Across the travel industry, the battle for customer bookings is getting more aggressive than ever. The New York Times touched on the topic recently, outlining how hotels are engaging in a ‘tug of war’ with aggregator sites. According to the Times, many large hotel brands are launching ad campaigns designed to educate consumers on the benefits of booking through their branded websites.
It’s a wise move, and one that the global airline industry – which likewise shells out billions to third party aggregators and online travel agents (OTAs) every year – should replicate. But the rise of “book direct” marketing messaging begs an important question: With the competition for traveler bookings at a fever pitch, are consumer education efforts enough to level the playing field between aggregators and airline brands?
The answer, unfortunately, is “no.” Marketing and advertising campaigns that communicate the value of booking directly can be a great start to a stronger customer acquisition strategy for an airline. But ultimately, if you want customers to come to your website first, you need to make sure that your site is as “visible” as possible to your target audience.
Investing in bolstering an airline brand’s “visibility” is the key to cultivating brand loyalty and maximizing revenue from customers long-term. Why? Because consumers’ travel-planning preferences have changed significantly over the last decade, and their affinity for starting the booking process with online search isn’t going anywhere: 64% of business travelers and 57% of leisure travelers say they always start their travel planning in a search engine.
Ad campaigns encouraging customers to “stop clicking around” may achieve a nominal long-term lowering of those figures, but they could never change the fundamental reason why so many of us have Google as our browser homepage: It’s the most convenient digital starting point for finding what we’re looking for – be it a flight, hotel room, product or the answer to a question.
The travel aggregators, OTAs, and metasearch engines (MSEs) understand that, and invest heavily in search engine optimization and marketing efforts. In doing so, they ensure their websites land in the most “visible” slot of any travel search: on the first page of Google-returned results.
Populating a greater amount of relevant flight information (fares, routes, schedules, and all the rest) onto the airline website is the most effective way for airlines to win consumer search clicks – and ultimately, consumer bookings. With more of their inventory content indexed by search engines, airlines become more reachable to travelers from the inception of the trip planning process.
And broadly deploying that inventory content costs less than airlines may think. airTRFX®, a software-as-a-service (Saas) product from EveryMundo, enables airlines to quickly and easily disseminate up to millions of dynamic, SEO-optimized, high-performance landing pages for every route and destination they fly, in every language their customers speak. The solution turns online search into a more effective low-cost distribution channel – without the need for additional technology investment or specialized IT support. After deploying the software, EveryMundo runs a specific visibility analyses to demonstrate how airTRFX® carriers are able to see their first page results reach up to 75-85% of their route networks in contrast to the usual first page result roughly 10-15% of the time.
Ultimately, winning the “tug of war” for customer bookings will require airlines to come up with more than just clever commercials. To earn tangible online marketing outcomes, carriers must leverage the tools that make their websites as reachable as possible in online search… and only comprehensive performance content strategies can truly level the travel-planning playing field.