With the January ‘travel peak’ looming ahead, performance marketing network Tradedoubler invited members of the travel industry to London’s Ham Yard Hotel last week, for a day devoted to casting performance marketing predictions within such a highly competitive space.  

Travel Connect brought together industry representatives from the likes of eBookers, Disney, Accor Hotel, Money Saving Expert, TopCashBack, Stena Line and Vouchercloud – as well as Venere Hotels’ head of online partnerships, David McNiven.

Teased by stats such as “98% of travel sales that convert on a cashback site start their customer journey on a cashback site”, and keen to hear what further insights came out of the event, PerformanceIN caught up with McNiven, as well as Tradedoubler’s own VP of product management, Jeff Johnston, and regional director, Dan Cohen.

Travel Connect appears to have brought up some interesting stats into how travel consumer behaviour has changed in the last year. What stands out to you?

David McNiven: The insights regarding the timing of purchase behaviour were illuminating – understanding that many customers research over the second half of a given week and then book at the start of the following week, particularly Monday and Tuesday. The travel industry purchasing timelines continually evolve, and this was also brought to life by the analysis of booking windows, presenting increased opportunities in the last-minute space.

Dan Cohen: We’ve seen two changes in consumer behaviour this year. The first of which has been the rise of DIY travel: people are now willing to do everything themselves in terms of researching and booking travel, hotels, and other arrangements online. Consumers go looking for authentic experiences rather than carefully-curated content, which was prevalent a few years ago.

The rise of mobile technology is the second standout to note. Statistics show 65% of all same-day hotel bookings are now done on a smartphone. This short user journey and choice of device require tailored content and mobile-optimised websites to enable conversions. The rate of growth in digital travel bookings is set to decline next year, and as a result advertisers are becoming more and more competitive, looking for new channels and exploring new formats.

How does this affect how you plan and run affiliate marketing campaigns?

DM: Understanding when to target our customers with call-to-action messages is of paramount importance to us – the analysis of the research and booking processes allows us to identify and test when to target customers with additional content to help them in the research stage and when to present them with our best offers at the booking stage. Understanding the relationship between the day of the week and customer receptiveness to research or booking messages allows us to optimise our activity accordingly.

Could you give us a play-by-play account of how affiliate marketing strategies can be used to exploit the last-minute booking rush over the next couple of months?

Jeff Johnston: What we’ve been doing wrong for so long is just having one goal and one KPI, which is ‘get more sales’. However, there are several other objectives which should be considered. For example, if you are looking at a particular margin, you might look at average order value or you might have a large conference cancel at the last minute and need to sell several hotel rooms quickly, with the goal being speed before the inventory expires. With this in mind, travel organisations must be really clear and have an effective plan in place to ensure they are focused on what it is they want to achieve and in what timeframe. Once this is known, organisations can tailor their digital marketing strategies with the right insight, based on specific objectives.

As I mentioned, if you are looking to focus on high order values, the time to target is not Saturday or Sunday; you would be wasting your money. This budget needs to be set aside for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. You still need to be doing the work to convert them over the weekend, but if you are only doing this, you are wasting your budget.

DM: For me it’s about analysing the trends and also the data from the same period the previous year – at which points did traffic start to change? Which locations were popular? What is availability like at certain destinations or hotels as there may be limited opportunity to push some of the more popular properties or locations. In this case, you might look at boutique hotels where availability will likely be higher.

Hitting the customer at the right time is hugely significant – knowing when flights timetables are available; what additional destinations are being added to airline route maps. Sometimes it’s worth looking at the underlying trends in the industry to spot available gaps in the market.

This year we saw the rise of Poshtels and MAMILs. What consumer trends do you see emerging in 2016, and how can affiliates be equipped to pounce on them?

JJ: In 2016 I see organisations like Airbnb growing as we move into a consolidation phase in the travel sector. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it will actually force organisations to re-evaluate their offering and ensure they get the right people in. These people will effectively utilise the data that is readily available. Organisations need to be more focused in order to keep people interested.

DC: The rise of the DIY traveller will continue to dominate and because of this, brands should no longer be viewing consumers as tourists; they are travellers. Technology is evolving at a rapid rate and the speed of consumer adoption is increasing. It’s important for affiliates and brands to be very agile to keep up with shopping trends.

DM: I spoke about some of the opportunities in my presentation and I think that there is a significant opportunity for secondary markets.

The UK is a good case study here. We can see a number of destinations outside of London utilising beacon technology in order to attract more visitors, such as Bristol and Glasgow, and cities that embrace technology are well poised to benefit from more tech-savvy visitors. In addition, destinations that have a strong food or music scene are becoming increasingly popular, like Austin or Portland in the US.

For you, what was the most poignant takeaway from Tradedoubler Travel Connect?

JJ: The key takeaway for me is that right now, we need to be looking at user behaviour and data as well as web and mobile browsing behaviour, as these are all key when monitoring behavioural patterns. Just having a strategy focused around publishers will not be enough in 2016. In performance we used to be all about the publisher and we still are as these partners are hugely important. However, this now needs to move to the next level and we need to look at users and user behaviour more closely.

DC: The increasing speed of adoption from consumer shopping habits and the impacts of this. Brands are beginning to understand their customers, but it’s knowing how to action their interactions with ad messages that’s important, and this is where knowing the user journey becomes vital. To be successful in 2016, brands need to know where and when to reach their customers.

DM: That VR technology is closer than we think – this is likely to be a game-changer not just for the travel market but for the wider ecommerce world.