Travel Brands

Are Google and Facebook Helpful? Or Just Helping Themselves?

The case for direct customer engagement.

Matt Walker
May 23, 2017

– First published on Tnooz (now PhocusWire), October 2017 –

Can't they do both? Even NGOs have to help themselves in order to help others.

Google and Facebook continue to help their airline and travel brand partners by releasing all manner of travel related products. Think Google Flights or Facebook Dynamic Ads for Travel or the fact that Messenger powers many of the budding chatbots.

In fact, they are being so helpful, it’s not hard to see a future when travel brands can stop wasting money on branding altogether!

Helpful or Helping Themselves?

According to IAB estimates and Pivotal Analyst Brian Wieser, 99% of revenue growth in digital advertising in the US this year (2018) will go to Google and Facebook.

“The big point is that if Google and Facebook are the primary interfaces to buyers, over the long-run they own the relationships and the related data,” Brian Wieser writes.

Airlines and travel brands are finding it increasingly difficult to directly engage the customer beyond the helpful oversight of Google and Facebook.

Most conversations between travel brand and customer have the feel of prison visitation rights, where the concrete room is branded in Google primary colours with poorly disguised Zuckerberg as the guard on duty. We all know who’s behind that two-way mirror–

Twist! It’s Jeff Bezos.

Nobody is screaming “1984," but regardless of how you crane your neck, airlines and travel brands cannot see the customer without looking through a FaceGoogle filter; a GoogleBook filter; a GaceBoogle filter… you get the idea.

How can Airlines and travel brands respond

The problem is brand depends on direct engagement with the customer.

And, customer loyalty and selling ancillaries both depend on the company's brand.

Is the airline/Hotel's brand their greatest defence against a helpful-takeover by Google and Facebook (or Amazon)?

The simple truth is a loyal and direct customer–a customer who understands the value of the brand–is far more profitable than a qualified lead.

The simple truth is a loyal and direct customer is far more profitable than a qualified lead.

Airlines and travel brands have to find a way to engage directly with the customer, or–in the words of Brian Wieser–they will become "subservient."

One Possible Solution:  

I know email is the oldest digital play in the book, but why do travel brands do such a poor job of email marketing? It should tick all the boxes.

Email is direct.

Email is a trusted channel and billions use it daily.

Most travel brands require an email address to book flights/accommodation and therefore have an extensive email database of customers (millions).

It’s been 40 years since the first email, and still 89% of marketers say email is their most effective channel.  

Nevertheless, I challenge you to remember the last time you read a relevant email offer from a travel brand.

Can you recall which brand it was? I doubt it.

We know email works; we know the travel lifecycle begins with content engagement. Content must be part of the problem, and therefore, should be part of the solution.

Content must be part of the problem, and therefore, should be part of the solution.

Low engagement can be a result of poor content curation or poor timing; most likely a bit of both. Great content at the wrong time yields the same result as poor content at the right time.

Either way, the same format of email with seat/room sale for X amount of destinations is not maximising on the most trusted and direct digital channel. It’s simple mathematics: if a customer travels three times a year, most of the year they are not ready to purchase a flight/room and the hard sell is irritating, so write about something that's relevant to the traveller's need in that phase of the travel lifecycle.

If you need some email marketing inspiration, why not download our free ebook: Email Marketing for Airlines.

. . .
LikeWhere's software enables travel brands to unleash the power of context in personalised location marketing.
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