Understand your audiences and how they book travel. Before bringing partners into the mix, you must first have a fundamental understanding of the audiences that your travel brand intends to target. If you have a variety of offers geared toward different buyer segments (e.g., family vacations, honeymoons, Millennial wanderers), you need to map out the likely customer journey for each of these groups.
Your understanding of each segment should inform your partner strategy. Some segments may be more likely to book or conduct research using their mobile devices, which means you’ll want to identify partners that deliver a good experience via mobile. Likewise, different target audiences can be reached via different types of partners, from influencers and deal-based sites to specialty or luxury travel publications.
Define a comprehensive partner acquisition strategy. Once you understand your target audiences, you need to identify partners that can reach those individuals where they spend their media time. More than likely, it will make sense to start with a set of top partners and then diversify your strategy as needed.
Look to leverage all classes of partners that can efficiently drive strong conversions and brand enhancement.
Create a flexible commission structure that aligns with KPIs. Everyone wants to know how they’ll get paid, so put this point at the top of your planning list. It’s important to develop a commission strategy that rewards your partners for specific business goals, such as new bookings, repeat travelers, gross margin, etc.
Many partner and affiliate programs offer simple commission models built around a flat fee or percentage of sales for each purchase driven by a partner. That’s fine if your KPIs are straight-revenue-based.
But if your goals are more specific or nuanced, your commission structures should be too. Make sure your bonus and commission structures remain flexible enough to accommodate metrics like the ones commonly driven by influencers.
Employ data and real-time insights. Marketers’ data strategies need to extend to their partner programs. To drive the best possible results, you need to understand every step of the travel customer buyer journey. Further, you need rich insight into where, when, why and how people are completing their purchases or bookings.
In the travel industry, real-time insights are more important than ever. Be sure your data feedback loop between your efforts and those of your partners doesn’t have unnecessary delays. The sooner you can act on results and trends, the faster you can optimize your campaigns and drive stronger sales. “Set it and forget it” does not work in today’s fast-paced world of travel marketing. You must always be testing, analyzing, and optimizing.
Form strategic, brand-to-brand partnerships. Finally, don’t hesitate to get creative with your travel partnerships. The brand landscape is rife with product categories that can naturally align with travel marketing. For example, a Hawaiian airline and a retailer of casual clothing united their customer acquisition efforts around a shared passion for the outdoors and a casual beach lifestyle.
All travel marketers can take a page from their playbook by looking for partners where a brand-to-brand alliance can produce win-win results both in terms of sales and brand perception.