Search is a tremendous tool for understanding audience intent. It accounts for more than half of the nearly $11 billion digital travel spend in 2019, according to eMarketer. But relying on search alone is fundamentally reactive - targeting travelers who are already deep into the sales funnel. Travel marketers can become proactive by supplementing search with first-party location data and contextual engagement to identify future unknown travelers at the top of the funnel.
What’s missing when you build a sales funnel exclusively around search
Building the funnel around search leads to both over-inclusive and under-inclusive results. On the over-inclusive side, travel marketers understand that they’re, in part, engaged in selling a consumer a “dream.” Some search activity will represent real prospects near the bottom of the funnel, but others are simply people daydreaming about a trip they may never take or can’t afford. The under-inclusive side speaks to the exact opposite problem. By the time a traveler sees a search retargeted ad, they’ve likely already decided on a destination or booked their trip.
Location & first party contextual data qualifies an audience
Our travel plans are more predictable than we think. Location and contextual first-party data starts by identifying those who’ve voted with their wallets by traveling in the past. A history of vacation travel is a key first step in narrowing the audience and identifying high-propensity future travelers. People who’ve traveled internationally in the past, for example, are more likely to do so again. People who regularly vacation near home aren’t likely to deviate from that pattern.
The second step is context. Mapping future travelers to competitive locations, departure airport locations, etc., qualifies a traveler for likely destinations and even a spending profile. People may search far-off destinations, but contextual data offers a preemptive reality check on those searches because it grounds marketing leads in established patterns. For example, while New Yorkers may daydream about Hawaii, they’re more likely to visit Florida’s beaches.
Finally, a key part of finding good prospects is screening by discretionary income, which is typically overlooked and/or mostly unavailable in the search retargeting workflow. Discretionary income is arguably more important than tracking any random search because it immediately disqualifies audiences for whom such travel is impossible. Who can afford to travel? Who can’t? Who has the means to make multiple trips per year? These are just a few of the questions a travel marketer should be able to ask of their target audience.
Advertisers can be proactive in several ways:
- Identify people who have visited competitive vacation locations and their departure location
- Determine how often people fly and where
- Qualify audiences based on lifestyle similarities and discretionary income
- Construct lookalike models for each destination that identify audiences that statistically qualify the potential traveler by travel pattern, affluence and lifestyle
- Initiate a programmatic campaign to proactively reach out to prospects and initiate the conversation
Combining location with first-party contextual data increases accountability
Travel marketers must prove that digital campaigns are delivering real-world results. This is challenging for convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs) and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) due to costs.
Location data and first-party contextual data gives travel marketers a way to connect what’s happening in their marketing funnel with measurable outcomes inside their digital campaigns. After all, if that data can be used to qualify audiences at the top of the funnel, marketers can reverse-engineer their work to verify results at the bottom of the funnel.