Industry Update
Opinion Article13 March 2015

Predicting the Future for Marketing Travel Online

By Alicia Whalen, Co-founder of Online Revealed and a Digital and Social media marketing professional specializing in Travel and Tourism

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In preparation for a special 10th year addition of Online Revealed - the digital marketing conference for travel and tourism, I met with some Canada's top destination marketers, hoteliers and online travel professionals to prepare both an introspective look at the past 10-years in marketing travel online, and a glimpse into where the advancements of digital marketing and technology might bring us next. For Conference Registration and more information visit www.onlinerevealed.com

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I will be joined by a panel of experts on Thursday April 2nd at the 10th annual Online Revealed Digital Marketing Conference to discuss how digital media and technology has impacted consumer marketing for Destinations, Hotel Brands, Online Travel Agencies, Attractions and other Travel suppliers - with a goal to explore what we can learn to be prepared for what will come next.

The first Online Revealed Conference was held in Ottawa Ontario in the Spring of 2005.

This was the first of its kind event dedicated to educating and sharing in best practices for marketing tourism online. In that inaugural event, produced in association with the Canadian Tourism Commission, the conference was focused around Search Engine Optimization, Website usability and development best practices, and more search engine marketing. The industry was just bracing for what was to come as access to WIFI and technology changed the way consumers buy and experience travel.

Fast forward to today where Search, Social and Mobile are only the tip of the iceberg in marketing tourism and travel to an increasingly connected digital consumer.

Reflections from 10-years of change in Marketing Tourism and Travel online

Since 2005, the travel industry has seen changes in how we deliver our products and services like no other time in history. We have had to adjust much faster than other industries as travel-buying behaviour was quick to be influenced by access to the Internet.

Consumers have gone from "being online" to living online, and now research, book, experience and share travel across platforms and multiple devices.

How has this impacted those charged with marketing and selling hotels, destinations, airlines, and attractions?

Through interviews with some of Canada's top tourism industry marketing professionals, I have summarized some of the key trends and challenges we have faced as an industry over the past decade of what we can call a digital convergence of media, and will explore more of what the future holds for tourism marketers on April 2nd 2015 at the 10th Annual Online Revealed Conference.

Lessons Learned

1. The next "Big Thing" can wait.

First we must understand how consumer behavior is shifting with increased time spent online and in consumption of media, and more specifically how this affects our business before investing in new platforms and technology.

Remember Mobile 1st? Web 2.0? These are only a few of the buzz words that have rushed us, maybe too soon into building expensive Mobile APPs, or to investing in Website development, most often without the budget to support it, or a plan to manage it.

Properly vetting digital platforms and technology, as well as long term budgeting for development of digital assets (of any kind) is recommended as we continue to shift more of our budgets to digital, social and mobile media marketing- and in technology required to support it.

2. The importance of Education, on-going Training and Resources required to specialize in Digital Media.

"The shift in digital media both earned and paid has been dramatic – we are now paying more for human talent and less in agency fees and Adspend."
Beverley Carkner, Director Digital Marketing, Ottawa Tourism

In 2015 we are seeing job titles that include Social Media Manager, Digital Marketing manager and Digital Analytics Specialist. None of these existed in 2005.

Today, complex digital and social media marketing require in house resources including analytics specialists, digital media buyers, and web developers that once would be contracted to agencies and consultants. All of those I interviewed have developed larger internal teams, and have also expanded their network of agencies and specialists to keep up with the growth.

What has this taught us? We need to be nimble in building our internal teams and external suppliers. We need to continuously educate and be educated, and we require the support of our agencies and suppliers to keep us up to date now more than ever before.

We also need to look to our educational institutions to ensure we are developing the leaders of the future who will need to become more and more specialized in digital media analytics and digital marketing performance analysis across multiple platforms.

There really are no "experts" just those of us who have held on and shifted quickly – adapting fast to new technology and ways to communicate to our customers.

3. Establishing Best Practices in Measuring ROI in Digital Media

"We could never been able to predict the power of analytics and how it has impacted the way our marketing can perform." 
Carol Alderdice Web Technology, Tourism New Brunswick

We have come into a time where we can measure so much that we have even labeled it "BIG DATA." Digital media is the most measurable marketing medium we have ever seen. In fact, marketing analytics has become an industry into itself.

We have over the years adapted to more standardized metrics with universal analytics solutions like Google Analytics, and other solutions that measure Social Media sentiment, engagement, and whether your customer prefers the colour Blue.

But in 2015, is the enough? Tourism spend and its economic impact needs to be measured beyond website traffic, social shares and to some degree even sales. Efficiency in marketing spend has become more important than ever before as digital marketing continues to become increasingly expensive, cross platform and devices, and Social media and reviews have become critical factors within the consumer path to purchase of travel.

What has had the greatest impact on the travel industry during the past 10 years of Digital?

Social media:

  • Social media has impacted marketing, sales, CRM, revenue management, operations, HR and everything in between.
  • Managing a back and forth communication between customer and brand
  • Tracking brand assets in social media and using Native content effectively
  • Standards in measurement of social and digital and proving ROI
  • Efficiency in managing multiple networks of social media and incorporating social into overall marketing and communications

Development and Management of Digital Media and Platforms:

  • Web content management platforms (CMS) whether open source or proprietary, Mobile platforms and APPs, eCommerce solutions (booking engines and email marketing solutions) Social Media integration and measurement platforms, Responsively designed digital assets, and Social Media communities that can keep up with the rapid changes to Facebook and Twitter only scratch the surface in the long list of responsibilities of the digital marketing professional.
  • The digital convergence of devices and how it has impacted the tactics and media mix has kept us spinning with each new startup, APP or technology that we need just to keep up.

Mobile Access and WIFI Connectivity:

Human and capital resources required in order to keep up with the changing and connected consumer:

  • From how we track the performance of digital media, social media, and mobile marketing, to how we prepare budgets, manage agency relationships, and grow our human resources to support digital media marketing and communications.
  • Research, Benchmarking and Education are key to staying ahead of the digital curve.

What can we expect in the Future, and what have we learned to help us be more prepared over the next 10 years?
Join over 45 DMO's, All Major Hotel Brands, Hotel Management Companies and Attractions for two days of education and networking on March 31st – April 2 in Toronto, at the TELUS Centre for the Performing Arts.

For Conference Registration and more information visit www.onlinerevealed.com

About the Author

Alicia Whalen is the co-founder of Online Revealed and a Digital and Social media marketing professional specializing in Travel and Tourism. An avid Tweeter, lover of travel, technology and the Ah-Ha moments.

Thank you to those who participated in curating this article. Some things are still as good as a phone call!

With contributions from:

Jason Sarracini Vice President and General Manager, Travelzoo Canada, Carol Alderdice and Kim Matthews, Web Technology, Tourism New Brunswick, Kurt Schroeder, Director Sales and Market Development, Banff Lake Louise Tourism, Michael Bower, Director of eCommerce, Marriott International, Tanya Johnson, Internet Marketing Officer, Nova Scotia Tourism, Beverley Carkner, Director Digital Marketing, Ottawa Tourism, Cory Messom, VP Digital Strategy and Innovation, FUEL Advertising

About Online Revealed:

Join tourism and travel professionals from across the country as we look into the future marketing travel to a digitally connected consumer. The Online Revealed Conference will take a retrospective look back, and a predictive look forward into the future of marketing travel and tourism online exploring the lessons we have learned, and the trends and technologies that are shaping the future.

Related Event

Online Revealed Canada


InterContinental Toronto Yorkville — Toronto , Canada
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Alicia Whalen

Alicia Whalen is the co-founder of Online Revealed and a Digital and Social media marketing professional specializing in Travel and Tourism. An avid Tweeter, lover of travel, technology and the Ah-Ha moments.

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