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Hundreds of the travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather for our third annual Skift Forum Europe in London on April 30. In just a few years, Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”
Focusing on responsible travel practices and other key issues, Skift Forum Europe 2019 will take place at Tobacco Dock in London. The Forum will feature speakers, including CEOs and top executives from British Airways, IHG, Thomas Cook, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Silversea, Uber, and many more.
The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.
Experienced travel marketers may know this very well, but others not so much: The traditional Google search engine and its Google Hotels feature should be considered two different channels when it comes to travel marketing.
At Skift Forum Europe in Berlin April 26, Rob Torres, Google’s managing director, travel sector, will talk about some of these differences as well as how the advent of Google Home and voice-based search is upending the way consumers do their trip-planning and booking. His topic at Skift Forum Europe is “Travel Marketing in an Assistive World.”
Skift Forum Europe takes place at a key moment for platforms and travel companies across sectors in Europe and elsewhere. While Facebook is feeling the heat over Cambridge Analytics’ misuse of user data and new European data privacy rules going into effect in May, hotels, online travel agencies and airlines, meanwhile, are hellbent on honing their personalization features for customers. How will the travel industry navigate the seeming conflicting pulls?
Skift asked Torres about the differences in some of Google’s advertising channels, the push for personalization, and whether the desktop still has some life in it. Following are his answers:
Skift: How should we look at Google Search versus Google Hotels and Google Flights for advertisers? Do you view them as two channels? Is one gaining the upper hand in your priorities?
Rob Torres: Google Search, Flights and Hotels are all anchored around the same intention, to provide the best travel search and planning experience for consumers and connect travel companies to highly relevant leads, which has been core to Google’s original mission from its inception. As an advertiser, I’d think of them as two channels, largely because of the way the platforms work.
Google Search is built on the idea of using keywords to find the right users with the right ads on search. Google Hotels isn’t just Google search for hotels. It helps people find a hotel and gathers relevant organic content like photos and reviews into one place to help users choose the best hotel. Hotel Ads are incorporated into that immersive experience, so when people are ready to book, a hotel’s availability and rates are right where they’d want them. One isn’t gaining the upper hand over the other at Google.
Skift: We’ve heard about personalization for years now. Has Google and your Google Hotels feature finally cracked it? Why or why not? What’s next?
Torres: In a recent study, fewer than 50 percent of travelers felt that the travel offers they recall receiving were very or extremely relevant to them. We’re always being very thoughtful about whether we’re building experiences that are truly useful to people, and one of the key components is making sure that when they want the most relevant information we are using machine learning to help connect what a user has told us with what they’re doing. The science is still being built — both by us and by many of our partners in the technology and travel space — and we’re nowhere near having “cracked it.”
People are becoming more impatient and demanding relevant information at their fingertips. They’re craving tailored offerings. In a study with Ipsos, 76 percent of mobile travelers said they would be more likely to sign up for a brand’s loyalty program (with 36 percent willing to pay more for their services), if a travel company tailors its information and offerings to that user.
Skift: We’ve been told that mobile is the future. There are a bunch of apps — such as HotelTonight and Hopper — that currently are mobile-only. Do you see that as the future or does desktop still have an integral role to play for travel advertisers?
Torres: Mobile is an important platform for travelers to research, book, and experience travel. Mobile usage continues to grow among travelers for inspiration, research, booking and in-destination help. We recently published an infographic that dug into this. We saw researching hotels and airfare is as common as shopping for clothing on a mobile device, however, we also saw that travelers — especially in more developed markets — still say they are more comfortable planning their entire trip on desktop.
Our research shows this shift can be attributed to a shift in consumer behavior. Consumers are becoming extremely curious, impatient and demanding. Over 90 percent of travelers say they’ve tried to complete their planning on a smartphone, but experienced a poor and slow mobile site and/or app. They are willing to hop from app to app, site to site, and even app to site to find the best and most relevant piece of information.
The future unfortunately isn’t as simple as one device over another or prioritizing a mobile app over a site. It is about being where the customers are and providing them with the tools that delight them by helping find relevant, valued travel experiences to accompany them throughout their pre-, during- and post-trip phases.