2019 is already shaping up to be one of the most uncertain years in a generation. Socioeconomic instability linked to Brexit is creating caution when it comes to post-March travel related bookings. When you consider that the Q1 trading period is vital in travel for so many travel companies and publishers, getting it right is essential.

As a long-standing online travel publisher, we’ve seen how the travel industry has changed over the last 12 years and how this has affected the way that we work. Political uncertainty, as well as natural and commercial disruptors, mean we are constantly re-evaluating our content strategy and approach to performance marketing.

Focusing in on the leisure market

Weather2Travel.com is focused on helping holidaymakers decide where and when to go on holiday, so we sit firmly on the leisure side of the travel industry. The recent ABTA Holiday Habits Report 2018, which reports on UK holidaymakers’ booking behaviour in the last 12 months to August 2018, certainly indicates that people are still travelling on holiday. 

It shows the average number of holidays taken in the last 12 months is 3.4 per person with 60% of the UK population taking at least one foreign holiday. What’s key is to understand what defines a ‘holiday’, since this will also include short breaks and weekends away. The Report indicates that the most popular type of holiday is a city break rather than a beach holiday.

As a publisher, it’s important to recognise the different types of holiday and how each one can be promoted. The research and booking path for the main family holiday of the year is going to be completely different from a weekend city break. 

Other holiday products such as cruises and escorted tours, often favoured by a mature customer, will be researched and booked differently again. Then you have travel extras, from car hire to travel insurance, which tends to be booked very last minute before a trip.

All this means that the spread of travel products and when they are booked is much more even throughout the year, rather than solely focused on Q1. As a travel publisher, we need to find ways to interact with our customers at different stages of the buying process and diversify the travel products that we promote.

The changing face of the audience

We are already seeing the effects of the millennial generation within the travel industry. They are the mobile first generation where sharing experiences on social media is a fundamental requirement. We have to make sure we tailor our content and our social activities to cater to this audience. This is especially true when you consider what’s coming behind them.

Generation Z, those born after 1995, are just a small percentage of the adult population, however, this is going to just grow over the next 10 years. Broadly they are even more open-minded about where and when they travel, and very focused on their ‘bucket list’.  They are truly influenced by blogs, videos and imagery served by social media platforms.

Younger generations are much more focused on authentic experiences, the environmental impact of travel and sustainable tourism as a whole. This is changing the way holidays are researched and booked online and, fundamentally, how we will travel in the future. 

Travel publishers need to focus on this growing audience and make sure all content is available in the formats and on the platforms that respective generations can consume. 

It’s not just about Brexit

The travel industry is clearly being affected by the ongoing uncertainty. At the recent World Travel Market, travel brands called for clarity on the shape of our relationship with Europe. It is clear that bookings beyond spring 2019 are taking a hit. Questions on passports, borders, visa, exchange rates are making the consumer think twice about booking their next holiday. 

Although things are changing daily, the effect on Q1 could be massive. If a deal is done, it could be the biggest Q1 ever as travel brands look to push their available inventory. If no deal is in place by January it could be a graveyard of travel companies (publishers included).

We also need to consider other social and political disruptors such as US politics, conflicts in the Middle East and acts of terrorism around the world. Foreign currencies are often a forgotten influencer on holidaymakers. Turkey saw an increase in visitors in summer 2018 partly due to favourable exchange rates.

It’s all about the weather

Of course, I’m going to say that, but the influence of weather, good and bad, on holidaymakers’ decisions on where to go on holiday is huge. People’s memories are usually quite short when it comes to weather. We’ve always believed in educating our customers so they understand what to expect and the risks of conditions such as high heat and humidity and tropical storms. 

Good weather also affects the travel industry directly, as summer 2018 showed, with the late market being hit by slow trading as many decided to enjoy the warm sunny weather in the UK while watching the world cup football.  

Staying up-to-date with technology

Travel is an odd industry when it comes to technology. Many companies and platforms are still being driven by old legacy systems and traditional models for selling products. New brands have emerged in recent years such as Airbnb and Uber to disrupt the way we travel. Along with the growing shift in customer requirements for mobile first and social media friendly content, it is important that existing travel brands and publishers focus on delivering.

The growing use of influencers in travel shows that brands are already engaged in this process, however, there seems to be a lack of accountability and measurement for these campaigns. There is a need for the performance marketing industry to adapt and measure/reward based on other types of actions above and beyond last-click sales. This will allow influencers and content publishers to be paid on branding and product awareness campaigns based on performance rather than just their social reach.

For the holiday market, conversions on a mobile device are still relatively low. The ABTA Holiday Habits Report showed that only 12% had booked a holiday on a mobile. This is why cross-device tracking is such an important element for the travel publisher.

Then there’s Google, which has already taken major steps into travel with Google Flights and Google Hotels, as they look to keep consumers engaged with the search engine. The word is that Google Holidays will be with us in 2019, while other products won’t be far behind. This will not only make life more difficult for travel brands but also online publishers who rely on search engines for traffic acquisition. 

The rumour mill is also out for Amazon and their long-term plans in travel. I’m sure it won’t be long before Facebook and Apple will follow suit. We can certainly expect AI and VR to become more widespread although it’s less clear the impact these will have on the online publishing world.

The way forward

No matter how things are resolved in the next few months we must focus on long-term strategies and the changing needs of future generations. New travel products around authentic experiences from local and personal experts are already here. As an online publisher, there are certainly opportunities to embrace this type of product and build them into future content marketing strategies for 2019 and beyond.

There is also a re-focus on the environmental and sustainable impact of the travel industry. Over-tourism may, in the end, have a bigger long-term impact on the world than Brexit. Everyone has a responsibility to re-evaluate how we travel, where we travel and how we act when we are there. This is likely to become a major trend moving forward and likely to become the main focus post-Brexit – no matter the outcome.