Key Themes in Online Travel

I had the opportunity to attend and moderate panels at an intimate event in Chicago last month, EyeforTravel's Online Marketing seminar. Every year, they produce a massive summit in Las Vegas, and also organize a host of smaller, more focused events around the world.

No stranger to the world of search conferences, I still consider myself somewhat of a newbie when it comes to the more established travel industry trade events. However, attending events like these are always beneficial because it bridges the gap between the sophistication of traditional travel and brand marketers with the down and dirty tactics we employ in the SEO/SEM world.

Merging these two worlds is an underlying theme as I go into the process of planning SES Travel events. At travel industry trade shows, we often see the C-level executives, some of whom are keenly aware of the value search marketing brings to an organization, and as a functional SEO, gaining that buy-in and trust of the organization is mission-critical. For those managing mega paid search, driving revenue and maintaining profitable campaigns is top of mind, so that they'll be rewarded with additional budget.

In today's tense economic times, there's even more on the line, so knowing exactly where every dollar is going and estimating the potential return of that spend, puts enormous pressure on the SEO/SEM personnel. Knowing what's important to the company as a whole can help shape the direction of smart online marketing, and helps to give some clarity as to where to invest time and resources when it comes to search marketing.

At the EyeforTravel event, the executives and the do-ers came together to discuss the "state of the industry," so today we'll review those key themes heading into the second half of 2008.

Key Themes in Today's Online Travel World

  1. Is the certainty of organic SEO declining? With so many well-established brands, and early adopters of SEO, is there any room for new entrants? However, most travel marketers agree that you must get SEO 100 percent right.
  2. At what point does SEM become saturated in the travel vertical? Smart advertising is going to be your savior, and implementing strategic dayparting and re-targeting techniques will stretch your ad dollars even further. Greg Johnston, director of eCommerce at Hyatt Hotels, gave a particularly telling example of rising costs and competition: In 2005, Hyatt's average CPC was $0.25; in 2006, it rose to $0.35; in 2007, it jumped to $0.89; today, it's averaging $1.25.
  3. How will brand marketing continue to affect SEM in this maturing industry? Branded searches are up 15 percent on the major search engines. How can smaller companies create an impact and compete in well established market segments? Narni Ilagan Yoder, a senior manager at Google, noted how setting the tone and expectations within the PPC medium will become more important, presumably in both conversions and in creating brand awareness and loyalty.
  4. Customer service and retention crosses over from offline to online attitudes. Use your call center to help improve the quality of your Web site, and fill in the content gaps, said Steve Pinetti, SVP of Sales and Marketing at Kimpton Hotels.
  5. Get smarter about social media marketing, get buy-in, budget, and make it profitable for your company. Cassanda Jeyaram, social marketing manager for InterContinental Hotels, gave the most practical advice for crafting social media programs, by employing Forrester Research's P.O.S.T. (people, objectives, strategy, technology) rather than just throwing anything up to see what sticks. You'll find that creating measurable social campaigns provide more long term value and cost savings when you consider these elements: exposure/PR, retention, and revenue.

I'd be very interested to hear your feedback on these issues and beyond in the travel space, as I look ahead in my calendar to the Getting Vertical Search Right session at SES San Jose.

About the author

Elisabeth Osmeloski has been in the search engine marketing industry since 1999, with agency experience as an SEO consultant and web copywriter for a variety of clients, ranging from small businesses to large corporations, as well as working in-house for a travel search industry startup. Elisabeth is also a regular speaker and a moderator at the Search Engine Strategies conferences.

Elisabeth recently launched a new blog and consulting agency, Adventures in Search, specializing in editorial services including content strategy, SEO copywriting, community development and management, social media marketing, online PR and customized link building. Elisabeth's areas of expertise include adventure travel services, destination and tourism marketing, outdoor recreation and action sports, as well as luxury- and lifestyle-focused brands.

She holds a B.A. in Marketing from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She also spent several years as the Skiing Editor for About.com, and still enjoys writing as an active travel journalist whenever possible. In addition to freelance travel writing assignments, Elisabeth has also created Downhill Divas, a social network for women interested in skiing, snowboarding, freeride mountain biking and living a healthy, active lifestyle.