The most sophisticated organizations in online travel -- major hotel chains, airlines and those behemoth aggregator sites -- market "low season" prices and discounted rates for unsold inventory.
Why? These companies rely on years, even decades of data collection and analysis. They're incredibly adept at taking that data to formulate their marketing plans.
Based on user trends, these organizations manage their search marketing budget and online activities by quarters, monthly, and weekly initiatives. In search marketing, that data becomes even more of a science, breaking down user behavior into daily, even hourly trends when appropriate, in reaction to search ads.
With the work of in-house search marketing armies, or incredibly savvy agencies, these types of organizations have gotten an even bigger boost by utilizing every ounce of keyword data and online consumer trends available to them. Rest assured -- in addition to all the data they've gathered from paid search campaigns -- they've also done their homework when it comes to organic search trends and behavior.
So it shouldn't be any surprise that these types of organizations then turn around and start filling that unsold inventory as far in advance as possible, and shortening the gap that used to mean millions (lost) in potential revenue. At least by offering 'last minute' or off-season deals, they're gaining incremental sales in what would've resulted in a loss otherwise.
The Trickle Down Effect
As search marketing has grown from a cottage industry to a viable marketing channel, even small to medium-sized businesses in tourism have benefited as the industry has matured. Those pearls of search marketing wisdom handed down from the top dogs in travel have most certainly made an impact on their bottom line.
As an industry, we've spent the last 10 years proselytizing the value of keyword research, content development, and tracking conversions. Simple keyword research turns up incredible opportunities for developing content and capturing low-hanging fruit.
Suddenly, attracting those consumers looking for 'discount this' or 'cheap that' are much easier to obtain when you start targeting them early in the travel planning process. You tell them when they should visit for the best prices. Make a case for activities and attractions people only associate with certain seasons. Let them know they'll avoid the crowds by coming during an off time.
Ski resort towns in summer? Why not? Hiking, biking, golf, rafting, horseback riding, food festivals, and fun family activities can be as fun, and (often) much more affordable than a ski vacation at that same ritzy resort. You get all the same perks though such as scenic views and fresh mountain air.
A boutique hotel or resort may be able to take its occupancy rate from 60 percent to 70 percent just by implementing search marketing initiatives. They're suddenly able to capture customers they didn't know wanted to visit their property in all four seasons.
Over time and across each season, that occupancy rate continues to shrink as they get repeat customers, word of mouth/social media referrals and new sources of bookings driven by new online channels. As the occupancy rate shrinks, the gap between 'high season' rates and 'low season' rates gets increasingly smaller. As a result, high season rates continue to track upward with demand, and low season rates aren't as much of a good deal as they once were. That forces travelers to look for new and undiscovered destinations.
The Tipping Point
As our society becomes more reliant on the Internet for our travel planning needs, aren't we collectively going to have an impact on the future of the travel industry in general?
With billions of pages on the Web already created by the travel and tourism industry, and users adding their own two cents at an alarming rate, we're on the fast track to tell the world our own personal travel secrets.
As search marketers, we're exploiting the trends of seasonality for additional traffic and conversions. The real kicker? As travel search marketers become more effective in paid search, social media, and related online marketing, the concept of seasonality is actually in danger of becoming less relevant.
On the other hand, the seasonality factor in travel may always be affected to a certain extent by the basics of supply and demand, as well as external forces including economic drivers, political unrest, and the unpredictable forces of Mother Nature.
But hey, at least you still can get a cheap beachfront condo during hurricane season, not to mention two-for-one margaritas.
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