Industry Update
Opinion Article26 July 2019

Email Advertising: The Alternative to OTAs that Puts Travel Providers in Control

By Jeff Kupietzky, CEO of PowerInbox

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Travel providers face a growing dilemma in their relationship with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Travelocity, and others. With some 40% of hotel reservations and airline tickets sold through OTAs, it's a vital channel that consumers recognize as a valuable opportunity to comparison shop and see all of their options in one convenient location.

However, travel providers say OTAs aren't transparent enough for customers. Given the fact that almost all of the major sites are controlled by just two companies--Booking Holdings, Inc. ( and Expedia Group, Inc.—the arrangement doesn't offer quite as much choice as it may seem.

The sticky situation means that hotels and airlines must maintain these relationships, but in doing so, give up a significant amount of control when it comes to owning the customer relationship. Not to mention, they're also at the mercy of OTAs when it comes to targeting and personalizing outreach to customers. As a result, it's tough for travel companies to generate awareness of available flights and hotels. With the OTAs in control, they get to choose whose inventory gets featured and whose doesn't.

Certainly, web advertising, paid search and social media advertising are all reasonable options and should be part of the marketing mix. But, one of the most powerful options—email advertising—is often overlooked by travel providers, which means they could be missing out on valuable opportunities to drive engagement and revenue.

Email Advertising Works

By placing ads in email newsletters, airlines and hotels can directly target their intended audience with precise offers updated at the moment of open. This can help fill unsold inventory quickly with pay-per-click promotions that help providers manage their budget.

What makes email advertising so effective?

  • It's trusted. Thanks to the prevalence of spam, consumers are quite careful when it comes to sharing their email address. That means when they do sign up for an email newsletter, it's because they trust the publisher to provide them with relevant, useful content. In fact, according to a recent survey, trust in the publisher is the number one reason subscribers open and read email newsletters. And, when they trust the publisher, they also trust the advertisers within them. This notion of conveyed trust drives action: 67% of adults say they will click on an ad in an email if they trust the sender. This gives travel companies a powerful advantage when it comes to driving awareness and revenue.
  • It's precise. The browser-based cookies that drive most online advertising are, at best, a best guess at the targeted user. When multiple users share the same device (such as a family all sharing the same tablet or laptop), the cookies that track user behavior get confused, unable to distinguish between an adult or a child, gender, or any other critical targeting data. On the other hand, email addresses are very rarely shared. That allows publishers to build specific, detailed user profiles based on the users' known behaviors. This, in turn, means that travel providers' ads can be delivered more precisely, exactly to their target audience, giving them better bang for their buck.
  • It's opt-in by default. GDPR has thrown a proverbial wrench into the works for advertisers who rely on cookies. Privacy is a major concern for consumers, who want to know exactly how and by whom their data is being used. In response, most of the major browsers now forbid third-party cookies because they have little control over how that data will be used. In contrast, email is opt-in, which practically eliminates the permissions issue. Users who sign up for publishers' email newsletters do wo willingly, giving their permission to receive marketing messages from them. That means the ads travel companies place within those emails are also much more likely to get through, therefore ensuring greater visibility of deals.
  • It's impervious to ad blockers. Out of concern for privacy and bandwidth consumption, many consumers use ad blockers to remove ads from websites, search engines and Facebook. This cuts down substantially on the number of users who see those offers. But, email advertising is unaffected by ad blockers, even for webmail programs. And, consumers are extremely tolerant of email advertising: over half of subscribers say they aren't bothered by ads in email at all, and fewer than a third say ads in email will cause them to unsubscribe.
  • It's flexible. Updating artwork and offers with third-party sites can be a tedious process, forcing travel companies to configure separate ads for each advertising platform. But, by choosing an email advertising provider that integrates with a major ad clearinghouse, such as Google Ad Manager, it's simple to upload artwork once. If and when offers change, simply update the artwork, and the change populates within minutes across every e-newsletter using the network. This saves a tremendous amount of time and streamlines the ad management process.
  • It's geotargeted. Geotargeting is essential in travel advertising in order to reach the right audiences in the right location for your destination or offer. For example, an airline that wants to offer discounts for flights out of Houston will want those ads to go to subscribers in the Houston metro area, not to subscribers in New York. Email enables that precise geotargeting, making it easier for travel providers to reach the most valuable audiences.

As travel providers attempt to find a suitable balance in their delicate relationship with OTAs, adding email newsletter advertising to the marketing mix can provide a reliable, trusted channel to engage with travelers through publishers they already know and trust. By working with a company that provides robust, proven email advertising solutions, hotels and airlines can deliver more precise and more effective offers and have greater control over their ad spend and their relationship with travelers.

Jeff Kupietzky

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