Building A Travel Brand Starts, And Can End, Online

Successful branding doesn’t begin at the airline gate. It starts online with an easy website, personalized service, strong loyalty channels and a good media strategy.

Digital branding firm Maxymiser, in its Multichannel Travel Study, looked at how consumers are using online and mobile to look and book for travel including flights, hotels, cars, and vacation packages. The study, for which data was garnered last fall via survey, hones in on how personalized and customized digital platforms impact loyalty, engagement and revenue.

The key takeaway is that brand value starts with — and can make or break — the online experience. 

Generally, the study found that about 45% of the 1,000 respondents use a combination of desktop and mobile sites and apps to build their travel plans, though most, about 46%, use desktop sites only. And 83% say they are most comfortable using their computers, versus 12% for smartphones and 5% for tablets. 

Forty-six percent respondents think personalization is an important component of both online research and booking experience. Personalization was also the number-two response on a percentage basis (24%) to a query about what constitutes the most important aspect of a positive experience when researching or booking online travel. Number one was easy site navigation (34%).

The fact that the study showed big shifts in media engagement choices in the first half of 2013 versus the second half shows how fluid and personalized travel-sector media buys have to be. In the first half, only 5% of car rentals were purchased on desktop, versus 16% in the second half. Flight and hotel bookings on desktops dropped by half in the second quarter. Also, 48% of desktop and laptop users bought multiple products and packages while about three quarters of mobile users purchased a single product.

Loyalty programs are huge commerce drivers. The Maxymiser study found that 68% of respondents said said loyalty incentives influence their final decision in the reservation process. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said loyalty programs influence purchase decision. "By creating travel reward programs that are personalized, meaningful and useful to the traveler based on real-time data and insights, travel marketers will create a deeper and stronger connection with consumers," said the report. 

On the content side of the equation, reviews and ratings (34%), promotions and discounts (32%), and package and property descriptions (14%) were the top influencers. 

The study also suggests that a badly structured web site means lost volume, probably because people see that experience as a proxy for the physical one. Only 62% percent of respondents said they would book again in the future if they had a bad experience online.

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