Is the travel industry coming to terms with the strategic importance of content marketing in the e-commerce environment?
At this year’s Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association, Tim Peter shared an informative presentation focused on content strategy from a corporate perspective, highlighting many of the content mismanagement issues commonly found on travel and hospitality-centered websites. At different intervals, he would go back to the same question: “Whose job is it?”
Of course, the answer Peter was fishing for was quite simple: it’s the job of the Chief Content Officer or VP Content Strategy, who not only must have decision-making freedom to oversee the company’s overarching content strategy and goals, but must also have the buy-in and support of the company’s senior leadership.
In the travel and hospitality industry, there are great opportunities to create content that people love to share; moreover, travel industry marketers can create content in multiple languages, ultimately giving them terrific leverage for creating fun, engaging content to wider markets. And yet, historically, the travel and hospitality industry has been slow to get on the content strategy bandwagon from a senior-level perspective. In fact, it’s only in recent years that conferences like Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association have seen senior-level content strategists, like Wyndham Hotel Group’s VP of Content Strategy & Operations, Anne Cole, on their rosters.
Handcuffed by Norms
Even today the norm is to pay for traffic and try to convert with very average content. Content is still viewed as a commodity, not a strategic asset, by many online businesses, a mistake that impacts both short- and long-term agendas.
As cost per click rates rise and site functionality becomes increasingly standardized, online travel agencies, hotel chains, and cruise lines will find it tougher and tougher to differentiate themselves online.
By creating useful, unique and engaging content that helps buyers stick on the site and ultimately purchase, brands have the opportunities to:
- enable fans to share content they like
- rank for many keywords they may not have purchased in their PPC efforts
- create long term digital real estate to publish quality content, establishing a trustworthy brand and growing conversion potential.
Consumers search online to find the right information and inform their purchase decisions—this is a hospitality company’s Zero Moment Of Truth—and whoever best answers the consumers’ questions will be better positioned to win their business. The strategy to develop, maintain and publish quality, informative content should come from the very top, touch all departments, and answer all of your customer’s questions online so they don’t have to turn to press sites, random bloggers, or <gulp!> the competition! Moreover, as Peter noted, the most successful content strategies cannot work in a siloed business model because client/customer engagement impacts each and every department of an organization, from customer support to sales strategy, mar-com to product development.
Fear Not the Review!
Online user reviews have also been a popular (and often taboo) topic over the years, but it is clear they can positively impact conversion. Sites like Trip Advisor have completely changed (for the better) the way many hotel companies handle customer service online, and yet the travel industry remains in the rut of sharing the same content across various distributors—content that, because it is shared, ultimately has no effect on organic traffic and offers little in the way of valuable information to visitors.
I have been evangelizing content strategy best practices in the hospitality industry, mainly here in Europe, for the better part of a decade, and this is the first time I have seen this topic discussed so thoroughly at a travel-focused conference. From my perspective, this represents a big evolutionary step for the industry, and I am really happy to see it happening in Europe, a complex, multilingual business landscape where sound content strategies are crucial if large online travel distributors are to reach multiple audiences.
Especially in an industry where margins are slim and just half a percent in conversion represents a massive change, the most efficient Online Travel Agencies and suppliers will be those employing smart, well-defined content and social strategies. Look no further than a site like Booking.com, which smartly integrated social, SEO, and unique content very early in the game and is now looked at as an industry success story. Another example: EVG recently helped a large US travel website develop and deploy a content strategy game plan, and the first year saw them reach double-digit growth in their global traffic number—a big change for a travel company without requiring them to spend millions in PPC!
Eric Ingrand – Director, Business Development