Thriving in world of travel search requires some nifty footwork. New ways to search – not the least of those offered by the likes of Google – are emerging, as social media and search are becoming more closely integrated and the growth in mobile is spurring innovation. And that is just for starters.
In such an environment, companies like discount online travel agency, Hotwire, must stay on top of emerging trends. In this exclusive interview. Hotwire President Clem Bason shares some secrets with EyeforTravel’s Pamela Whitby. Google, he said, is a help not a hindrance, pure paid-for advertising can deliver Facebook “likes” faster and – as for mobile – well things are only just heating up.
What are your top trends or predictions for travel search and marketing in 2013?
CLEM BASON: I would say that increased consumer interaction with travel search results, being honed by Google and Bing, would be one of the biggest trends I see coming for next year. Additionally, search engines will continue to be top traffic drivers for the travel vertical, but we will likely see an increase in direct referral conversions as well.
To what extent is Google’s Hotel Finder and Flight Search changing the rules of search; is this a threat or an opportunity and how are you responding?
CLEM: I don’t really see this as a threat. Google is actually helping online travel agents (OTAs) in the short term by providing alternative and innovative ways for consumers to access and compare travel offerings. In the long term, however, it’s possible that they might be laying the foundation to both siphon market share and/or charge OTAs for the privilege of being showcased in their results. But that’s all just theoretical at this point.
Can you share some of your strategies for social media, user reviews, and so on to drive traffic to your site in an increasingly competitive world?
CLEM: Overall, our main strategy is to use social media content and user reviews to increase brand awareness, bolster SEO traffic, and alleviate consumer unease around online purchasing. We do this by keeping a constant stream of dialogue between fans and followers in our social spaces and displaying reviews on search results.
On a more tactical level, social media is all about engaging the end user and providing them with content that is compelling and worthwhile. We use a multi-tiered approach in terms of postings, including content such as photos, quotes, news stories, and our deals. We have also used it as a vehicle to drive subscriptions, with some limited success. In terms of paid advertising for social media, there have also been a few efforts to drive traffic to our Facebook page on occasion. As a counter-point to that tactic, a lot of companies have done things like large-scale sweepstakes to engage audiences instead. On a very limited scale, we found that pure advertising can help us acquire “likes” at a rate that is far cheaper.
Will social media marketing be the death of SEO and SEM? Where are you investing your marketing energy?
CLEM: Social media marketing supplements and, in many ways, integrates with SEO and SEM to create a more comprehensive brand exposure to consumers. It is not a replacement for other online channels so much as a complementary source of traffic, being a natural promotion vehicle and consumer forum.
The hurdle for a lot of social media is that it’s mostly a branding approach, which means it’s very difficult to drive a direct, measurable response. Too often, companies expect a return on investment on a par with the likes of Google, Yahoo, and so on. However, social media is more akin to traditional advertising in that you can “kinda, sorta” measure your immediate impact, but you can’t get it down to the accuracy of Google because when people are engaged in social networks, they are not necessarily in buying mode. However, the opportunity for branding and for getting in front of your potential customers is important and can impact future purchasing behavior.
How do you decide where to focus on marketing spend especially with new social media sites like Pinterest emerging all the time?
CLEM: We spend a limited and calculated amount of time developing a strategy for each new social media opportunity. This allows us to test and learn our way into channels that can really gain traction. If it seems too expensive or too time intensive for the return, then we do not focus a lot of attention on it. We’re just now starting a relationship with Pinterest for our Travel-Ticker.com brand, for example.
What exciting new technologies do you see on the horizon that could change the game?
CLEM: Tablet and mobile will both be very interesting. Targeting your potential customers on the go is a terrific opportunity. There have been a number of companies integrating social media into their mobile offerings, but no travel company has completely nailed it yet. There are a number of great mobile and tablet apps out there, but there is certainly a lot of room for growth and innovation.
Clem Bason, President of Hotwire, will be speaking at EyeforTravel’s Travel Distribution Summit, North America in Las Vegas from September 13-14 alongside 90 other industry leading experts. See the full mobile agenda and speaker line up here.