The growth of Expedia, and other popular OTAs didn’t help traditional travel agents like Thomas Cook cope, and 2011 saw many of these companies at the verge of a crush. While in September 2007 Thomas Cook had a cash reserve of £394m, the company’s debt was about £900m in September 2011. This was not the only failure in the industry last year, but one of the most resounding. What lies in store for travel agents in 2012, and more importantly, how would the trends affect travel consumers?
The travel industry is known for innovation in marketing and promotion, but mostly using traditional means, including TV ads, direct mail, radio commercials, magazines and pamphlets. The online world is still dominated by the likes of Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. Smaller industry players struggle for a place in the spotlight, employing various strategies to boost ROI and to secure new business. Here PR and social media strategies play the most important role, as the ad market is saturated by those with the big bucks.
More Online and Mobile Bookings
2012 will see an increase in online bookings, but more importantly, it will continue and boost a trend predicted at the dawn of the smartphone: most travel operators will have to adapt to the mobile industry, and to provide consumers with the apps and tools to book via mobile. This is the most notable “change” in the industry – a challenge for travel operators who are too slow in adopting new technologies. On the other hand, consumers will prefer mobile solutions to other ways of planning travel itineraries, and booking rooms. The industry will have to adapt. Even travel comparison sites will have to deploy comparison apps to serve the public.
Consumers Are Getting Smarter
Gone are the days when consumers settled for the first price offer on a travel brochure. Now, people who plan travel itineraries compare various price offers via social media, price comparison sites and so on. To compete, travel companies will have to consistently drive their prices down, or to find ways to grab customers with the best offers, supported by customer service and additional customer incentives. These can be promoted on social media company pages, with sweepstakes and giveaways, with special promotion coupons and so on. The role of PR and social media marketing in this scenario is vital.
More Social Media and PR Campaigns
If the future of online hotel, air and holiday booking lies in the online and mobile world, travel agents will have to adapt. Adapting doesn’t mean that building travel ecommerce sites, and simply having corporate presences on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ will drive business. All the online real estate needs to adhere to an integrated – and consistent – marketing strategy, that includes PR and social media optimization. While many small travel agents, hotels, and airlines, will opt for DIY or in house strategies, most companies will hire external help. 2012 will see more travel news, social media campaigns and other strategies to promote travel offers online and via mobile.
For companies that fail to adapt, the future appears dimmer than Thomas Cook’s chances to make a comeback.
About the author
Mihaela Lica Butler is the senior partner at Pamil Visions PR which represents Stay.com as PR agency for specific campaigns. She is also the editor at Everything PR News. She is also editor of Argophilia Travel News, and COO of the Argophilia startup development. She is a widely cited authority on search engine optimization, public relations issues (BBC News, Force for Good, Reuters, Al Jazeera and others), as well as a widely traveled journalist and fusion cuisine aficionado.