High-flying Deals on Demand
Sales 101: One of the quickest ways to make the sale is to ask for it. Plug a generic word like "travel" into a search engine these days, and the subsequent results page is full of companies promising the lowest prices and asking Web surfers to book their next vacations using their sites.
Asking for the sale amid the clamor of the dozens of other sites doing the same thing can make it tough to get the message out there.
Taking the art of the ask one step further, New York-based discount travel site Travelzoo sidesteps the riotous nature of the first search results page with an e-mail strategy that delivers the ask right to the consumer's inbox. Travelzoo's weekly top 20 e-newsletter -- called the Travelzoo Top 20 -- gives online deal-seekers all the information they need to book a price-conscious trip at a moment's notice.
The deals that make the cut
Full-disclosure: While Travelzoo is a comparison site for travel-minded individuals, most of the deals listed on the site are paid placement. The site advertises deals for more than 900 clients, including hotel chains, airlines, cruises and even other travel sites, such as Travelocity and Expedia, says Mindy Joyce, marketing director at Travelzoo. But that doesn't mean the reduced prices offered by the site aren't legitimate.
"Often a company comes to us and wants to promote a deal, but if our producers evaluate the deal and figure out the value isn't competitive in the market, we won't include it on the site," Joyce says.
While Travelzoo posts and organizes deals on its site daily according to type -- airfare, lodging, car rental, destination, etc. -- every Wednesday the site e-mails the top 20 offers to its more than 12 million subscribers.
The site's 40 producers -- kind of an editorial staff for sweet travel deals -- pick through a week's worth of advertisers' offers looking for deals that are a cut above the rest. Considerations include how a deal compares to prices at the same time the previous year, whether a competing site offers anything similar and the value of freebies included with the package.
"Ultimately, we just want to do whatever it takes to make sure the deal is accurate, affordable and easy to book," Joyce says.
And to build consumer trust, Travelzoo occasionally includes offers from nonadvertisers, just because the deal in question is too good not to pass along.
Deals delivered simply, but effectively
While the Top 20 e-mails contain links to each featured deal, Travelzoo has opted to send text-based e-mails rather than HTML. Joyce notes that while this means the company can't track open rates, clickthrough rates still are easily trackable, which is important to each advertiser.
Consumers have learned to respond quickly to the deals in the Top 20 e-mail, because some offers sell out quickly.
"Airfare deals tend to sell quickly and could be sold out in a day; hotels sometimes take longer," Joyce says. "Some of our clients can sell thousands of room nights or cruise cabins in a 24-hour period."
Even though many offers sell out in a matter of hours, Joyce says, the Top 20 e-mail often has an extended shelf life. Recent focus groups hosted by Travelzoo have revealed that users save the e-mails and refer to them weeks later for destination inspiration or because they liked a particular company's past offers.
Branding opportunities and Web 2.0
While online travel marketers certainly can learn a lot from Travelzoo's marketing approach, there are other tricks of the trade for online travel marketers.
To learn more about these techniques, eM+C turned to Ryan Bifulco, founder and president of Atlanta-based online travel marketing firm Travel Spike. Here, he explains some additional online travel marketing tactics.
eM+C: What are the hot marketing trends in online travel right now?
Ryan Bifulco: That depends on the type of campaign. What might be good for an airline might not be as effective for a tourism board or an attraction or a hotel. But broadly, what's really been hot in the last few years is search. Pay-per-click campaigns in particular are doing very well. But those campaigns are really good only for retail travel or as a call to action.
Right now we're seeing the industry doing more branding and awareness on the Internet. Now it's not just about clicks and impressions anymore; it's about engagement and interaction with the customer. Rather than only advertising to an audience, you can actually have them participate in what's actually going on, whether that means getting involved with social media or just creating a campaign that's very engaging.
Seventy-two percent of folks in the travel industry have indicated that they will be spending money on social media marketing and/or social networking in the next 12 months.
Social media marketing is really about going on the offensive, leaving the confines of your own Web site and finding out what people are saying about you. And that's different from social networking, which is more defensive, in that you're setting up a space for people to talk about you in the safety of your site.
eM+C: How do you recommend companies go on the offensive with social media marketing?
RB: There are 70 million blogs on the Internet. It's nearly impossible to monitor all of that chatter, but you do want to search for your name and listen to what others are saying about you. But going on the offensive means engaging with other Web sites, travel directories, podcasters, bloggers or social networks to see if you can exchange links or advertise on those sites.
eM+C: What Web 2.0 technologies is the travel industry embracing?
RB: We've recently built an interactive online game for one of our clients. That's an area I think will see growth in the next few years. You're seeing games that really involve the consumer in the marketing process, and you can have a really great branding experience, as well. We built our game for the Trade and Tourism Office of Portugal and the Tourist Office of Spain. People can learn a little bit more about Portugal and Spain, but have a good time, as well.
Another thing is podcasting. Recently we helped a client create a walking tour in West Hollywood. Consumers download this audio to their iPods, and we give directions like, "To your left is where Marilyn Monroe used to hang out; and over here to the right is where Guns N' Roses got its start."
They also can use podcasts, audio or video to give people a behind-the-scenes look at their hotels or at their restaurants or at their attractions. There's a lot of fun ways to get involved in podcasting.