether it’s before their stay, during their stay, or after. That really came to light in the panel.
Skift: Are there any hotel-specific needs when it comes to marketing on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram? Are there specific things that these brands should be paying more close attention to than they would in other channels?
Warner: I think the first thing to pay attention to is being where their potential guests are. The travel path to purchase, while it’s more complex, still maintains the same phases, from being inspired to having to plan to booking. Travel marketers know that incredibly well. The hoteliers know that incredibly well, but in order to guide people throughout these different phases, they need to think about becoming mobile first.
What I mean by that is, for driving inspiration, are you putting your brand into places where people can best discover it, like Facebook for example, where people are coming back every single day in order to be able to really connect with what’s happening with their friends, their family, and the brands that they care most about? Are the hotel brands putting their gorgeous imagery, not only the destinations where their hotels may be but some of the really cool features that the hotels may have, onto platforms like Instagram, where recently I just checked, and there are over 149 million posts tagged with #travel? It’s really a beautiful canvas for brands to be able to build gorgeous, creative, and inspire people to stay with them.
On that discovery and inspiration point, we’ve seen hotel brands actually tap into this. Caesar’s is a great example of that. Caesar’s last summer ran their biggest vacation sale with us. They wanted to target people who would be interested in their nine properties. They created nine different campaigns with unique features of each resort showing up in each one of the photos. They were able to drive a 12.9 times greater return on ad sped than their previous efforts. If you think about that, they were able to tap into a phase that they have always known that’s existed, which is discovery and inspiration, but they’ve done it by tapping into mobile platforms.
The second thing that I think is really important for hotels to think about is how they’re engaging with guests when they’re planning a trip, and/or helping them plan their trip in a way that’s better, to be able to get a greater deal or to alert people to new features about their hotel. Westin did that with us, as well. Let me know if you have any questions as I go along, but I want to make sure that I’m representing some of these key areas where we’re seeing the hoteliers really tap into the key phases of the travel booking cycle but in a way that’s mobile first.
Warner: Westin, on the planning side, they launched a two-phase campaign with us to be able to let people know that they had a new late checkout on Sunday. They created an engaging 15-second video, and they also did something that was really interesting. They know a lot about their customers, and by knowing about their customers, they can better address them with really relevant messaging. They created a video, but they also reached out by bringing their data to our platform to be able to talk to people. This is all in a privacy-safe way, but to be able to talk to people who are their current guests, and then also we were able to create lookalikes off of that, for them to be able to talk to people who look like their best guests.
Through this 15-second video campaign, they drove the messaging around late-stage checkout. For the people who watched that video in its entirety, they than ran another ad to be able to target those same people with a 40 percent off offer. In campaigns like this, to really help make people’s planning process more enriching, they were able to drive a 9 percent increase in ad recall and a 9 percent increase in intent. In many ways, they were able to bring the traveler a unique perspective on how they could better plan their trip with Westin moving forward.
When it comes to booking, and I think you having covered the hospitality space for as long as you have, [you know] driving direct bookings is one of their primary priorities. In 2016, for the first time ever, we were able to launch dynamic ads for travel. When I say the first time ever, I mean this is the first time that we have created an industry-specific ad product at Facebook. Dynamic ads for travel allow our partners to be able to re-target and cross-sell in an always-on way by uploading their catalog. When someone shows intent for their brand, either on mobile or desktop, hoteliers are able to leverage that intent signal, and re-target and cross-sell that individual on our platform with a dynamic advertising or dynamic creative against it.
For that, we’ve seen IHG achieve really great results as well as other partners. Marriott, Trivago, etc. have all been leveraging dynamic ads for travel, but IHG was early adopters. They wanted to drive direct bookings with a message, “Your Rate by IHG Rewards Club.” They found people who had searched but did not book on their site and retargeted them through dynamic ads for travel. In transitioning over from our other dynamic ad products to dynamic ads for travel, they were able to gain a 20 percent lower cost per booking and a 50 percent increase in scale.
To just wrap this up, what can the hotelier learn or use from Facebook in order to drive their business, and what do they need to do differently? The first thing that they need to do is adopt a mobile-first approach and align with the customer behavior that’s shifted to mobile. The second is to they’ve always done, create personalized, enriching experiences to reach travelers wherever they may be in their booking journey, from inspiration, planning, and booking on our platforms.
Skift: What are some examples of hotel brands using Instagram successfully to market themselves? Is there a benefit for using Instagram over Facebook? Do they serve different purposes? Will there be some sort of new advertising product on Instagram that is tailor-made for the travel industry, like the dynamic ads for Facebook?
Warner: Instagram is an incredible platform. As you scroll through your feed, the images are just incredibly gorgeous, especially when it comes to travel. We’re finding that Instagram is a place, as I mentioned previously, really a place for inspiration, where people go to be inspired about where they can take their next trip. Conversely, Facebook is very much a discovery platform, where people can connect with people, brands, and also the messages that may be most aligned with them, to help them discover where they could go on their next trip.
These two forums work incredibly well together. As I mentioned previously, one out of every five minutes on mobile is spent with Facebook and Instagram. For travel partners, our recommendation is, depending upon your objective and the creative that you want to leverage, working across both platforms is ideal. Also, on the back end, we have systems that make it very easy to manage campaigns across both. While you may have an inspiration campaign running on Instagram, you could then be re-targeting those individuals who may have engaged at the high end of the booking cycle from the moment of inspiration, to then be able to bring them further down the funnel in order to get them to book on your brand, potentially on Facebook. These two platforms work extraordinarily well together.
One other thing, in the same way where we have launched dynamic ads for travel, we talk a lot about results on Facebook, but DAT is also available on Instagram. As we roll out new products, they should be available on both.
Skift: Snap recently filed for its IPO with the Securities and Exchange Commission [and has since gone public], giving us a better understanding of how their platform works. A lot of people have said that the new Instagram’s Stories product is very similar to what Snapchat has. Do you see Snapchat as a competitor in this space? Are there ways in which Instagram is going to try to further distinguish or define itself from Snapchat as a platform for brands to use?
Warner: As I mentioned before, the one thing that was most surprising on the panel that I was on was that we all agreed that mobile, and being relevant and available through mobile to your intended audiences, is essential. That was one thing that we addressed in the panel.
If I take a step back, the more players in the mobile marketplace, the better to help our partners catch up to this behavior that has completely shifted to mobile devices. Instagram, just like Facebook, wants to bring people better experiences. We’re following their behavior with Stories, and we’ve seen how successful it’s been, with 150 million people using it in just the first five months.
Skift: Have you seen a lot more hotel companies reaching out to Facebook to use Facebook Messenger as a tool for communicating with guests before their stay, and during their stay, and even after their stay?
Warner: There’s no doubt that people and brands alike are interested in tapping into Messenger. In fact, we reach over one billion people on Messenger, and in our earnings, Sheryl [Sandberg] even shared that there over a billion messages happening between individuals and brands every month. What we especially since we’ve launched or opened up the messaging platform last year at F eight, we’ve seen a lot of interest in exploration of Messenger. We’ve seen brands like Expedia build a booking bot, and other partners like IHG and Hyatt build out experiences to address their customer relationships. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will see continued exploration on platforms like Messenger, because it enables a one-to-one connection between a brand and a travel. I’m excited to see what the future holds on that platform with our partners.
Skift: Do you still see a big push from brands to want to explore more virtual reality content or more 360-degree video content on Facebook?
Warner: There’s always an interest, especially from travel brands who are amazing experience creators, to embrace more immersive storytelling formats. While virtual reality is very much in the future, today there are opportunities for travel brands to express themselves in more immersive ways in the palm of a traveler’s hand. We’ve seen many of our partners embrace live video. There has been a lot of interesting work done on 360 from National Geographic to Delta launching an airplane in a desert and filming it all in 360. What we encourage our travel partners and hoteliers as well is for them to experiment with these new formats, to get comfortable with what it’s like to tell their story through 360-degree video or through 360-degree photos.
We’re even tapping into our more immersive ad formats like Canvas, like Royal Caribbean did, which allowed people to experience what it would be like to be on their Harmony of the Seas ship without even stepping onboard, and really learn how to build creative with these more immersive formats, so when virtual reality is more prevalent around the globe, in the same way that mobile is today, they’re ready for it.
Editor’s Note: For an even more in-depth look at Facebook’s role in travel, check out Skift’s Research Report: A Deep Dive Into Facebook’s Impact on Travel.