Published: 13 December 2016
One advantage of working in a Digital Agency is that we get to experience and discover the birth of trends first-hand. The fact that we work on multiple Travel Marketing projects simultaneously means we are constantly adapting from one scenario to the other, and inevitably, we start to notice patterns - common ground shared between all of our Travel-based clientele… And that inevitably causes us to ‘dream big’ about the future of Travel Marketing, and where digital trends will take both customers and marketers in 2017.
As I’m a) hugely enthusiastic about the relationship between technology & marketing, and b) one of those insufferable types who harps on about how great travelling the world is, I’ve been asked to give my thoughts on where the future of Travel & Digital Marketing lies.
Let's get started.
The Continuing Rise of Voice Search
i.e. Siri, Cortana, Google Now and most recently Amazon Echo.
If you’ve never used your smartphone or tablet for Voice queries, or only used them for a bit of fun and silly questions, you might be surprised at how powerful this tech really is. Just take a look at this list of ‘OK Google’ capabilities. You can imagine how useful these might be if you’re driving, looking for information or a hotel while dragging luggage in an airport and incapable of typing intricate searches into Google.
The key to taking advantage of Voice Search is understanding how search terms are changed. They become more conversational. Instead of searching for “New York Hotel”, a Voice Search query will take the form of a complete question, or command.
“Show me hotels near me.”
“Where can I find a hotel near LaGuardia Airport?”
“I want a New York hotel with a pickup service.”
Google has even stated that Voice-lead queries are far more likely to result in an action from the user, than traditional Mobile-lead searches, making them extremely valuable for marketers. For a very in-depth guide to Voice Search (and an experiment revealing that few brands are taking full advantage), check out my new post on the subject.
For an in-depth guide to Voice Search (and an experiment revealing that few brands are taking full advantage), check out my new post on the subject.
SERPs Continuing to Drive a Customer Journey Without Websites
This year saw even more updates to Google’s Mobile SERPs, which have made it easier for customers to book hotels online, without ever visiting a website.
This all comes down to two things: User Experience, and Structured Data. While a website is important, Google allows users to skip navigating through your own timetables and booking forms, in order to give users a quicker option. Google does it this way, because their SERPs allow you to choose date parameters, segment certain aspects (distance, “cheap”, etc), and then make a call by touching a result from the list.
Even if the user doesn’t visit your website, you’re still getting the business. The catch is: You only stand to get included in that list if you’re playing by Google’s rules. And Google prefers Structured Data.
Google is even taking offline browsing into consideration with the recent launch of Google Trips, an offline travel-planning app. Which brings us to…
Progressive Web Apps Providing an Online Service… Offline
If you haven’t heard about Progressive Web Apps yet, think about how native mobile apps do things like send push notifications, and offer a streamlined experience to customers. The appeal of PWAs is that they don’t require a user to manually install them. Instead, they are downloaded in the background and instantly accessible, ensuring that customers immediately receive the best user experience you can offer.
What's more, they allow for users to continue browsing your website and features offline, which is immensely useful for travellers/mobile users losing signal, or relying on an airports poor Wi-Fi. Air Berlin took advantage of this by utilising a PWA to let users navigate to and access their boarding pass on mobile or laptop, even if online service was not available, making boarding a much smoother experience for travellers.
The technology driving PWAs has existed for quite a few years, however it is Google’s recent push towards supporting them in Chrome that has inspired travel brands to start taking advantage. Today, only a handful of travel websites utilise PWA technologies, partly due to the fact that iOS does not yet support them. There is a chance this could change in 2017, which means PWAs could become part of the essential package for any travel website overnight.
Virtual Reality Will Become a Bigger Part of Ours
2016 is the year people truly started to notice and get excited about VR, even if it's not completely taken over yet. Plenty of Influencers and conference speakers have stated that “VR will change Travel Marketing”, and yet whenever I speak with others in my industry, it's obvious that they don’t truly believe in it yet.
Which is completely understandable, of course. “The Next Big Thing You MUST Invest In” pops up all the time in Marketing, and there are plenty of obstacles that VR must get past in order to become a truly mainstream technology, and a viable tool in Travel Marketing. But here's the thing: It is already happening. With both Facebook and YouTube allowing for 360 content, VR is virtually (ahem) designed for cultivating upstream interest from potential customers, and engagement and retention are always high. What more could you ask for?
Google, Facebook and Microsoft are betting big on VR, with a whole range of models available, which means more customers are going to be entering VR for the first time. As the user base grows, as does the potential for for travel brands to take advantage. Check out our existing article about 7 travel brands harnessing the power of VR.
Fortunately, you needn’t have a team of 3D modellers or developers working for weeks to appeal to that user base. The advent of 360 Cameras hitting the market makes producing VR Content much easier, and cheaper, than one might think.
Finally, with Mobile-VR headsets now becoming lighter and more comfortable than ever, I predict that higher-end flights will begin offering mobile-VR headsets for in-flight entertainment, which again means VR content could be a big winner for brands that take advantage. I know I’d like to “take a look around” the local restaurants or bars near my hotel before I’d arrived, and I’m sure I’m not alone there.
If you spend any part of your day browsing LinkedIn, chances are you’ve seen this chestnut (or a variant) shared a few times:
While some of these points are a bit flimsy (Netflix produces a great deal of its own content), it is true that more and more businesses are moving towards crowdsourced services and catering to savvy customers who will put in the work to seek out a deal. We’ve seen in recent years that customers are less and less likely to purchase a travel package from one retailer or travel agent, instead opting to create their own holiday from piecemeal sources.
Brands like AirBnb and JustPark cater to a demographic who are capable and willing to put in the extra work dealing with multiple businesses, just to make sure their holiday offers the best value. This is particularly true for the M-Word - Millennials.
AirBnb, JustPark and Uber all take advantage of people’s existing assets, so future travel brands will appear whenever there's a new asset to utilise. With self-driving vehicles becoming commercially available very soon, perhaps the future will see owners of self-driving cars programming sightseeing routes into their GPS, offering to rent out their automated tour guide to tourists. It is clear that we will see more of these brands emerge and capitalise on this trend, with giants like Google and Facebook looking to buy them and become the de-facto aggregate option for travellers.
Lastly, I would like to offer my thoughts on a common question about VR: “Will VR or AR replace travel entirely?”
My answer to this is: Maybe, but only if it ever offers a better experience than actual travel (which I doubt will happen). Rather, I think VR can offer a better experience for travel customer journeys. Let me give you an example of how this can happen.
Recently I spent 2 hours in Google Earth VR, flying around the world and viewing places I’d been to, countries I’d lived in, and countries I want to visit in the future. Watch this preview video and imagine what kind of actions I’d take if this was a mobile-VR marketing app, with location and star review icons popping up for local hotels and attractions…
Being able to visualise my destination and surrounding hotels in this manner is not just a novelty. It is far more useful to a customer. In VR, it's far easier to picture how long it might take me to travel from a prospective hotel to the nearest train station, landmark, beach etc. Customers aren’t interested in taking the Travel Agent at their word anymore - they seek out reviews and information they can trust, so being able to see with their own eyes if a villa truly is “just a stones throw away from the beach” makes VR a very useful customer tool. We’ll likely see Google take current SERP data into consideration for a VR-travel tool like this, which makes structured data and encouraging user reviews more important than ever.
Brands that invest in these trends will become frontrunners in Travel Marketing, and we @ Sagittarius look forward to joining them.
What do you think? Do you disagree with my predictions, or do you have your own you’d like to share? Throw us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or share this blog on Social Media with your thoughts.