It’s time for travel content 2.0

Oct. 22, 2008 | by Jeremy Head

I read some interesting stuff in a recent eMarketer report about on-line travel marketing. It was US-focussed but doubtless has plenty of relevance for on-line travel cos outside the USA too. One of the most interesting findings was that whilst in volume terms US on-line travel bookings continue to grow, it’s existing customers that are driving this growth by booking more trips. The percentage of travellers who book their trips on-line – as opposed to with a travel agent – has actually been in decline. Why?

“The decrease stems from customer dissatisfaction with on-line travel agencies (OTAs), specifically with unfriendly booking engines and navigation tools. Mired in old technology, the OTAs have failed to keep pace with a newer and more innovative breed of travel websites built around user-generated content,” is the conclusion the report reaches.

I’d agree with this – though I don’t think it’s just user generated content that’s making newer travel sites stand out.

At iCrossing we work with lots of travel clients and increasingly we are encouraging them to look beyond seeing their website as a glorified booking engine. Travel purchases are often complex things, and research is a crucial element of the customer’s buying journey. So fix that booking engine, get the navigation right and then start thinking about offering a richer content experience for potential purchasers.

Like what?

Well, geniunely useful content is step one. Better quality destination information is an obvious place to start. I’ve been amazed at the number of big name clients we work with who want to sell people holidays to places that they can’t be bothered to tell them very much about. I really don’t care if the hotel is 4 star and has minibars in the rooms if I’ve no idea what there is to see and do in the Dominican Republic or wherever.

Then, how about targeting it more effectively? If I’m looking for a romantic break with my other half, I’m not going to be interested in all-inclusive resorts that are great for families with young kids. Think about offering more targeted ways to browse your products. Kuoni does this rather well – with tabs like Time of Year, Style of Hotel, Type of Holiday. And then how about some softer content for background reading – targeted at key customer groups: 10 secluded hotels for a romantic break; Best beaches for fun with kids etc. Have a look at what Audley Travel are doing.

And then what about that user generated content that the eMarketer report talks about? First place to start I’d suggest is user reviews. A large operator like TUI/Thomson can offer review options on its own site and get people adding their feedback. But there’s nothing worse than having “Be the first to add a review” next to 90% of your feedback boxes, so it’s a risky proposition for smaller operators. A quicker, more effective solution is to go for a third party feed. And the place to go for that is TripAdvisor – without doubt the number one travel review website. You can pull in an RSS feed for the last 5 or so reviews of the hotels you feature quickly and easily, and better still it’s free. Hayes and Jarvis is a nice example of one operator doing this very successfully.

And finally for now, travel is such and experiential product; it lends itself perfectly to video. But video needs to be something that you embrace completely and invest in properly. YouTube has made people think it’s just a case of picking up a handycam and chucking something online. But you need to think about video just like you would your brochure or any other element of your website – it’s got to chime with your brand. So unless you’re selling cheap and cheerful breaks to student backpackers, a piece of wonky camerawork with dodgy sound isn’t going to do much good. Video requires investment and commitment. Kuoni is one company that has bitten the bullet… what they are doing is exceptionally good. I’ll add more on this in a separate post about video… but just for starters, along with top quality production values they are using Flash and offering full screen viewing mode too! Nice… though still some work to do… sound encoding in particular is letting them down…

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    Comments (11)

    • User Generated Content - need to get your hands on some? - iCrossing

      [...] mentioned UGC in my previous post about the future of Travel Content. Trip Advisor’s lead as stand alone provider of UGC for travel is pretty unassailable (20 [...]Nov 24, 2008 04:29 pm

    • Tim Aldiss

      @amayfield Agree with you about Trip Advisor. The one advantage they have is their enormous global user base, which is good for two things: 1. they make a lot of money from advertising, and 2. the number of reviews/photos/comments is enough to scan to give you a good impression of what to expect i.e. whether the hotel will live up to your expectations.

      The best thing about Tripadvisor's reviews though is that they can give you more information, and more up-to-date information, about improvements to a hotel that you are not likely to read about on the hotel's website. This for me can be a big seller - knowing that a hotel has made improvements in the customers benefit, and recently, is a conversion inducer!Oct 26, 2008 10:48 pm

    • Nathan Midgley

      Nice post. It's worth mentioning that there are companies out there offering white-label UGC and social networking tools to travel businesses - users produce the content, and the platform brings in contextual offers from the company's inventory. So it's monetised, but the content still has a degree of authenticity.

      Clearly no commerce site is ever going to be as compelling as totally independent travel content, but from what I've seen this model strikes a pretty good balance. What STA Travel have done with offexploring.com is a good example (minor disclosure: I profiled offexploring.com for a travel trade mag earlier this year).

      Oh, and Tamsin's right about TripAdvisor - but as she says, the PR reviews are 'obvious', so they're easy to filter out. IMO most users of UGC sites expect to have to do that and are extremely good at it.Oct 24, 2008 12:54 pm

    • Antony Mayfield

      I like TripAdvisor a lot. I know there’s a lot of odd-ness mixed in, but basically it’s great for taking a look at the spread of opinions and working out whether a hotel is going to be a disaster or not… Apart from Tripadvisor the site I will go most is seatguru.com which tells you which seats are rubbish and which are best on any plane. Tripadvisor owns that too…


      Making a purchase decision on a hotel or any kind of travel is often influenced by all sorts of things for me. Tell you what though, the brilliant cottage in Devon I just stayed at ranks really well in search engines for all sorts of relevant terms. 


      And it ranks well because the owner updates it all the time with news and photos about it. Does he do it for linkbait? I don’t think so. He does it because he loves his farm. That shines through for the search engine, the visitor to his website and the visitor to the farm. 


      I won’t link to him - he doesn’t need the Googlejuice - but I will do some offline Word of Mouth if anyone is interested. Oct 24, 2008 09:56 am

    • CharlieO

      I have always used the internet to research and book my travel. I am finding this an increasingly fruitless, laborious and painful task. TripAdvisor is ok, but as Tamsin says is only as good as the 'user' reviews, and frankly I don't trust them enough to plan a trip around them.

      Analysing my own behaviour it broadly falls in to 3 phases:

      Choosing where to go
      Working out how to get there, and what to do when there
      Booking as little as possible for as little money as possible - travel is about freedom and surprise, for me at least

      My choice of destination is influenced mostly by friends, families and stories from other travellers - and I mean talking to people, face-to-face - peer-to-peer. My online research helps give me an idea of how the journey might come together, and pick some milestones at appropriate times and places along the way. When a route's taken shape I just want to know who can get me there the way I want, for the least amount of money, or provider a better/cheaper/more exotic alternative (preferably with first-hand experience to back it up!).

      I'll use the odd high street travel-agent for advice, will poll my friends, family and colleagues for deals and tips. Travel planning online gets on my nerves now.


      Don't try selling me car hire before I've even decided where I want to go!
      As Adam says - drop the doctored photos - if I want to know what the Slovenian Alps looked like in September, I'll check the most recent pcitures on Flickr!

      My favourite travel site in the entire world is The Man in Seat Sixty One which bar an occasional Google AdSense text ad, is pure, unadulterated, page-after-page of honeset advice that helps me plan a train journey to almost anywhere in the world.Oct 23, 2008 03:23 pm

    • Tamsin Hemingray

      I think Trip Adviser can be horribly spammy and full of obvious PR reviews . . . it exposes the weakness of "UGC". When the "user" is actually a PR person posting up yet more promotional content it totally defeats the object of UGC reviews and recommendations. In fact, in that context, it's actually much less helpful than straight-up, clearly labelled marketing messages.
      Oct 23, 2008 02:17 pm

    • Adam Boulton

      I do think content can be editorially independent while still having commercial value. The implementation just has to be a little bit clever.

      We recently advised a client about new travel content they were putting on their site. We suggested that the page that a article appears on should contain adverts and promotions relevant to the content but the article itself should be free from commercial messages.

      For example a article about Italy would contain useful information for a customer planning on travelling there and have promotions on the page offering discounted hotels and flights to Italy. I think this juxtaposition works well and enables the content to be user focused while helping the site achieve it’s commercial objectives. And that’s without mentioning the SEO benefits provided by having fresh content that can attracts links.

      Regarding having trip advisor content on a site, I do think it has benefits but even without a link back to the site you are helping strength the trip advisor brand which many travel sites probably see as a direct competitor.Oct 23, 2008 01:45 pm

    • Jeremy Head

      Thanks for your comments Adam... Interesting stuff.
      RE Trip Advisor feed... It's quite clever... it doesn't just drag you off to their site. Just gives a pop up box with no direct links to TripAdvisor. So far less likely the customer will be lost... And the numbers add up too. More info on my blog:
      http://www.travelblather.com/2008/10/trip-advisor-reviews-add-value-to-tour-operator-sites.html
      RE Less overtly commerical content. I've been really impressed with what Kuoni is doing - set up a sub-domain stuffed with information: http://i-travel.kuoni.co.uk/
      But it's still quite angled at selling their tours.
      Will a company ever be able to publish content online under its own brand and NOT come across as trying to push its products in the process? I personally don't think so. Do you?
      The answer? Well. I have an idea, but you'll have to wait for a few more posts on the main blog to find out!Oct 23, 2008 12:21 pm

    • Adam Boulton

      Great article Jeremy.

      While UGC sites like trip advisor come at travel from a user centric point of view and provide a community full of useful information, it's important to remember that they do have commercial interests as well, UGC travel sites are covered in affiliate links and advertisements for flights, hotels, car hire etc. So I can understand why a traditional travel site might be weary of pulling in content from UGC sites because this is essentially directing their customers to a competitors site and brand. And once a user has gone to a site like trip advisor they might not come back and book.

      One of the problems with a lot of content that appears on traditional online travel agents is the fact that it is so commercially orientated and constantly tries to promote a site's travel products. What is more useful is content that is editorially independent and provides information that is free from a commercial objective. So that as I customer I can make a informed decision about what I want to do. I personally think there is a lot of value in having a expert succinctly tell me what the best things are to do on holiday in a particular place because while UGC is useful it can have a high noise to signal ratio.

      I think the most valuable content that a online travel agent could provide, is content that uses UCG sites such as Trip Advisor to find out all the little known idiosyncrasies of a location that can only be discovered by knowing a place well. For example I'd be a happy user if a big travel site told me about a quality hard to find restaurant that served amazing local cuisine that writer only discovered because of user reviews that appeared on trip advisor.

      And without making this comment sound like it has commercial interests, editorially independent travel content is exactly the type of content that we create at icrossing ;)

      Oct 23, 2008 12:04 pm

    • Jeremy Head

      For a seriously web 2.0 experience try: http://www.tripwolf.com
      All about UGC.
      Will it work? I remain sceptical, but technically it’s quite impressive…Oct 23, 2008 11:31 am

    • Chris Eden

      Great post Jeremy.

      I find the stat about people booking online decreasing hard to believe although I can see their point about lack of quality customer service online discouraging people.

      I think UGC sites such as Trip Advisor are a integral part to most people's booking journey. I recently visited Oman where I did a lot of research on the surrounding area on Trip Advisor and felt I knew most of the decent things to see and do before I even got out there. I also used it to check the airline out before hand.

      On the point of pulling in UGC to a travel site for review purposes. If someone, like Trip Advisor, is already doing really well it may be counter productive to try to compete with them. They've done the leg work, use that quality free content for yourself and bring it in via an RSS feed to your own site. I wonder how long it'll be before they put a price on it??? I think online travel shops should spend the rest of their time getting quality customer service in place and giving a more human feel to their service. Whatever it is has to be active, useful and trusted, be it a really live blog/forum or an instant chat Q&A service.

      Universal/blended search is also playing a big part now. The amount of people that run image searches on flickr and google's own image search in my opinion has risen. People don't just want the glossy colour corrected brochureware style shots found on most major travel company's websites. They want real pictures taken by real tourists who aren't snapping for a profession. So UGC in the form of video and imagery could also be RSSed in as well.

      Some of the best 2.0 travel sites listed by the Timesonline here. Oct 22, 2008 06:19 pm

     
    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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