Optimizing the guest experience doesn’t start when a customer arrives at the boarding gate or checks into a hotel room. It’s time for travel brands to focus on uncovering opportunities earlier in the journey: the online checkout process.
Take a look at any of the forecasts for travel in 2022, and there are reasons to be optimistic. From family plans to splurge on international trips to the potential for a faster-than-expected corporate travel rebound, the industry is on the road to recovery. That road, however, shouldn’t lead to the exact same destination where we were before the pandemic. Instead, hoteliers, airlines, and online travel agencies can steer toward a more promising and profitable future.
Getting there involves focusing on where a trip really begins: on the screen of a traveler’s device. A Forrester study commissioned by ecommerce technology company Rokt shows that when companies create more personally relevant digital experiences, customers reward their efforts by joining their loyalty programs, making repeat bookings, and spreading the word to their friends. Consider these three lessons to harness more power from every transaction and embrace the new age of travel.
1. Focusing on the Initial Transaction Is Key as Trips Get Longer
Before the pandemic, the biggest hurdle standing in the way of booking a trip was likely someone’s boss and their annual vacation time allotted. Now, as companies increasingly offer remote and hybrid work arrangements and people blend their work and leisure lives, trips can be extended and travel can happen more frequently.
Skift Research’s Global Travel Outlook 2022 shows that plenty of people are taking advantage of it, too. Bookings at short-term rentals are expected to reach pre-pandemic levels this year — well ahead of hotel numbers. Now, that initial transaction represents a much longer window than a 48-hour getaway. Travelers might be looking ahead to the excitement of a full week away, which means they need even more relevant recommendations to fill their time.
“Rather than travel from Friday to Sunday, an itinerary might be from Wednesday to Tuesday with flexible working arrangements sprinkled throughout the trip,” said Jordan Sahn, senior director of travel clients at Rokt. “With these extended trips becoming more of the norm, we’ve seen a rise in purchases across ancillary products, like rental cars and live experiences, as customers are looking to explore more and make the most of their time on the road.”
Customers might be booking trips that have a seemingly endless number of opportunities to experience a destination, but Sahn points out they don’t want an endless number of choices. “Customers are only likely to engage with three offers, so it’s important to show the ones most relevant to them,” Sahn said.
For example, a customer who books a three-bedroom home may be more likely to engage with offers for family-friendly experiences, while a customer who books a tiny studio might be more inclined to consider offers designed for solo or couple excursions. A consumer in their mid-twenties might be more receptive to nightlife recommendations, while someone older may opt for a winery tour. A traveler who books two economy seats on an early morning flight is an ideal candidate for a buy-one, get-one-free pass to the lounge, while a traveler who opts for a basic economy seat might be interested in paying to upgrade, joining the loyalty program, and earning miles.
2. Delivering Customer-First Choices and Turning Moments Into Memberships
Speaking of loyalty, the concept has never been more essential for travel brands. The findings from Skift Research’s Travel Loyalty Programs Deep Dive 2022 reveal that leisure travelers — who are leading the industry’s recovery — are much less likely to participate in the points and miles game. Just 47 percent of leisure travelers belong to hotel loyalty programs versus 64 percent of business travelers. The booking journey presents the most direct way to highlight the benefits of joining for free. Consider an offer to sign up for a loyalty program in exchange for a complimentary 5,000 points. If the user acts on it, the company doesn’t just have a one-off customer — it now has a relationship that can extend well beyond the upcoming trip.
Rokt is well-versed in working with travel brands to turn in-the-moment transactions into enduring relationships. In one recent campaign with a leading hotel company, Rokt used the confirmation pages of premium ecommerce sites to target relevant audiences for its membership rewards program. With a 29 percent conversion rate and a cost-per-acquisition that was 24 percent lower than the company’s target, the results demonstrated that machine learning can produce a much bigger return on investment than spending on traditional social media channels like Facebook.
3. Leveraging the Power of Machine Learning to Make Offers Feel More Human
What’s more valuable than dollars? The right customer data. As the travel industry prepares for the demise of the third-party cookie, a brand’s membership enrollments and email sign-ups are essential to delivering the personalization that customers expect.
“To truly maximize performance and relevancy, travel brands need to leverage proven, advanced machine learning that can tailor experiences to each individual,” Sahn said. “By intelligently targeting offers to each customer instead of relying on static experiences, you can double your profitability and boost loyalty.”
Machine learning enables a shift away from traditional segmented marketing to highly-targeted messaging that resonates with individuals and minimizes irrelevant offers. For example, consider a customer who lives in Dallas and purchases tickets to see Lady Gaga in New York. That customer will need to be thinking about all the potential enhancements for the trip, including a hotel, ground transportation, and perhaps a VIP restaurant experience. If a customer who lives in New Jersey purchases tickets, too, promoting a hotel stay might be wasted real estate.
Rokt has overseen more than five billion transactions over the past decade, continually fueling its machine learning technology to connect the right offers at the right time to the right kind of traveler.
More Valuable Transactions, More Possibilities for Brands
More relevant offers at the point of transaction lead to more engaged customers, which brings about more valuable data that fuels more transactions — it’s a simple ecosystem behind a winning formula for every member of the travel industry.
What should travel companies do with the additional revenue? For starters, they can consider directing them toward sustainability initiatives — a top priority for the vast majority of U.S. travelers, according to findings from Booking.com’s most recent Sustainable Travel Report and reinforced by the data in Skift’s most recent Global Travel Outlook.
Additionally, travel companies can look to reinvest some of those earnings into the most crucial ingredient: their people. As employees look for better wages and competitive signing bonuses, companies can invest the hidden value from digital transactions to address the challenges of the labor shortage. By working to make sure they have the right talent in place at the boarding gate and at the reception desk, companies will be able to deliver on the reason anyone makes those digital transactions in the first place: the promise to create unforgettable experiences and discover new places.
For more information about how Rokt can unlock value for travel brands at the moment of transaction, visit Rokt.