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How can travel and leisure companies boost their customer engagement post-pandemic?

The effects of Covid-19 on the travel and leisure industry have been substantial, to the say the least, since stay-at-home regulations go against everything it stands for. The World Tourism Oganization reported a 72% year-on-year fall in international travel from January to October 2020, with a loss of $935 billion tourism dollars.

Most hotels, leisure parks, holiday companies, and tour operators had to shut, either through the entirety of the pandemic or at intervals. In the UK, even after the establishment of quarantine-free travel corridors in July 2020, hotel room occupancy in London was just 20% and nationwide accommodation-related employment fell by 21.5%. Meanwhile, in the US, the decline in travel spending led to a daily loss of $1.6 billion in the final 8 months of 2020.

However, there is now light at the end of the travel-ban tunnel, and these businesses can expect a flood of interest from consumers eager to re-book cancelled or postponed holidays and excursions. With vaccines rolling out, a February study by Scott’s Cheap Flights found that just 1 in 10 Americans did not currently have travel plans, with 83% of respondents planning domestic trips and 44% international getaways in 2021.

As consumers start to plan vacations again, travel and leisure companies will need to focus on customer engagement and put plans in place to maximize the long-term retention of this sudden surge of customers. They will also need to think outside the box to consider how to build a fresh pipeline of domestic and high value business, to tide them over while the international market recovers. A Customer Data Platform (CDP) can help on both counts.

Building new markets and customer engagement

Shopping for holidays, or researching weekend breaks and excursions, typically takes time, thought, and planning. As a consumer navigates around your website, leaving behavioral indicators of what they’re looking for, it is essential that you’re able to use that information to personalize the experience. You can capture it by using third party cookies to create anonymous profiles, or by using first party data collection methods, such as a ‘sign up to latest offers’ form, to authenticate the user and attach behaviors to a known individual.

Using first party cookies to track visitor behaviors is one of the most powerful tactics that a marketer can deploy. It allows you to segment users for campaigns and act on behavioral data to guide them to the booking they want to make, so they will avoid the frustration of having to navigate endless deals that are not relevant. The more you can learn about a user or customer, the easier it will be to deliver a seamless experience and encourage bookings.

Of course, that’s easier said than done! It’s relatively simple to implement a first party cookie and start tracking and personalizing the browser experience, using the plethora of technology platforms in the market. The hard part, though, is storing and unifying that data with individuals’ app behaviors, call center interactions, previous bookings, and contact histories. However, travel and leisure brands that can create a Single Customer View will be able to deliver highly personalized offers and experiences that will build loyalty and drive sales.

The creation of unified customer profiles is the core function of a CDP, which specializes in ingesting, cleaning and matching related records with the help of identity resolution. Once the identity of the customer and the journey they’ve been on is clear, it’s easier to pinpoint their value to the business, and execute more effective campaigns and real-time interactions across channels and devices.

Using customer segmentation to improve your targeting

Your Single Customer View will allow you to determine which customers visit your website frequently, what pages they visited, whether they browsed on a phone or a laptop, and which past communications they’ve responded to. It will reveal whether they like videos, what regions or activities they’re interested in, what time of year they typically book, and what their price range is.

The next step is to group similar customers together, according to their motivations, messaging and channel preferences. Defining segments will make it possible to decide who to target with specific offers and how to get their attention.

That’s your current database sorted, now you must think about the changes that will need to be made. It’s all very well knowing that a specific segment typically browses summer beach holidays in May and Christmas ski getaways from September, but chances are that won’t apply this year. You need to understand who is looking to make a purchase now, what you can sell them, and how to retain their business in the future.

Re-mapping the customer journey using customer insights

Has your customer booked anything in the last quarter? Was it a high ticket item? Have they made repeat bookings in the past? Have they visited your website or interacted with your app or emails/SMS communications in the past month?

All of these indicators mark them out as someone ready to book if you approach them in the right way, with the right offers or message; that is, a target persona. You’ll want to reach and engage those with habits or characteristics in common with them too. Map (or re-map) your brand journey from the perspective of each persona, paying attention to likely touchpoints, opportunities and pitfalls.

Is your booking or payment method a pain point? Perhaps you should consider offering one-click checkout, capturing store card details, or making the experience more seamless by leaving payment for another time. Ensuring your refund policy is clearly displayed at checkout is a must, and it can’t hurt to lower the price of favored packages to increase the chance of purchase. If your customer tends to shop via the app or across multiple channels, your Single Customer View will come in handy to enable you to transfer information from web to app, or vice versa, to ensure personalization is effective across channels.

Moreover, in these exceptional times, it makes sense to add new touchpoints. Consider attending local events, seeking out partnerships (such as a restaurant discount with a hotel booking), or advertising in local press outlets, or via SMS. Run tests on a portion your target audience and use your analytics software to gauge the ROI before committing to any large outlay.

Relying on your target segments to generate engagement

Using your re-modelled segments, it’s time to get to work personalizing your messaging. If you speak relevantly to travellers and recreation seekers, your assets will resonate and inspire more bookings. The tone, offer and channel should correspond with their preferences. Target them at the time of year/day when they are most likely to book.

Remember, the customer decides their journey, and may interact with you on any channel, at any time. With the right cross-channel marketing technology, such as Upland BlueVenn’s Omnichannel Marketing Hub, you can create responsive, automated campaigns that provide the same experience across email, ads, mobile, web, and offline channels. For example, you can send a customer who has planned a journey on their laptop, but failed to book it, an instant reminder text or push notification with a special offer.

Dynamic campaigns allow you to split your audience further, based on the response of customers to each message on each channel. As Covid-19 regulations shift and consumer habits with them, your customer intelligence must keep pace. Provided it does, you will be able to continually improve your journey and secure those repeat bookings, whatever the current climate.

How a CDP and Omnichannel Marketing Hub has helped Natural Habitat Adventures

Upland BlueVenn counts tour operators like Natural Habitat Adventures and Lindblad Expeditions, hotel chains such as Hotel du Vin and Malmaison, and many other travel and leisure brands as customers. We understand the challenges that these companies have faced (and still do) and we offer technology that empowers the marketing team to discover, understand and engage their customers.

Ted Martens, CMO of Natural Habitat Adventures, said:

We can’t rely on a single marketing channel to deliver us new clients or create repeat clients out of the ones that we’ve had. We have to speak to these people in different ways. Historically, we might have someone come in from a paid online ad, click on seven emails over the time period of six months, maybe visit our website three or four times. All that information is part of our customer journey, and until now, none of it meant anything except for the one that got them to call that day.

Now all that information is at our fingertips through BlueVenn, and the analyses that we can run off that, the way that we can explore those journeys, is unprecedented to us and is going to change the way that we market. From the setting up, to the timing of the delivery of the messaging, to the way that those audiences are further split based on that engagement, it’s all automated within the system. It’s really miraculous how smoothly all of that runs.”

Capturing and acting on customer insights will be key to surviving the pandemic

In a recent Forbes article, Straight to the Points founder Spencer Howard predicted that 2021 will be the year of “revenge travel”. He expects travel and leisure customers will rush to get something, anything, to look forward to in their calendars after their enforced year of inactivity.

Bold travellers will be booking exotic trips for this summer, while others will be reserving such ventures for 2022 or 2023 and spending their excess vacation days on domestic holidays. Either way, there is low-hanging fruit waiting for creative travel & leisure companies that understand which customers are in the market, what they’re looking to buy, and how best to approach them.

The key for businesses growth is to retain these customers in the years to come, and investing in a Customer Data Platform will help marketers to deliver the personalized experiences needed to build long-lasting relationships and secure repeat revenue.

Watch our Natural Habitat Adventures video to learn more about the benefits Upland BlueVenn brings.

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