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There are many factors that influence our travel decisions.Sure, stunning pictures on Instagram play something of a role. But the leading influencer of travel decision making is not a high-paid influencer at all.Instead it’s friends and family and word of mouth, according to the just-released 2023 Persuade Consumer Travel survey, which shines a light on modern-day consumer travel habits.Conducted in March, the survey asked 600 consumers what factors motivated the destination choice for their most recent trip.Most significantly, a whopping 85 percent of respondents chose a destination because of “personal ties,” while 25 percent went to a particular destination recently because a family member or friend invited them and 23 percent traveled to visit friends and family nearby. Further down the list, at about 21 percent, were respondents who said they were traveling to a “repeat destination” that they had previously enjoyed.And below all of these reasons, coming in at 19 percent, were the individuals who said they were influenced to pick a destination based on digital marketing-driven campaigns such as social influencers, email promotions, or sponsored social media posts.In other words, the primary headline or takeaway from the survey should probably be: Digital marketing efforts fall short in the travel space. Or as the creators of the Persuade report politely noted, the results underscore “the opportunities for marketers to better understand consumer motivations.”What does that mean in practice though? And how can travel brands improve their marketing efforts? TravelPulse asked a handful of industry insiders to weigh-in on the survey results and offer tips. Here’s what they had to say.
Palm trees at Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico (Photo Credit: cdwheatley/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
While there are many reasons a marketing campaign may fail, one of the most common is relying on the same old cliches and tropes over and over again, says Sarah Schaffer, former CMO of Visit Baltimore who went to establish Bond Studios, where she now serves as CEO.“Sunsets or cocktails by the pool for beach destinations and glamorous skyline shots for cities—these images do very well organically on social media; and often, that high engagement rate on posts showing the same old stuff may trick some execs into thinking that they should serve up that same content for their larger paid campaigns,” says Schaffer.If you examine destination marketing organizations, hotel brands and hospitality groups, many are showing the same imagery and themes over and over again, adds Schaffer.Unfortunately, taking that approach creates a sea of sameness, which in turn, practically forces consumers to opt out or ignore such yawn-worthy marketing altogether in favor of asking trusted friends and family for recommendations. During her tenure at Visit Baltimore, Schaffer says they took a different approach altogether. Locals were the most important travel and tourism audience for the DMO.“If they are proud of Baltimore, excited about what's going on in THEIR city, they'll recommend it to friends and family,” explains Schaffer. “We did a lot of focus group testing, community listening sessions and such, to ensure that our campaigns, messages and imagery were going to land well with Baltimoreans and that they'd be super excited to help us get the word out.”These efforts paid off in spades, resulting in a substantial boost in what Schaffer calls “marketable trips” or booked leisure visits that could be traced back to advertising.
As a public relations executive with more than two decades of experience, Melendy Britt has worked on tourism marketing for a long list of travel destinations, hotels, and experiences in the busy Southern California corridor and beyond. Her track record includes working with iconic destinations like Beverly Hills, California and New York, New York as well as Spain, Switzerland, and Sweden.All of which has taught Britt that great marketing places significant emphasis on why people travel and “offers them exciting opportunities about what to do, when, and how.”And the why will always be the winner, says Britt.“In this sense, it’s not surprising to see marketing efforts have the least impact on traveler's decisions, and that word of mouth and familiarity guide destination choice,” adds Britt, now with the marketing and communications firm be360. “We appreciate how personal relationships—seeing people rather than seeing sights – are key drivers for travel, especially in the post-pandemic environment.’ None of which should be interpreted as bad news for destinations or hospitality businesses, continues Britt. But it does make it necessary to shift your messaging and mindset slightly as marketer.“Does your destination story show an understanding of people and their personal motivations? Or is it perfunctory, and programmed? Campaigns like Discover LA’s “Everyone is Welcome” shows the city of Los Angeles as the backdrop, not the protagonist, of a story of human connection. And Virgin Airlines “See The World Differently” transports travelers airline choice based on their pillar of inclusivity. Both are winning, as they offer sentiment rather than a sales pitch,” says Britt.
Yet another often missed opportunity in the travel marketing space? The 50-plus female traveler, says Carolyn Ray, the CEO and editor of JourneyWoman, a publication and online platform that focuses on solo travel for women over 50.“Our December global survey of over 1000 women showed that 70 percent feel ignored or under-represented in the travel industry and the single supplement continues to be the number one pet peeve,” says Ray.
Ray’s readers and target audience has made clear to the publication that they don’t rely on social media and marketing. Instead, they rely on tips from other women to make travel decisions, particularly as women focus on safety when making a travel decision. “I think this is why our private facebook group has been growing by hundreds of women a week over the past few months,” says Ray. “We gather and collate all the tips shared in the group and post them on our website, so that those women who are not on social media can access them.”
A family visiting Iceland. (photo via stockstudioX/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
The platform Bébé Voyage was created to be a place where family travelers who have young children can connect with each other and also with brands that matter to them.A recent survey conducted by the platform found that many respondents use travel guide books (56.8 percent) to find travel inspiration and information, while others (51 percent) use destination tourism sites, and others use travel magazines and blogs (49 and 48 percent respectively). Following behind these things, at 37.9 percent, was recommendations from friends and family. Tourism marketing efforts do not even appear on the list.Bébé Voyage co-founder and CEO Marianne Perez-Fransius, says tourism marketers could do a far better job at tailoring their efforts to specific audiences and especially, showcasing real, meaningful experiences that are appropriate for families who travel with young children in tow.“People come to Bébé Voyage because they are looking for "authentic experiences" that are good for families with small children as opposed to packaged tours or family resorts,” says Perez-Fransius “Very few (if any) destinations market themselves that way. So, it becomes imperative to ask other families with kids that you know or, even better, a whole trusted community of parents with young children.”Perez-Fransius also suggests the same shortfall probably occurs for other niche travelers as well including those those who are “LGBTQI+, African descent, wheelchair users.” “Travelers want to know if they're going to be safe, respected, accepted and interested in a destination. And if travel marketing isn't answering those questions, they will turn elsewhere for information,” concludes Perez-Fransius.
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Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience. Most recently she worked as a staff writer for...
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