Article by Henry Woodman, president of IcePortal.

It’s hard to find any business better suited for the internet than travel and hospitality. What industry can show “pretty pictures”, display the cost, collect money, send a confirmation email and wait for you to show up?

Not to minimize the complexity of travel technology but, let’s be honest, the consumer could care less.

So what exactly is the consumer looking for?

Specifically, according to internet psychologist Graham Jones, the leisure traveler is looking for one of two things – an escape or new experiences. The challenge for travel marketers is to effectively inspire, educate and motivate consumers with various online tools to show value for money spent.

Brain research demonstrates that human eyes are capable of registering 36,000 visual messages per hour, and 80% of information absorbed by the brain is visual in nature.

Therefore, it is critical that travel marketers consider the significant role visual factors play in both online and offline sales. Considering the sheer number of marketing messages that we are bombarded with on a daily basis, the goal is product differentiation.

According to Wikipedia, product differentiation is defined as: “… the process of distinguishing a product or offering from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market”.

Your differentiators or USPs (unique selling propositions) should be something that is of value to your target consumer.

Three steps to help you differentiate:

  • Identify your target customer. It’s impossible to be everything to everyone. As the expression goes, “one size does not fit all, one size fits one.” Imagine creating a marketing strategy that appeals to honeymooners as well as families – good luck.
  • Identify what your target customer finds valuable. Once you’ve identified your target customer, find out their likes and dislikes. If you can satisfy the customer’s likes (eg. a secluded, quite escape), that becomes part of your overall value proposition, a differentiator, or unique selling proposition.
  • Create attractive visuals that resonate emotionally with your target customer. Now that you have identified your target consumer and what they value, show them what they want to see. Let the visuals “talk” to the target consumer in terms that clearly shows your value.

Putting price aside for the moment, visuals are the most important element to market and sell travel.

That was true before the internet, and is even more so for any internet marketing strategy. The web still offers a cost effective storefront (website) that can be accessed by almost two billion people (28.7% global penetration and growing) that are online 24/7/365 and your goal is to get your best visuals in front of as many of your target eyeballs as possible.

This means your website, your brand website, the OTA websites, social networks, everywhere!

According to a recent study by Cornell University on the so-called billboard effect, almost 75% of the traffic that booked on a hotel brand website visited an OTA prior to making the purchase, and three to nine of those bookings, were directly influenced by the OTA listing. The take away: a listing on the OTAs, will generate more bookings (on your site and the OTA).

Furthermore, if you have high quality, large photos, videos and/or 360-degree tours on your website and on the third party sites you will generate more booking, period.

Take a moment to audit your current visual assets (photos, 360-degree panoramic images, videos, slide shows). Do your visuals provide a good representation of the property, the rooms, and the differentiators?

If not, make it a priority – at the very least, update the photos. Consumers want to see the actual hotel and the rooms they can book – they should be able to clearly imagine themselves there. Primary benefits of rich visuals are to increase traffic to your website and improve look-to-book conversion.

It’s tempting to break out your digital camera and snap some images of the property, but customers can tell the difference between photographs taken by professionals and those that weren’t, and perception becomes their reality.

Quality visuals will create a positive and lasting impression of the property that helps customers decide where to book. Even a slight increase in the percentage of bookings from rich visuals shows a significant increase on your bottom line.

Let’s connect the dots. Consumers seeking a vacation are looking for rich visual content to help them understand the value. The visuals keep them more engaged with your property, no matter what site it is on. If the visuals are enticing enough, they will do some research on your property – read reviews, go to your website to find more information and rates.

If the same rich visuals are shown everywhere, the consumer gets more comfortable and will book the room.

Bottom line, creating high quality videos and/or 360 tours to show on your website as well as the travel sites selling your property delvers tremendous benefits. Studies have shown:

  • Total unique visitors to the hotel website will increase an average of 13%.
  • Rich content click-through (to booking engine) rates 4 to 5 times more than static images.
  • Rich content generates post-impression activity (return visits) rates twice those for non-rich content and 46% more sales for those activities compared to non-rich content.
  • The bounce rate (number of visitors abandoning site after viewing only one page – home page or landing page) improves by more than 5 percentage points.

Rich content is no longer a “nice to have” – it has become a “need to have” element in travel marketing strategy. Technology has made it easy for travel suppliers to create spectacular, rich content at a cost that will not break the budget.

It’s your image, how do you want prospects to “see you”!?


NB: Image via Shutterstock.


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