Personalization and Travel: Delighting your Customers all the Way!



Today’s travelers have a world of opportunity available to them at the touch of a button. Their social media streams are filled with images and opportunities to visit places both near and far. In this “choose- your-own adventure” landscape, travelers may want to book a weekend with extended family or indulge in a week-long cooking class at Julia Child’s former home in the South of France.

The way world travels today, has changed. In this mobile-first world, consumers want to be in control. They’re likely to start research via a smartphone and complete the task later on a laptop — maybe. They want to compare flights, hotels, and excursions on OTA’s, websites, and social media on whatever device is at hand.

This comparison stage can last days or weeks with dozens of touchpoints. Google tells us that search intent narrows once flights are booked. Once the destination is chosen, then it’s natural to look for tours, restaurants, and other activities.

Anything is possible and it all offers online travel companies plenty of opportunity to offer customers personalized and relevant content in this fast-paced, mobile-first world.

However, those opportunities also bring a set of challenges for travel brands.

 Some of those challenges include:

  • Legacy systems with data silos make it difficult to understand customer behavior and create a seamless transition
  • Personalizing relevant content across devices
  • Optimizing the time content is sent to stimulate an action
  • Using data to understand (and predict) a customer’s behavior
  • Lack of marketing attribution
  • How to incorporate machine learning and AI into actionable insights

With a lack of clear data visualization, actionable analytics, and little channel integration, it’s no wonder so many online travel companies are losing out on customers.

Your customers are using email, SMS, websites, and social media. They want their interactions to be intuitive and easy for them. Yet, marketing silos give off a disjointed, clunky, one-size-fits-all feel that doesn’t align with the way travel customers use the web.

They browse destinations and hotels, read articles, view photos, and even shop for clothing related to their destination. Such behavior leaves dozens of breadcrumbs along the way, and in many ways, changes the customer lifecycle for online travel businesses.

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In order to harness these opportunities, it’s important to a) understand the user lifecycle and b) have the tools to use this information.

The solution is smart automated marketing. It should feel personalized and based on individual preferences and behavior patterns. Marketing automation using machine learning and AI offers such always-on, real-time marketing through multiple channels.

In the following sections, you’ll see how marrying the customer journey with well-timed marketing automation, improves the customer experience and makes for more loyal customers.

Lifecycle of an online travel business customer

When you understand what the customer wants, how they want it, and you have the technology to meet their needs, then it’s much easier to fulfill their expectations. Part of that insight comes from understanding the user lifecycle. Also called the customer journey, you can break it into four distinct phases:

1. Awareness and Acquisition

Are you showing up in the places where your customers are looking? How can you take more control of this stage of the customer lifecycle and how can you use it to connect with and encourage your prospective customers to do business with you and refer you to others?

2. Engagement

Once you have their attention, how can you use data to create dynamic personalized and timely content? The travel business is competitive and customers aren’t known for their loyalty. Yet, by capturing customer data and using it to create a hyper-personalized automated response, businesses can increase their bookings.

For example, if someone searches airline itineraries but doesn’t book, do you have a system that “taps” them again with relevant content within minutes? One company found that implementing such automation increased its engagement by 115%.

3. Monetization

If you had strong, data-driven customer profiles and dynamic, personalized content, do you think it would be easier for your prospects to become customers? It is possible to create a clear path to sale for your customers which makes it easier to forecast your numbers. Smart marketing automation makes it easier to find, track, and engage with your customers based on their habits and preferences.

4. Retention

Boost your Customer Lifetime Revenue (CLV) by retaining your hard-won customers. As you know, customer acquisition is costly – 5-7 times more expensive than re-engaging your previous customers.

Establish data-driven KPI’s to send personalized and relevant messages at the right frequency. Smart automation improves push notifications and email deliverability via automation.

Lifecycle of an online travel business customer

Stage 1: Awareness and Acquisition

The travel industry is a $5.28 trillion-dollar business. (According to 2017 numbers shared by industry publication TravelWeek.)

Just as consumers expect to pick and choose their entertainment via streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify, they also expect to pick and choose their travel. Everything from preferred flight times and destinations to activities tailored to their interests.

If you’re an airline, OTA, or another part of the online travel business, then you know how fragmented the industry has become in the past decade and you know that without strong data management, it’s difficult to personalize and automate emails and notifications.

There are three trends in travel that online travel agencies, airlines, tour operators, and rental companies can capitalize on.

  • Service
  • Personalization
  • Luxury

Once hallmarks of elite travel, machine learning and artificial intelligence now  make these accessible to every online business business. It’s all about collecting customer data and building the marketing platform to use it.

Skift shared results from Adobe’s North American 2018 Summit, “The survey confirmed that younger travelers view personalized experiences as an expectation when choosing their favorite travel brands. “Millennials in the 25 to 34-year-old demographic are less likely to be impressed versus having an expectation around travel experiences,” said Julie Hoffmann, Adobe’s head of industry strategy for travel. “These global travelers are setting the bar as they move into the primary travel demographic over the next 10 years.”

The first step is making the customer journey feel seamless. Whether they first “meet” your brand via social media, your website, or OTA, brands that master cross channel marketing have an advantage.

For example, according to econsultancy, one travel customer had 850 touchpoints over a three-month mark. She looked at maps, airlines, restaurants, and more with 24% of these touchpoints via mobile.

850 touchpoints.

Some of those touchpoints were likely top of funnel content like blog posts, photos, and video. All requirements for today’s content-hungry public for building awareness and opportunities for acquisition.

She is also likely to look at content via multiple channels and with multiple devices. Legacy systems tend to operate in data silos. Separate data points for email, website, and social make it difficult to create a 360 degree of the customer.

Of course, that brings us to the customer. Who is she? What matters to her? What type of content does she want and when?

Take the case of a theoretical traveler named Lucy.

Lucy is a 35-year-old professional who has decided to take a luxury getaway to Tulum, Mexico. Part of the growing number of solo female travelers, Lucy wants to enjoy the flavor of Tulum and have a relaxing getaway. While there; she wants to take a few yoga classes, eat well, and visit the nearby Mayan ruins.

She doesn’t want to take a pre-packaged tour but she’s not opposed to meeting up with like-minded people for a meal or two while there. She wants to stay in an independent boutique hotel with a good spa and yoga classes. She wants a view of the ocean and restaurants within walking distance.

Her priorities include convenience and luxury. She spends two months researching options before finally consulting with a travel advisor that she met via social media (and through a friend’s recommendation.)

In the next section, we’ll come back to our theoretical traveler and demonstrate ways you can use technology to meet each of her objectives and capture the sale.

For now, let’s return to the idea of the sales funnel or customer lifecycle.

In this case, Lucy decides to take herself on a trip. She chooses Tulum because she knows several people who’ve been there and it’s an easy, direct flight from Philadelphia where she lives.

She knows it’s famous for beaches, good food, and wellness activities because her Instagram feed is full of pictures from the area.

Lucy’s initial interest represents the awareness stage. Once she knows about a place, combine that with the desire for a tropical, mid-winter getaway that’s easy to reach from her area and it’s no wonder that her “aha” moment may think, “Tulum.”

She starts browsing flights on her smartphone. But she doesn’t buy yet. With the right technology in place however, you don’t have to lose her. Instead, you can retarget Lucy.

With machine learning and AI, Lucy’s actions online go beyond tracking how long she spends on a site and what pages she views. It marries that data with her demographics and location and compares it to other people with similar characteristics and interests. That way, the content she’s served is considered the best match.

While creating customer profiles are not new ideas, they’re more essential than ever due to today’s fragmented market.

The more data points, the better the personalization. The more cross-channel marketing, the more seamless the experience is for Lucy. Personalization and cross channel communication leads to good customer service.

From discovery via app stores (a primary way of getting found) to customer targeting and retargeting there are many ways to attract new customers. Then, as users become aware of your brand, you want to help them take the next steps which is encouraging them to download your app and provide their email address.

Of course, prospects can find also find you through organic discovery which is usually a combination of smart SEO and content marketing strategies combined with visible banners and on-page incentive to download an app.

In all about providing your prospect with the information they’re looking for through their preferred channels.

Statista tells us that mobile is expected to nearly triple by 2021. It’s no surprise that millennials (and Gen Z) expect to be able to accomplish most everything on their smartphones. That’s behavior only going to increase in the coming years so it makes sense that having a mobile first strategy is a strategic move in the buyer journey. 

Other strategies for awareness and acquisition include influencer marketing, PR, and email marketing.

Websites and apps optimized with machine learning and AI can craft dynamic responses that send relevant, and timely messages to users based on their actions shorten the sales cycle. From testing colors, layout, messaging, timing of delivery, these “evolutionary algorithms” make for sophisticated marketing that makes your future customers feel recognized and valued.

It’s this type of a customer-centric, multipronged approach that incorporates machine learning and AI that will help online travel businesses can lower their acquisition costs.

Which brings us to engagement.

Stage 2: Engagement

According to Deloitte’s U.S. Consumer 2019 U.S. Travel and Hospitality Outlook, “It will be an exciting time in 2019 for carriers to drive creatively around revenue management. Technology and techniques are evolving quickly—with some travel suppliers already leveraging new pricing engines to update fares as quickly as every 15 seconds.

But for all its potential, dynamic pricing is not a simple plug-and-play solution. For many carriers, reaching this level of sophistication requires structural change in data management processes and integration with legacy and siloed operating functions such as sales, marketing, and operations. For example, many airlines need to build real-time integration between CRM and revenue management systems.” 

Email Engagement Lesson From Hello Travel

Hello Travel sells holiday packages that usually include flights, hotels, and include discounts. Their challenge was they were manually handling their email campaigns. They didn’t have an automated system for customer segmentation and while they knew that sending preference based emails would likely drive business, they didn’t have a system to do it efficiently.

By implementing a logical, automated, systematic follow up email campaign, HelloTravel boosted their click rates by 115%.

It starts with a prospect in the beginning stages of browsing a travel package but not booking. However, you did capture the prospect’s email address which means you can send an automated follow up just 30 minutes later based on his preferences.

Marketing Automation workflow of HelloTravel

It works like this. The customer is browsing travel packages, gave email address but didn’t book.

30 minutes later, he receives an email with travel packages to the destination the prospect was browsing. The result? A 115% boost in click rate and 25% increase in open rates.

ROI of HelloTravel Marketing Automation Campaign

This type of data-driven insights skillfully combined with a smart machine learning and artificial intelligence marketing platform enhances the user experience. It’s relevant and personalized for the user and the automation makes it scalable.

Let’s return to our Tulum traveler for an illustration.

Lucy searches for boutique hotels in Tulum. She’s attracted by the upscale rustic look with flowing curtains that look over the blue-green Caribbean Sea. She sees one that has a strong yoga program in an ocean view yoga studio and a spa with treatments derived from local Mayan wellness practices.

But she doesn’t book.

Instead, she keeps looking because she wants to see what else is nearby and she’s not ready to make a decision yet.

When you have a centrally managed marketing automation platform, then you can build highly personalized offerings for Lucy that help her move to the next stage in the customer journey just like Hello Travel does.

Let’s look at another travel company to see their results.

Enhance Email Deliverability, Reduce Churn and App Uninstall Rate

Another travel company, Ease My Trip boosted ROI by 275X and contributed to 4.5% of flight business due to sending relevant and deliverable notifications within 15 minutes.

To enhance email delivery rates, we experimented with subject lines and optimized send times. We also used SmarTech’s Push Amplification to improve deliverability and engagement.

If a user searches flights for example, reaches the payment page, and doesn’t buy, then a push notification 15 minutes later offers an incentive to return and complete the purchase.

Customers dropping from flight search page to entering personal details page

If they start filling in traveler information but doesn’t complete the payment process, then a few minutes later, they receive another notification.

Customers dropping from personal details page to payment page

At every step of the customer journey, from browsing to payment abandonment, well-timed and relevant push notifications help move the prospect to the purchase stage. Ease My Trip boosted ROI by 275%.

Best of all, it feels seamless and personalized to the customer.

Hyper-personalized browser notifications and SMS campaign

Stage 3: Monetization

Personalization is more than a buzzword in the travel industry. In an increasingly fragmented world, it’s not only desired but expected by today’s travelers. This expectation will only increase as the millennials and Generation Z mature because it’s the world they’ve grown up in.

It’s also been tough to do at scale.

Until now.

Fortunately, with a single platform that makes it easy to see a prospect’s behavior across channels, you can harness the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver a personalized message via the right channels.

“The future travel brand isn’t therefore just about moving people from A to B, unveiling new destinations, or organizing trips. Instead it is about a thoroughly progressive, completely 360 degree view of the traveler and everything that goes into creating special, unique, memorable experiences.”  Defining the Future of Travel through Intelligence

Consider those push notifications mentioned above. Those push notifications allow you to track your prospect’s behavior. You can know where they click and how long they stay on the content. This gives you the ability to provide the type of content your prospect wants in a timely fashion.

Of course, if the consumer remains anonymous, you can re-target. Consider the anonymous user who browses Thailand packages and you’re able to show them ads for Thailand vacations the next day.

Re-targeting website visitors using browser push notifications

As you can see, the average delivery rate is 65% with an average click thru rate of 4%. Such numbers provide a needed antidote to typical deliverability problems.

The well-known travel agency, Thomas Cook increased revenue by 2.5% and push notification delivery by 44% through advanced segmentation (even anonymous prospects as you can see above) and actionable analytics.

The travel brand wanted to:

  • Improve lead conversion rate
  • Engage with existing customers
  • Retarget anonymous leads
  • Cross-sell and upsell to existing customers
  • Reduce acquisition costs

Advanced customer segmentation based on past behavior helped them go deeper with their customer’s preferences.

Advanced segmentation for relevant targeting

Actionable cross channel analytics helped them set up if/then scenarios that led the customer to the next logical action.

Cross-channel marketing automation journeys

Before implementing this data-driven marketing platform, the travel brand relied on call centers to make their sales. As a result, they’d lose customers if the calls weren’t answered quickly enough and they weren’t targeting digital users.

Now, they can re-target anonymous users with online push notifications and trigger email and SMS messages for registered users.

Today’s customers want to feel empowered and “want a friction-less flow of information between multiple channels.” (emarketer) No surprise there.

If you can offer a seamless, cross channel experience that offers options that match the buyer profile, you’ll have the advantage over other travel businesses. Another point of consideration is expanding the customer’s opportunity to do business with you.

Skift says “TripAdvisor’s experiences, restaurants and home rentals segment contributed 26 percent of the company’s total revenue of $1.59 billion.”

Skift’s Dennis Schall echoes this statement saying “online travel agencies will be around a decade from now, but food, activities, and rides will be a lot more important to them and their customers…”

By including engaging content that offers ideas for things to do in an area or home rentals, online travel businesses broaden their opportunities for connecting with the customer, helping them co-create their ideal trip, and boosting their revenue.

With AI-enabled marketing automation, you can create offers to those who’ve browsed your website. You can send special offers and reminder messages to those who’ve given you permission. You can retarget anonymous leads.

Cross-channel marketing automation journey creatives

And you can do it at scale.

McKinsey senior partner Alex Dichter spoke at the Google Executive Travel Form where he made three important points.

Embrace the customer journey – and make it easier for the customer to buy by providing them opportunities to explore and feel happy – not anxious – when they purchase.

Invest in your digital capabilities – technology is constantly changing and “best-of-class” companies know they must continually evolve. Brands consolidate but those who nurture and retain customers will stand to improve their ROI.

Stage 4: Retention

In this blog, you’ve seen ROI’s of 275%, increased deliverability of 44%, and the way AI-powered insights can drive business.

You’ve seen that gaining a 360 degree view of your customer and enabling a smart, cross-channel marketing approach can turn browsers into buyers.

Machine learning and AI capabilities enable you to scale this approach to thousands of customers. Next, you’ll want to develop a user retention strategy that brings your customers back over and over.

The reasons why are simple:

  • Lower acquisition costs
  • Higher revenue
  • Strong customer retention is likely to generate referrals

To help establish your key business objectives, you can ask the following questions:

  • What’s the average CLV of each new customer?
  • How do they find your brand in the first place?
  • What channels do they use to engage?
  • What content is most popular? How long do people engage with it?
  • How many touchpoints are typical?

Such questions will help you map relevant content and a suitable workflow geared towards their needs. When you have a clear view of your customer’s behaviors and integrate them across channels and with dynamic content relevant to their interests, it shortens the customer journey. Not by jumping straight to the transaction but by as McKinsey’s Alex Dichter said, “…help consumers to explore, to choose, and to feel great about their purchases.”

One way you can keep them as customers is to send re-engagement messages.

Re-Engagement Emails

For many years, they’ve often disappeared into spam or promotions tabs – never to be seen by your intended recipient, but with improved deliverability they’re driving new business.

Re-engagement Emails

Combine email with Browser Push Notification and SMS and it’s more effective than ever to re-engage your customers through notifications.

Example of marketing automation workflow

Now that you have an idea of what’s possible with today’s AI-enabled marketing automation, you can see how it can help your travel business.

Download the guide – How to Woo Today’s Traveller – The Complete Guide to Marketing Automation for The Travel Industry


As you can see, online travel businesses that harness the power of machine learning and AI within their marketing platforms will lead the way in the next era of optimization. From a 360 degree view of your customer, to real-time push amplification with relevant and timely content to efficient cross-channel marketing automation, Smartech can help you achieve your business goals. To know more details, get in touch with us today!

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Rohit Srivastav

Rohit Srivastav

Rohit leads the growth team at Netcore. He is deeply interested in everything that concerns martech, mobile marketing, and SaaS. His innate curiosity and ability to find order in chaos always brings him to the most passionate team of go-getters.

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