Click And Fly

Well, it's Thanksgiving week, officially the busiest time of year to travel. Sure, peak travel time brings significant frustration. However, the thought of home-cooked turkey and all the fixings are on just about everyone's mind.

Those of us who are advertisers and marketers have a lot to be thankful for. Despite the anxiety of past and potential terrorist attacks, the online travel industry is booming. According to the Travel Industry Association, there are approximately 90 million online travelers--about 44 percent of the U.S. adult population. Two-thirds (66%) of online travelers, or 59.4 million U.S. adults, used the Internet to make travel plans in the last year.

How are users finding out about airline schedules, airports, ticket prices and the like? To no surprise, 77% of those surveyed are using search engines as their first stop in the online travel planning process. Company-run Web sites and destination sites are also popular (used by 63 percent each). And online travel agency sites are used by over half (52%) of online travel planners.



So let's talk revenues. EMarketer predicts online advertising revenues to double over the next three years, with next year's revenues predicted to hit $80 billion. Travel accounts for 24% of this market-including online ads, search, and e-mail marketing.

If the numbers are so great, then what's the problem? Well, online travelers are used to hopping from site to site. They know how to navigate and seek out the best fares, most flexible schedules, etc. If you are a brand marketer or advertiser, it is critical to brand your company, site or service. For instance, take a look around at all the major travel sites. From booking engines to airline sites to travel agency Web sites, they all look pretty much the same.

Some solutions: Find ways to personalize your site. Make it sticky so users will come back. Offer e-mail sign-ups for users to get information on sales, promotions and the like. Consider enabling mobile apps, too. For instance, users type in their mobile numbers on the site, then any schedule change or update is sent via SMS to users' phones, bringing a positive brand association.

The eMarketer report broke out online revenues for airline tickets, lodging, rental cars, vacation packages, Amtrak, and cruises. Within that group, online revenues for airline tickets were the strongest, with projected revenues of $32.8 billion this year, according to Forrester Research data cited in the eMarketer report. Hotel revenues came in second, with only $16.4 billion, half the projected revenues of airline tickets.

Why do you think hotel revenues are so far behind? Well, it seems consumers (even those online travel planners) pick up the phone to make hotel bookings. If you have used a hotel site you'd know why. They are often hard to navigate. It also seems that many sites don't have the most updated information. For instance, a site may say that there are 10 rooms left, but when you get to the booking engine (often times many clicks away), you find there are no rooms left. Traveling with someone who is disabled and needs special room accommodations? Children or a group of people? Few sites allow any areas to input this critical information. I hate to admit it, but a live person is often better and more effective for making a hotel booking.

So, lots to think about when it comes to cutting through the clutter in the online travel space. In the meantime, if you are changing hats to the role of the traveler this week, do it safely--and have a happy Thanksgiving.

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