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The Online Travel Marketing Paradox

There is a problem with every online travel resource out there today – and no one seems to realize it.  Over the past decade, online travel resources have been reinventing how people in the US are planning, booking and organizing their trips – all while the role of travel agents has been redefined and in some cases, made obsolete.  Yet with all these hyperconnected saavy travellers seeking the best deals online and reading every review about a destination or hotel before visiting … there is a gap for one particular type of traveller.  Online flight booking services and travel aggregators that search multiple sites are great for finding the best deals.  TripAdvisor is perfect for comparing one hotel to another and reading (mostly) real reviews of hotels before choosing one.  But what about the travellers who have not picked a destination?  More importantly, what about those travellers who haven’t yet decided where they want to go?

All of us, at some point in our lives fit into this travel category.  We have vacation coming up, we know we want to go to Central America, for example, but don’t have the exact destination in mind.  For us, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Expedia or Kayak are of minimal use.  Sure we could read lots of reviews of places or use some new tools like TripAdvisors placewikis to learn about a place.  But who really bases a decision on where to go on that?  For most, it’s a combination of knowing about a place, finding a good deal, and reading reviews from others all in a single location.  Right now, assuming I am ready to plan a trip to Central America in April and want the best deal, how would I do it? Pretty much starting at Google, I might follow sites that come up, visit websites from online tourism bureaus, talk to friends and family I know who have been to the region, and even take the old school approach of going to a bookstore or library to flip through some books and look at pictures.  This is one of the few situations in my life where there isn’t an online research solution that can help me.  what if there were a site that helped you to compare destinations not just in terms of attractions, but also in terms of costs for airfares and hotels within a specific timeframe.  A site like that, which doesn’t base its interface on the assumption that a traveler already knows where he or she is going would carve a new niche in the crowded online travel space.  I personally can’t wait to see a site like that …

8 thoughts on “The Online Travel Marketing Paradox”

  1. Rohit,

    I think with the proliferation of UGC reviews this type of change is slowly happening. At my Agency, we’ve been pushing the idea that online retailers must aim for three types of users and their specific content needs for SEO:
    1. General Research
    2. Targeted Research
    3. Purchasers

    In essence, ambitious e-commerce websites should look into being a community, a resource and a retail experience(Amazon has 2 out of 3 with its reviews).

    I’ve written about this broad audience approach for SEO in December:

    “Content is Kingâ€￾ is the old Maxim. And for “SEOingâ€￾ e-commerce websites, it is about ensuring that the e-commerce website has the type of content the user is looking for for each step of the buying process: 1) General Research (â€￾Why are HD DVD Players different?â€￾ Page); 2) Targeted Research (â€￾HD DVD Player Review & Guideâ€￾ Page); and 3) Purchasers (Product Page for the Specific Item)

    As for a travel comparison that crosses reviews & cost:
    “what if there were a site that helped you to compare destinations not just in terms of attractions, but also in terms of costs for airfares and hotels within a specific timeframe.”

    That’s an interesting idea and one I’d like to see done, but the usability must be a challenge.

    I assume that say in comparing “Bali v. Angkor Wat”, the user would input the timeframe and be given the average cost in budget categories: backpacker, budget, family, luxury etc.

    Reply
  2. Hi Rohit,

    To me, the problem seems to be, not combining community and e-commerce (which can be done with separate sections of a site that aren’t interrelated), but doing so in a fashion that flows naturally from destination consideration –> reading reviews –> planning a hypothetical trip (or trips) –> comparing cost options –> booking. I’ve been through more than 25 countries, and keeping all of this information in one coherent place is the trick.

    The closest I’ve found to date is http://www.virtualtourist.com, and what I think will be even closer when it debuts: https://www.nileproject.com/ The latter will allow you to funnel options based on your expected budgets and style of travel. I have no vested interest in either company but know one of the founders of the latter.

    As an aside, I recall my best trips as being borne of a willingness to improvise once landing instead of excellent planning. This forces you to actually interact with your environment instead of just capturing it on Flickr 😉

    Reply
  3. Only came across this post now. It touches on a subject that has been around ever since online travel started to appear. The challenge in the pre-destination choice stage is huge as the already entrenched online travel structure dominated still by the three major players starts with the booking process. At a start up I was involved with seven years ago we introduced the concept of pre-booking planning being essential. Unfortunately users were so used to the “booking” driven process already then and left the site before figuring out its advantages! Destination sites start off when a traveler has already decided to check out a specific place. To touch on Ed Kohler’s post, in the next phase of web based travel there should be a functionality that is able to deal with the type of query he mentions, proposes appropriate choices and takes the motivated user all the way to the booking process in logical steps that can best be described as DREAM – LEARN – PLAN – GO or fully integrated one-stop travel. When will it happen? I don’t know but I know it will happen eventually as today’s hodge-podge and multiple-site experience is frustrating and often disappointing.

    Reply
  4. You need to combine UGC contents to tag will real travel offers. It means travel community sites that is tightly integrated with real-time travel offers and intelligent travel planner. Too many travel community sites that provides only half-baked value add proposition.

    We recently launched a B2B travel ecosystem platform called Mashlabs.Travel with Travel 2.0 Mashery vision, which travel social networking sites could use to generate revenue besides advertising model. Please check out our extended definition and vision of Travel 2.0 – https://travelstrategybusiness.com/travel-20-mashery/

    Reply
  5. You need to combine UGC contents to tag will real travel offers. It means travel community sites that is tightly integrated with real-time travel offers and intelligent travel planner. Too many travel community sites that provides only half-baked value add proposition.

    We recently launched a B2B travel ecosystem platform called Mashlabs.Travel with Travel 2.0 Mashery vision, which travel social networking sites could use to generate revenue besides advertising model. Please check out our extended definition and vision of Travel 2.0 – https://travelstrategybusiness.com/travel-20-mashery/

    Reply

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