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One of the biggest challenges in the travel industry is dealing with the inevitable booking peaks and troughs throughout the year. Peak season is full, low season is struggling - how do you fill your shoulder months in the most effective way whilst ensuring your high season still continues to thrive?
Every sector in the travel and tourism industry face similar issues including how to best ‘smooth’ the booking curve to fill low season and mid-season spaces with the highest possible revenue. As well as worrying about how to generate bookings more evenly throughout the year you will also need to be attracting bookings at the best price as early as possible. Your business will also need to look at how to efficiently staff areas like shops and call centres for the fluctuating incoming footfall and call flows throughout the year. This can be helped by knowing how to drive more business online, particularly for the more complicated customer journeys which exist within the world of travel.
In Q4, to be one step ahead of the game, marketing plans and strategies need writing, budgets and forecasts need to be prepared. You need to think about your dream scenario and decide upon the best possible strategy to achieve it.
Our travel marketing experts have many years of experience in the industry; both agency and client-side - so we thought we’d share some tactics which you should now be considering to guarantee a successful year ahead to make the booking curve bend in your favour!
One of the first things you should look at is ensuring your online customer journey is as smooth and user-friendly as possible. Whilst booking a complex travel ticket is a high involvement purchase and a lot of customers may still like the security of actually speaking to someone, or booking face to face, increasingly this moving online. We are still staggered at the number of travel websites where UX is poor or things don’t work well on mobile. Fixing basics like this can help you drive as many completed sales as possible through this channel.
Speed matters. Do not underestimate the importance of page speed as every split second makes a big difference!
Optimise for mobiles - according to recent research, Econsultancy reported that travel is the second poorest performing sector for mobile user experience. Make sure you’re not losing bookings that users are trying to make on their mobile devices
Place site search front and centre - travel websites need to focus on the search box as this is the most common task users will carry out whilst online
Ensure you have user-friendly filters for usable site search results. Make it easy for users to get answers to their specific questions as quickly as possible
Consider function as importantly as design - although travel sites like, (and need) to use creative imagery and design, make sure to equally prioritise speed and functionality
Provide shortcuts to reduce the workload - as travel bookings tend to be a long process, consider what shortcuts you can provide to reduce users effort and keep them on your website
Focus on forms - test everything as much as you can to make any task easier and reduce drop outs. Think about using larger input fields to minimise errors, remove unnecessary fields, use a progress indicator, keep forms as short and manageable as possible, and use in-line validation and feedback
Driving and maximising online bookings rather than direct bookings through your call centre or shop will also help staffing. There will be less dramatic increases and decreases in call flows which will minimise staff either sitting idle, or even worse, being overly inundated with calls which, when excessive, can be terrible for customer service.
And you can work to attract new customers who are looking for an easily bookable online process and aren’t concerned about talking to someone in person.
Plus you will save on paying commission to any third party partners. If you happen to be a business who relies on trade partners and are concerned about their reaction if you are seen to be more actively promoting booking directly online, don’t forget to educate them that this won’t be stealing their business, just growing new business!
Make sure all your information is easy to find and consider all available technologies that will answer queries online - look at chatbots, virtual tours and live chat technology if you haven’t already!
Also, think about your online offering and consider incentivising people to book online by guaranteeing the lowest available fare.
Run the right offers at the right time and analyse historical data to understand what product people book and when they book it. If you find, for example, that Wednesdays in November always has lots of availability - make sure you understand the type of people who have historically booked at that time, and at what price so that you can hunt for similar customers.
Value your past and repeat bookers. Offer them added value for booking early - this could smooth out the start of your booking curve. Remind them what a great time they had last time they booked with you. You could consider bringing forward your Turn of Year campaign and launch your EBO (Early Booking Offer) in December instead of January to past bookers and loyalty scheme members. This can be a hugely effective idea with an attractive message to let your customers know they were valued clients and therefore have the first chance at getting the holiday they want at the best price.
Remember clear messaging is key - remind potential customers that once the lead-in price is fully booked, prices will rise. Be visible and transparent, this earns a trust from your customers and will encourage repeat business.
Understand the customer who books outside of peak times so that you can find lookalikes to fill your inventory.
Make sure you understand which are your most profitable and efficient channels. It sounds obvious but by working with your data and your Revenue Management team, you can build a clear picture of where to better focus your efforts, at what time, and at what price. You don’t need to necessarily run all channels concurrently, as they might all perform better at different times.
Also to smooth your booking curve, you can consider shifting your campaign dates, length and time of campaign or day of launch. You can always test it on a small sample to see if it works.
If you have always run the same message at the same time and not changed it during a campaign, it’s now time to consider how well you’re looking after your messaging. For example, if your summer holidays are full of families already, switch your messaging and target couples who will book outside of school holidays. Don’t waste an opportunity to move business into empty stock by targeting different audiences.
Your competitors may well have some great strategies they deploy to fill their low season shoulder months. Thinking back to the point above, with an in-depth understanding of the profile of your customers who book and travel in the quieter months, you can stealthily start to target their customers to switch to your brand. By knowing your competitor you can offer a superior message and using channels like Gmail Sponsored Posts or Facebook, you will be able to get in front of them without attracting too much attention!
This is vital! Work in partnership with your Revenue Management team and Analysts to make sure your dynamic pricing strategy is working hand in hand with your sales and marketing strategy.
As with your Dynamic Pricing, make sure you’re kept in the loop how your inventory is looking. Then you’ll know where your risk areas are, and be able to suitably adjust your tactics for success. This could potentially result in a number of actions including shifting spend around between channels, increasing or decreasing spend, changing your messaging or promoting a different price point.
In summary, manipulating your booking curve in the travel industry can be one of the trickiest challenges you’ll come up against. To succeed, you need to be constantly questioning your tactics, revising your strategies and utilising your invaluable data. Consistently keep up to date with the latest developing technology and emerging channels; and don’t forget that there will always be a solution to your problem if you have the right tools and knowledge in place!
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