As 2018 looms closer, fall marks the period when travel brands, tour operators, destination marketing organizations and travel agents all race to set strategy for the year ahead. It couldn’t be a more exciting time to be in the travel industry given the amount of rapid and disruptive change, new technologies and evolving challenges for breaking through to capture and hold consumer attention.

And while the travel industry tends to be notorious for lagging on the digital marketing innovation front, there are some core areas that I think will scale and accelerate quickly in 2018. Take it, leave it, here are my predictions for digital marketing travel trends in the year ahead.

1. Advanced Personalization and Machine Learning

While personalization has been around for years, there are significantly varying degrees of how personalization is being adopted and tested within the travel industry. Nonetheless, thanks to the likes of Amazon, consumer expectations have shifted rapidly around delivering accurate and tailored experiences and product recommendations. The right content, to the right audience, in the right format, delivered at the right time is no longer a “nice to have” but rather an essential part of any travel brand’s customer journey.

From manual testing, to tools such as Optimizely, to more advanced machine learning software such as Monetate and Evergage, the need for creating personalized web experiences is ripe to scale quickly.

2. SEO Hyperfocus

From Penguins and Pandas to Freds and RankBrains, the world of search engine optimization is always top of mind for marketers. And while predicting Google’s next algorithm shift is nearly impossible, it is imperative that your brand moves rapidly to adjust as quickly as possible as new Google algorithm updates roll out.

I’d encourage every travel marketer to take a deep dive on the following reads from Backlinko (Moz’s blog is always great as well!) to make sure you are aligned for a strong SEO strategy in the year ahead:

The Definitive Guide to SEO in 2018

Video SEO:  The Definitive Guide

Link Building for SEO:  The Definitive Guide

3. Deeper Micro-Influencer Engagement

With print circulation in decline along with decreasing media/PR opportunities, influencer engagement continues to present evolving opportunities for brands to drive relevant and impactful outreach to target customers. While bigger brands will have the budgets to engage the upper echelons of influencers commanding high value engagements, small to midsize travel brands are seeing strong impact with micro- influencers.

PNWonderland_Instagram

Though the reach of micro-influencers is often nowhere near that of a big media outlet, famous blogger or celebrity, the payoff is delivered in the direct and personal connection these individuals have with their communities. In the end, brands can work with micro- influencers on flexible proposals around engagements and have input into creative direction while not breaking the bank and still reaching the right target audience.

4. Beefed Up Brand Publishing

It’s time to move beyond the blog. Sorry, but haphazardly posting an article that “feels right” once in awhile with no clear data-driven strategy or end goals just won’t cut it anymore. In 2013, I penned this article outlining 5 Steps to Becoming a Stellar Brand Publisher.

While vendors may change, the theory and approach remain the same. In order to create a robust storytelling travel brand that builds an emotional connection with your target audience, you need to have a scalable brand publishing strategy (Here is another great way to think about scaling your publishing content strategy). Furthermore, you need to commit to testing, analyzing data and optimizing based on article engagement results.

The end goal?

  • Increase brand relevancy and connection to your target audience by being an authoritative and credible resource around shared values and interests
  • Fuel deeper engagement by incorporating partners and influencers to support credibility behind your brand
  • Drive efficient engagement via targeted distribution (social ads, native ads, paid search, etc.)
  • Increase retargeting and look-a-like ad pool while improving organic search rankings around targeted keywords which of course, drive increased sales

Win, win, win, WIN.

5. Paid Social Explosion

As travel brands inevitably lean into shifting mobile trends with advertising spends, paid social continues to be an explosive opportunity to engage target audiences. Between Facebook’s vast array of targeting  and ad options as well as Instagram’s evolving ad options, we’ll see this area of “pay to play” hit a new state of reality for brands across the board. If your brand isn’t taking advantage of retargeting, look-a-like audiences, lead forms and more, it’s time to get onboard!

Furthermore, look for media outlets to dig in with more robust custom offerings beyond sponsored content, providing deeper and more robust targeted distribution or social channel specific sponsorship offerings focused on emotive storytelling.

BONUS: U…G….C!

It’s hard not to address UGC with any travel trends article. As phone technology advances (helllooo iPhone X camera) along with increased quality content creation by the masses, UGC has elevated to a core element of any robust curation strategy.

Look for this space to continue to explode as the ease of snapping sharper and more dynamic images leads to increased focus on composition and creativity in the rapid cycle to produce vibrant and authentic video and photo content.

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About Scott Meis

SVP, Digital Content Strategy @ Weber Shandwick Seattle. Outdoors. Adventure. Travel. I dig the Foto.

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Online Marketing, Travel and Tourism Marketing

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