AI is changing every industry, including travel and hospitality. Many people agree that AI will stronger change the way travelling happens nowadays, but not all can list all the opportunities that AI bring to travelling. Therefore, in this article, Adamo decides to summarize all trends when combining AI and travelling together.
Online Travel Agency (OTA) appears in the blooming era of online tourism (e – tourism) which uses technology in every tourism process such as booking, transporting, eating and visiting. In the situation when 2.5 billion people using Internet via smartphone; keyword “Tourism and Hotel” ranks 5th among user’s concern; 62% of people uses smartphone to find tourism services; 72% tourist hope to book tour via mobile and 54% tourist want to connect to travel agency online, OTA becomes one of the most promising business trend with an expectable profit.
It is undeniable that the combination of tourism services and technology called OTA changes the whole tourism and bring a large amount of money to this field. According to Google and Temasek Holdings (Singapore), Southeast Asia OTA profit is predicted to shoot up to 89.6 billion USD in 2025. Another survey from Phocuswright, 39% of the digital travel market belongs to online travel agencies, and the number is expected to grow. The successful examples naming booking.com, agoda.com, traveloka.com or trivago.com seem like an unbreakable confirm for an effective tourism solution.
However, the attractive surface of OTA and online tourism involves many people to jump in. A numerous Online Travel Agency entrepreneur are set up and make this market become saturate and strictly competitive. So, what is the main strategy for your OTA to exist and grow strongly? Here are the tips to build a successful online travel agency.
Define your travel market and its potential customer
The first and the most important step before you start your career, not only OTA. Each travel market owns different negative or positive points so they are suitable to different types of customers. TheTravelNet showed five travel markets to consider naming:
- Libertine travel: tourism services for liberal and open – minded tourist
- Special needs travel: travel for disable people or ones who suffer mobility difficulties, concentrate on finding airlines and resorts to reach their requirements
- Wellness travel: travel for young and health, providing yoga and meditation cure along with other tourism services
- Organized tours for millennial: focus on young customer who find adventure, exploration and memorable experiences without worrying about fee
- Specialty cruises: travel by cruises and related services for group of travelers
Your travel market depends on your capital, start – up building conditions, customer’s demands and partly on tourism trend. You have to define your travel market BEFORE deciding target customer. Travel market has a great influence on reduce unnecessary type of customer and focusing on the right target who use your services. Defining target customer includes gender, age, habit, requirement…
Launch your own research to seek a relevant market, browse local forums or ask your advisors are some suggestions needed.
Maximize the advantages of technology
You run an OTA means that you have a huge supported from technology, just make use of this advantage. Learn as possible as you can about smartphone application, web design for PC and mobile, user – friendly systems to ensure your OTA maximizes it benefits. It could be better if your Online Travel Agency Software is available in Android, IOS and even Window to increase mobile setting rate. For foreign travel, an ideal OTA website should include multi – language support and secure online payment.
Technology will be out – of – date so you definitely upgrade your website/app frequently. The rising trend for 2018 OTA is put virtual reality into practice. Virtual reality provides 360 degree video of famous tourist attraction around the world or hotel rooms, clubs, festivals, airline services helping customers make right decisions before booking. You possibly develop your own project like this by Adamo Digital’s supports. Our company developed successfully some of OTA solutions such as: booking room, booking ticket online, tour management, etc. Some of Adamo Digital recent customers naming e-destinACCESS in USA or Wego in Singapore, etc.
Consider cost – reducing practices
“Cheapest is dearest” has not been right in competitive environment of OTA. More and more online services appear in tourism market with the same qualifications, same benefits but one with reasonable price will be in customers’ first choice list. But, how could you improve your service and maintain low price at the same time? Will it destroy your budget?
It is high time for you to connect with other tourism services such as ticket office, hotel, resort, restaurant, tour guide or other businesses being worry about the scary growth of online tourism. They need to survive through this crazy wave by leaning on OTA and provide their services. Vice versa, a shake – hand between OTA and its partners can make a deal for discount, voucher or presents for your customer. Sharing interest for a bigger profit, why not?
“Top to toe” service
Most of OTAs are trying to support their customers on the whole journey and should you do. One small worthless thing can destroy journey’s happiness. So a good OTA must guarantee to provide perfect from the beginning (booking, advising) to the end (coming back home safety). This make customer to stay with your brand longer, spend time to create good impression and avoid other OTAs from stealing yours. Moreover, after service plays an important part in bring your customer back next time. By some simple caring tips like birthday cards, membership, old customer’s benefit…, you exist in your customer mind already.
Booking.com possibly be a good example of an OTA with “Top to toe” service.
Whatever tips are used, one of the key criteria for building online travel agency to gain customer trust is thoughtful attitude to details. You need to look from customer’s side, understand their needs and take care of them in a good way.
Right now, today, Vietnam is the top software development outsourcing destination in the world. In fact, this has been the case since 2016, when Cushman & Wakefield named Vietnam as the number one global destination for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). This is why companies from all over the world choose Vietnamese providers as their trusted partners, and why so many companies continue to invest in Vietnam. So, how you can select a winning development partner for your business? That’s the subject of today’s blog.
With the growth of online businesses and the emergence of the millennial/young professional travel trend, Online Travel Agencies have become a growing segment of the travel industry. While there is already a good number of OTAs up and running there’s always room for growth, and this is still a quite new strategy for boosting the market value of existing travel businesses. In this blog, I will provide a brief summary of what constitutes an OTA, how to build one and ways to best leverage the business assets an OTA creates.
What is an Online Travel Agency OTA?
An Online Travel Agency is essentially a website through which a company can offer a variety of travel products to consumers. This covers a wide variety of travel-related products and services, such as airline flights, hotel booking, car rentals, cruises, tours, vacation packages, and more. The OTA is essentially a middleman, or broker, connecting travel product and service providers with consumers through a user-friendly interface.
Following trends established by the 4.0 revolution, the travel industry has been shifting towards internet-based solutions to reach target customers, which accounts for their rising popularity.
How to get started?
Millions of people use OTAs for business and vacation bookings, which reflects the fact that today, just about anyone can find travel services online. To reach these customers through an OTA, you’ll need to define and refine your objectives and requirements. To do so, you’ll need to determine the following:
- Which platform do you want to build? Mobile app, website, or both?
- What services do you want to provide?
- Which functions/modules do you require for your OTA? (Examples include flight booking, hotel reservations, rental car reservations, transfers, and so on. Also think about payment/finance/insurance options, which customers will expect to be able to do through your OTA.)
These are the basic considerations you’ll need to think about when building an online travel agency.
Next, add these services to your website/application by either having a CMS system for whatever content you have, or you can just integrate the XML/API to get the content from third party suppliers. Choose the right set of travel API for all the travel products you want to sell. There are several to choose from so depending on your specific needs, pick the API that best enhances the user experience for your services.
The next step will be defining the business model. Contact the travel technology partners whose products and services will be featured on your website/app OTA. It’s important to invest the necessary time and effort here, along with your development team, to ensure a successful and user-friendly experience. Be prepared to update the website/app frequently as new technologies become available; you want to present the best and most cutting-edge experience to keep existing customers and attract new ones.
The above graphic shows you the overview of the relationship among functions of basic OTA, which can be customized and set up more modules as the request. These also summarize all standard information that you should collect and prepare for while building an OTA.
Adamo’s advice to effectively apply OTA to boost business
In general, OTAs are in wide use globally, either connected to Global Distribution Systems or individual airlines. Travel startups that want to develop their online business with multiple travel products need to know how to productively integrate OTA principles into their business. As a qualified developer of OTA systems, Adamo Digital can provide some tips and suggestions to integrate OTA technologies for selling travelling products.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
The first objective of any OTA is to attract traffic when people looking for travel services do a search through a search engine like Google. To maximize potential, your website must be visible at or near the top in the top of the search engine results. For this, your website must have good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools, and that’s why you need a digital marketing team with the expertise to help you attract the most attention.
To succeed, your website/app must be user-friendly and accessible across multiple platforms (PC/laptop/tablet/smartphone, etc.) Additionally, the front or “landing” page should feature attractive offers and deals, such as discounted tickets for special events, vacation packages, and “bundled” discounts. This is important in order to gain the immediate interest of your customers and represents the competitive advantages of your website or app. Again, the goal is twofold: Attract new customers and retain existing ones.
Making these extras available creates more perceived value, but adds complexity behind the scenes. The fact that creating the best customer experience means more complexity on the back end should be invisible to your clients; these functions should be seamlessly integrated into your website or app. This is when a technology partner with the requisite expertise becomes indispensable. .
Your website or app should also include reviews from prior users, which will help your customers in making decisions. Furthermore, building trust via the website/application’s performance is also a smart strategy to impress and retain users. Regularly reviewing and improving the look, quality and performance of your website and/or application keeps it fresh and exciting for existing and new customers alike.
At the forefront of the 4.0 revolution, the OTA segment is considered as a great resource for travellers. According to the 2018 Distribution and Revenue Management Trends Report, most hoteliers being interviewed have implemented an online distribution strategy and they are well aware that despite the daily tasks they need regular optimization.
Searchmetrics has published a new study on travel industry-specific search ranking factors that might help travel brands improve their visibility in Google searches.
It suggests that a focus on browsing experience, making information and comparison simple, and a comprehensive coverage of topics with greater content word counts, while better quality images can improve a site’s standing.
The research is informed by more tailored, industry-specific results, supplied by Google using AI and machine learning technology in its RankBrain system.
Daniel Furch, head of content marketing at Searchmetrics explains:
“Google now more accurately determines searchers’ intentions by analyzing the keywords and phrases they enter in the search box.
“It knows the context of individual searches — including whether they relate to travel, retail, finance or other verticals — and ensures that results reflect the characteristics that meet the needs of searchers.
“For travel marketers, as for marketers in other verticals, this means they can no longer focus solely on generalized, universally applicable rules to drive the best search performance.
They also have to take account of factors that are important in their specific vertical.”
Searchmetrics analyzed the top 20 search results on Google.com for more than 6,000 typical travel-related search terms—like ‘airline tickets,’ ‘vacation rentals’ and ‘budget rental car’.
The company identified the most commonly occurring elements that appear in these travel results, comparing those to a benchmark study of broader Google ranking factors for 10,000 general, high search volume keywords across all industries.
The major take-aways from these reports reveal that travel brands should ignore much of the conventional wisdom for SEO optimization, and instead focus on quality, informative service.
Those who are dreaming of travel want to linger a bit with those dreams, want to find clear and easy-to-follow ways to make those dreams a reality, and don’t mind spending a little time to get the journey just right.
Travel-related pages should focus on the browsing experience, with a concentration of internal links which let searchers click through to find related content on the same site. Travelers will want to find more background information on topics of interest, or information that helps guide their decision by comparing options.
The Searchmetrics study reveals that travel-related pages ranking in Google’s top 10 results have approximately 23% more internal links than benchmark broader industry rankings.
But internal links should follow a logical, relevant and informative structure. Furch says:
“Travel-related brands need to ensure their web pages intelligently link to related content throughout their site, so searchers can easily find relevant content and background to help them compare and decide on their travel plans.
“This is not surprising as planning a vacation for example involves so many details — from flight times and luggage allowance to insurance, car-hire, and seasonal weather patterns.
“Searchers want to be able to find answers to all those questions as painlessly as possible.”
The eyes have it
Unsurprisingly, those dreaming of travel appreciate visuals. While a large concentration of images may be a negative SEO factor for other websites, it can boost the value of travel websites to users—even if that greater concentration of images sacrifices some loading time.
The top ten Google results for travel-related queries use around 38% more images over 200 pixels per page.
Travel-related pages listed in the top ten results have a 40% larger file size and take almost 3 seconds longer to load, 10.6 seconds on average compared to the benchmark 7.8 seconds.
Words should come easy
As content specialists highlighted in our report on travel content strategies published this May, long form storytelling works.
Travel results which make it into Google’s top ten average over 2,500 words per page. That’s a 57% higher word count than the benchmark. The average for the top 10 rankings across all industries is 1,633 words per page.
Even so-called “listicles” should be longer by an average of four bullets. The top 10 travel sites had 18.3 bullets on average, whereas the top 10 benchmark sites had 14.4.
But don’t be repetitive. Searchmetrics finds that keyword (1) stuffing is a killer. Quality travel sites in the top 20 used the keyword (2) in an article about three times, compared to the 7.4 times other industries try to force the keyword (3) in.
Other SEO factors which differ for travel sites from other industries include:
Top 10 pages in the travel industry are less than half as likely to use AdSense AdLinks as pages on average.
On average, travel landing pages are larger than the pages in our benchmark study
URLs ranking highly for travel-related keywords are less likely to use encryption than websites in general, when looking at high-ranking pages from all industries.
The average load time for top 10 travel pages is 10.6 seconds, more than 3 seconds slower than the overall average.
Travel websites have far fewer social signals than the overall average across all industries. In fact, the top 10 only have 609 social signals (likes, shares, etc.) compared to the 5,552 of other industries.
Given the amount of coverage of the social media customer service habits of airlines in particular, this Searchmetrics finding on social signals may be surprising, but it’s very positive.
Brands with the budget to engage more on social media channels will get the edge over competitors, in terms of building a community of fans. But those who do not have the budget for heavy social media campaigns will not be detrimentally affected, at least in terms of their Google search rankings.
Tell a story, be useful, help travelers visualize their trip, don’t try to “game” SEO, and if you’re going to be sociable focus on quality over quantity.
Full report can be downloaded here.
Apart from the advent of the Internet itself, no phenomenon has both captivated and terrified travel executives as has the rise of mobile. Its impact continues to evolve – but the implications are profound.
Phocuswright’s The U.S. Mobile Traveler in 2017 report provides a complete view of the mobile traveler in 2017, including who they are, how they plan and shop for travel, how they use their device in-trip, and what it all means for travel brands and the industry overall.
What Travel Brands Should Understand About Mobile Travelers
The mobile traveler population has been growing each year as more travelers own smartphones and use them to plan and book travel. Today, two in three U.S. travelers have shopped or booked either air or hotel on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet). Nearly half of those mobile travelers are under 35 years of age. But don’t count out older travelers – they too are driving the move to mobile. Mobile travelers are getting more comfortable planning on mobile, even as the population gets a little older. And with comfort comes confidence: 69% of mobile travelers feel they can find the same flight and hotel info on a smartphone as on any other device; 66% of mobile travelers are comfortable planning and booking a vacation only with a smartphone.
When asked if travel is a very important part of one’s lifestyle, mobile travelers in the U.S. were more likely to “strongly agree” than non-mobile travelers. Plus, they take more trips and spend more on travel.
For mobile travelers, travel is a big deal. And that means they should be a big deal for travel brands. Dig deep into who the mobile traveler is, explore mobile traveler trend, and more with The U.S. Mobile Traveler in 2017
Digital ad dollars and travel statistics aside, the travel industry could be doing a lot more to maximize its bottom line. Given the data, technology and systems that are in place, this can be achieved through a shift in attention.
NB: This is a viewpoint by Nancy Hall, senior vice president at Conversant.
There’s no denying size and scale. In fact, according to projections from eMarketer, the US travel industry laid out $5.69 billion in digital media spend in 2016. That number is projected to climb to a whopping $8.28 billion by 2020. Airlines for America estimates that an unprecedented 145 million travelers took flight in March and April this year.
So where is the travel industry falling short? Loyalty.
According to a study from the Center of Hospitality Research at Cornell University, hotel chains reap an average of 50 percent more revenue from customers who belong to their loyalty programs than from those who do not.
Why, then, do the hotels I stay at – where I am supposedly a loyalty member – greet and interact with me as if I were a stranger? Shouldn’t my loyalty be recognized?
More often than not, this happens because of companies which mismanage consumer data by not integrating that data across their entire organization. If you’re a brand marketer who wants to maintain a positive reputation and increase the value of your loyalty program, data needs to be an integral part of how you connect to and with your customers.
To navigate through the throngs of overwhelming data and maintain customer loyalty, here are three key signals to look for in your data that will help you talk to your consumers more effectively.
Firstly, you’ll want to identify users that arrive at your site.
Are they loyalty members or new prospects? Next you need to examine their site interactions. Not only should you be concerned with who’s visiting your site but also you should pay close attention to which area of the site they spend most of their time.
For example, if users are spending their time on specific property sites in Miami, you can easily tell that they have an upcoming trip to Miami, and there’s an opportunity to let them know about your relevant offers for that particular destination.
Conversely, if they are spending a fair amount of time looking for fun activities at your facility, this is your chance to upsell them during the post-booking phase based on the unique activities and/or excursions your hotel offers.
Another key data signal is location.
If you know, for example, that over the past year a user has booked flights out of New York and to San Francisco, then you can utilize that data to determine where their origin city is and which destination they’re traveling to, and whether the trip is for business or pleasure. You can also use this data to update their loyalty profiles. You can then provide them with local offers, personal or business, depending on how those locations align.
Understanding the distinction between customers’ geo-location and their home base is crucial to accurately identify contextual messaging. You don’t want to be a brand that sends hotel offers to someone in their home town.
Finally, you’ll want to pay close attention to the devices a consumer uses during certain steps of the travel booking process.
It’s important to target them most effectively in that ‘let’s book it’ moment. If someone is researching travel plans on a mobile device, for example, then that’s the correct device to target to compel them to convert – same if it’s a desktop computer on which they’re planning. Some customers may also use a combination of the two, so you’ll need to be cognizant of which device they use to actually book the trip.
Not surprisingly, more people are beginning to book entire trips in-app on their mobile devices, so marketers need to be ready to serve messages that connect with consumers across all devices. These efforts can be appended by messages shared through their loyalty account, further strengthening those relationships.
Travel marketers easily find themselves awash in a sea of data. While they may sometimes feel like they’re drowning in it, understanding how to separate the most impactful data signals from the data signals that create more noise, is the key to success.
You need to know who your potential clients are – not only their habits and what they like and dislike – and where they’re most likely to engage with your brand. Do they book in-app or on a desktop?
So the next time one of your loyal customers comes into your hotel or visits your website, will you be prepared to treat them as individuals, or will you treat them like just another number?
NB1: This is a viewpoint by Nancy Hall, senior vice president at Conversant.
NB2: Image by Bigstock.
In our latest research report we dive into the direct booking wars, what is it really all about, and what does the current distribution landscape look like for hoteliers? Throughout the report we also illustrate key findings from our 2017 Direct Booking Survey powered by Skift and Trivago and totaling 370 responses from hotels worldwide.
One would think that given all of the industry attention on direct booking, there would be a more uniform way of looking at what it actually is. The most obvious type of purchase that all hotels clearly count as direct is the booking that occurs on the brand.com website or app where there is no third party involved in facilitating the transaction.
Things become complicated within digital direct because there are paid and unpaid components. By unpaid, we do not suggest that there are not costs associated with acquiring the guest. There are advertising, technology, operational, and other expenses associated with building a brand and winning a booking. The unpaid amount is referring to third-party distribution costs.
For paid digital direct bookings, hotels will have the guest book on the brand.com site or app, but pay another entity for bringing the web traffic or booking. An example would be a hotel using a traditional metasearch company like Kayak or trivago, where a consumer clicks on the meta site to then book on the brand.com site.
The hotel will typically pay the meta site on a cost per click (CPC) basis for that click, though a commission model with cost per acquisition (CPA) is possible as well. It’s debatable whether this should count as direct with marketing costs or amount to another distribution platform comparable to an online travel agency (OTA). Our view is that the CPC model would be a marketing channel while the CPA model would be “OTA-like.” Regardless, the booking is owned by the hotel and pays a third party to lead to a booking.
NP: Skift Research
This is the latest in a series of research reports, analyst calls, and data sheets aimed at analyzing the fault lines of disruption in travel.
Today’s travelers are starting to expect a personalized experience throughout all stages of travel – something that the emergence of “big data” is helping to lead.
Not only is there some degree of expectation, but apparently 74% of consumers feel frustrated when website content is not personalized.
This shows us that in the evolving world of travel marketing, big data must be utilized in order to please (and convert) our target audience.
Numerous companies are collecting consumer data – past searches, purchases, tracking cookies, loyalty programs, etc. – but the travel industry is still determining HOW, exactly, to use this data.
The initial picture
In terms of hotel visuals, big data needs context.
Rather than attempting to appeal to everyone, your visuals should be specifically targeted towards each particular consumer persona.
Knowing who they are and what they are interested in can help you to streamline your content to pique their interest.
For example, if you’ve gathered data on a particular consumer (tracking cookies, reward profile, Facebook, etc.) that tells you that they have kids and are most likely searching for a family vacation, you wouldn’t want to show them images of romantic dinners and honeymoon suites.
You’d want to show this person images of your property’s family activities or kids’ club.
If you know the age(s), you would even show different family friendly images – from toddlers to teens – there’s a vast difference.
Context can be added to images with relevant Meta-tags or tags. The more specific you get with tagging your images, the more specific of a consumer you will reach.
The bigger picture
This specific, personalized, content will help to convert more lookers to bookers because if done correctly, it should be exactly what they are looking for.
Data from Evergage’s 2017 Trends in Personalization study tells us that 88% of marketers using personalization report a measurable lift in results.
In addition to the benefit of personalization, tags can improve your images’ content score on various OTAs.
A higher content score means a higher page ranking, increasing your visibility to travelers browsing for hotel rooms.
With tagging on OTAs, however, comes the problem of standardization.
As big data becomes more widely used, meta tags will need to be standardized for the best results, just as the same Open Travel Alliance categories are used across the board.
Distribution technology that allows for meta tagging of hotel visuals will give your property an advantage because more of the right type of travelers will be exposed to it online.
If your property has a boosted ranking in OTA search results and is showing personalized images to consumers, expect to see increased bookings and engagement online.
NB: This is an analysis by Brianna Wenner, marketing coordinator at IcePortal.
How we discover, dream, and plan vacations has changed radically as print has given way to digital and desktop gave way to mobile. Lost in much of this are the gatekeepers — legacy print brands on newsstands and in bookstores — which were slow to adapt: How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 1)
Other travel magazines weren’t immune to the downturn. Vacations are one of the first things sacrificed by families during an economic downturn, and it follows that travel companies will be hesitant to purchase pricey print ads during these periods.
Travel + Leisure dropped from 1,481.11 ad pages in 2008 to 967.48 in 2011, according to The Association of Magazine Media. By 2013, both magazines would reorient their coverage towards luxury consumers in an effort to become a luxury lifestyle publication and attract higher spending advertisers. For these consumers, travel is a lifestyle instead of a yearly escape.
“I think what we’ve seen is that travel has just become more central to people’s lives,” said Travel + Leisure’s Lump. “I think that’s partially what has allowed us to grow, but I also think it’s allowed us to have more varying touch points with the consumer and lifestyle. I think it’s not so much that we’ve moved just moved away from core travel it’s that all the elements that people play, that have never touched travel before, have become closer to travel than they used to be.”
Part of this shift has involved more general interest clickbait stories on the Web, in a stark contrast to the long features and deeply researched packages print travel media is known for. The readership of magazines at large has shifted to older and more affluent readers. Research from the American Magazine Association shows that devoted magazine readers are more likely to go on vacations than those who prefer other types of media.
The use of mobile devices to view travel content is also on the rise, perhaps at the expense of print and digital magazine content.
There is the pain point of figuring out an internal work flow that functions across platforms. Journalists, writers, and content creators often have specialized skillsets, so asking one to write a story, create a listicle, take photos, and film compelling videos about a trip is a major challenge.
“We just started working more efficiently that way and it really, it’s painful to integrate digital and print,” said Guzmán. “The plays are different, the workloads are different, the story ideation is different. In doing this, there’s this huge cultural shift that is exciting and difficult.”
NOT JUST MAGAZINES
Newspapers, as well, began to shutter their travel sections in order to save money.
In 2012, USA Today eliminated its print travel section, moving travel coverage to its Life section instead, mimicking the pivot of travel magazines to more of a lifestyle positioning. Dozens of other newspapers, ranging from The Los Angeles Times to The Washington Post stopped publishing print travel sections as well.
USA Today also tried to pivot by acquiring content and online travel booking companies, like the struggling Tripology in 2013 which it used to sell qualified leads to travel agents.
Newspapers adopted the wrong strategy at the time; instead of doubling down on quality content that would remain useful to readers in years to come, they either decreased quality in a move toward online clickbait or shut down their travel sections completely.
“Newspapers took the single most misguided step I can imagine; if you picture an entire newspaper’s content, there is no content that is more reusable in the future than the travel section,” said Spud Hilton, longtime editor of the San Francisco Chronicle’s travel section. “Let’s say I’ve had a newspaper that’s had a travel section for 30 years, and then I decide I’m going to throw all that away because it’s too expensive to run a travel section. If I just take the last five years of those and get somebody to update them or hire an intern, I have 250 weekend escapes that are professionally written and have professional photography. That can become an app, website, book, or any number of things that can be used again. Those newspapers were out and out stupid to bury that archive never to be seen again.”
The San Francisco Chronicle was perhaps uniquely well-suited to adapt to changes in digital media; it operates one traditional newspaper site and SFGate.com, which is a scale play that often attracts readers with lighter news.
“I could have written the greatest travel story ever known, and it would not have gotten on the cover of the traffic oriented site because a Swedish bikini team saved a kitten from a tree; which is going to be more popular?” said Hilton. “The Chronicle is a good example of what has happened and what sort of needs to happen which is separating out what is popular from what is good. The difference between what’s popular and what’s good, based on news judgement, should make the difference in the long run. Travel, honestly, has always been some of the weakest journalism there is, and unfortunately that’s because we assume people only want to be fed the cotton candy. It’s our job to give them something good, but also figure out how to draw them in in a way they want to read.”
Guidebooks, as well, were hit extremely hard by the economic downturn, with print sales falling by 50 percent overall. This slump touched off a wave of consolidation in the industry. Google acquired Zagat for $151 million, and proceeded to integrate Zagat restaurant information into its Maps listings after rebranding the company as Zagat Travel. Google also bought Frommers for $23 million, eventually selling the company back to Arthur Frommer without its social media accounts.
Lonely Planet was acquired by BBC Worldwide for $210 million total in 2011 in a series of transactions beginning in 2007. In 2013, BBC sold off Lonely Planet to a U.S. billionaire for just $75 million.
Today, Lonely Planet has emerged from the fray as the most successful guidebook brand in the world, while also expanding into the digital space with apps and video content. By investing heavily in its digital presence while growing its library of guidebooks and other print titles, Lonely Planet has been able to grow while other guidebook companies haven’t.
“We’ve aggressively rebuilt our mobile web and main web platform, that’s obviously been ongoing for a few years,” said Lonely Planet CEO Daniel Houghton. “We’re also excited about what’s happened with the guide mobile app, we’ve aggressively expanded the cities from 30 to north of 100 and we’ll continue to grow. We’ve got a big year planned. We’re still expanding our content coverage with more books and types of content, more coffee table trade and reference titles, titles far beyond just guidebook content.”
Lonely Planet’s quarterly U.S. magazine is based off of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine, whose assets were acquired by the company in 2014 for $2.4 million, and the company operates 11 other magazines around the world. This multi-platform approach seems to have benefits in consumer travel media, especially since it appeals to travelers across many different levels of the travel marketing funnel.
“We have a core audience that is a fan of our blue spine guidebooks, and we release different collections like our best of series,” said Houghton. “It’s more about having a different product based on the kind of travel you want to do. Lonely Planet means a lot of things to a lot of different people; some people may have never bought one our books but watched the tv show, some people may have just subscribe to the magazine and don’t have an awareness of the other platforms. The most important piece has been authenticity. It’s great content that helps you discover incredible places, we’re very proud of that but also excited to create content to inspire people when they’re not on the road. We all don’t get to travel all the time.”
Newer travel magazines seemed to fare better during the downturn. Afar, which launched in 2009, has grown its circulation and digital usership over the same period that legacy magazines struggled.
“We started with the print magazine in 2009, we really felt like it was a really strong kind of way to plant a flag in the sand and determine what our point of view and perspective on travel is going to be,” said Julia Cosgrove, editor in chief of Afar Media. “We were pretty early to the experiential travel movement and we held true to that mission and to that focus ever since then. I really see print as the place where you give people this great travel inspiration where you tell them … you give them great storytelling, you give them provocative photography, you give them whole design, and it’s this nice lean-back experience in magazine form. When digital comes in, it’s really all about service and providing resources to travelers to help them travel better.”
Afar grown its traction among U.S. consumer travel magazines. Yet due to the move away from print advertising by travel brands, a more robust digital presence gives magazines like Afar the ability to appeal to advertisers with cheaper and more diverse advertising packages.
Dozens of other niche travel magazines with sleek design and longform reporting, like Cereal, Suitcase, Boat, and others, have filled the gap as bigger travel media brands have largely worked to grow their digital scale. Yet these publications don’t really have an established business model behind them, despite their slick production and contemporary aesthetics.
Most print publications also have branded trips available for purchase online, with ads appearing in their print editions as well, representing another revenue stream in an industry searching for the way forward.
At its core, the struggle of travel media companies to adapt to the digital is tied to the habits and desires of consumers themselves. Not many readers will take the time to sit and read a lengthy story on a destination anymore, opting instead for a quirky but flimsy story that entertains them or a bevy of user generated reviews.