Finding out how to inspire your customers is a big part of travel marketing. People travel to places that pique their emotions and they try activities that excite their interest. That’s why making an emotional connection is so important in travel marketing.
Customers have emotional expectations from their travel experiences and providers need to communicate their ability to meet these expectations.
There are numerous studies showing that emotional engagement is key to advertising success. Studies in 2014 and 2017 found emotions are strongly correlated with attention, memory, decision making and cognitive processing.
Research also shows that emotions strongly influence a person’s response to receiving a message. And emotional engagement with advertising is also known to impact how well a person remembers advertising they have seen.
It’s also why social media is such an important part of the travel marketing mix. People tend to be more relaxed on social media and it’s a social and visual medium. These characteristics chime particularly well with the need to emotionally engage an audience.
Facebook and Instagram are consistently more popular with travel marketers than other social platforms including Snap and Twitter. Images and video all play well on Facebook and Instagram whilst for Chinese audiences, you probably want to consider platforms such as QQ, Qzone, WeChat and Weibo.
These are the types of areas in your travel marketing where you may be able to engage customers on an emotional level.
Adapting to local audiences
For travel marketers working globally, the challenge is how to reach customers in many different languages.
Expert localisation is a core part of this; making sure your message is well-adapted into every local market. Travel can mean different things to different audiences, so the first step is understanding what travel means to people in different markets. It’s hard to make your brand relevant in each market it operates in, particularly when those markets have very different cultures.
To make things even harder, some markets are moving at a faster pace than others. Whilst the West has had generations of exposure to mass market travel, some emerging markets may have many customers who are venturing on pleasure trips for the first time.
The rate of change of some markets is extraordinary, with some emerging markets undergoing extraordinary economic and social change.
Despite the fast pace of consumer change in some emerging markets, it’s still important to stay fresh and relevant. Although consumers in some emerging markets may be relatively inexperienced travellers, many are also highly sophisticated consumers with a very clear sense of what they want from a trip.
Your brand still needs to look fresh and relevant and your messaging needs to stand out from the crowd. There are far too many clichéd travel ads with destinations being proposed using the same tired old language.
Consumers have a broad range of travel providers to choose from, which is why it’s so important for brands to stand out from the pack. Showing that your brand is different and showing that your brand understands the customer can only help to distinguish it against other brands that are using weaker messaging strategies. As a general rule, if your messaging could fit any other provider, then it’s not really unique to you.
Brands frequently make the mistake of trying to appeal to everyone, using messaging such as saying a destination has ‘something for everyone’ or vague statements such as ‘so much to offer’ – or the non-English equivalent cliché.
With the travel market now highly competitive in most parts of the world, it’s the niche marketers that are performing better than the generalists. Your brand may do much better if it focuses on segments such as pet-friendly or sustainable travel, screen tourism, or maybe the wine tour market.
Audiences that have niche interests are likely to be informed and passionate about these topics of interest. This makes it possible to engage them using informed language about their area of interest.
If your brand can show that it shares that same passion as your target audience, you’re more likely to get them on-side and show that you understand their needs. Your messaging needs to be well-informed around their topics of interest and demonstrate your true mastery of the space.
The demographic segments that find these niche travel ideas particularly appealing may vary from market to market. In China, where the post-pandemic travel market seems to be recovering nicely, some travel niches are particularly strong. These include shopping and specific cultural experiences they can’t have at home.
Whilst rest and relaxation may be popular niches in the West, it seems to be the case that many Chinese travellers prefer a packed schedule of experiences rather than just putting time in on a sun lounger. But just because a niche isn’t yet well established in any particular market, that doesn’t mean that it’s not there.
If your brand can identify an emerging niche and capture it, you might be able to leverage this discovery to be one step ahead of your competitors.
It’s important to really understand your audience’s motivation for travel before you try to market these niche travel types. For a Chinese audience, you may have less success with messages focused on peace and quiet and more on ones talking about having unique experiences, for example.
What’s important with niche travel marketing is to think about how your voice stands out from the crowd. Niche travel audiences want something that’s unique, and your brand needs to be confident about communicating its ability to meet that need.
The luxury market is probably one of the most significant travel niches. Although it’s a clearly defined part of the travel market and one with a unique voice, it’s striking how similar the messaging is from brands operating in this space.
Part of the problem is that even non-luxury travel brands try to encroach on the luxury space and co-opt the language of luxury. Even the word ‘luxury’ has been devalued through overuse. Luxury brands need to find a way to market themselves as really standing out against a background of mass-market brands that would like to pretend that they too are luxury brands.
Affluent travellers seeking personalised and authentic travel experiences need highly crafted messaging that really engages with them and promises the emotional rewards they want from travel.
It’s important to have a defined voice, a clear sense of who you are, and tell the story of what you offer in your travel marketing.
Luxury travellers are more likely to be seasoned travellers, we know that they make more trips per year than the average traveller, and they are seeking out experiences that are unique. Communicating with an authentic and unique voice is a big part of appealing to these travellers. It’s important to appeal to their sense of individuality, and you should also consider offering reassurance about their social status.
You may need to keep revising your sense of who your target demographic is. Whilst older age groups have tended to be wealthier, and hence have historically constituted a major part of the luxury audience, there’s a new emerging group of wealthy younger consumers.
Whilst their disposable income may be similar to older luxury travellers, their travel needs may be very different. They may be more motivated by Instagram, by wellness and sustainability, and they may be more likely to travel alone.
For brands trying to craft messages, these represent a very different set of audiences. Your marketing team may need to make difficult decisions about alienating travellers with more traditional, family-based values in favour of messages aimed at solo travellers with a taste for adventure.
There’s evidence that the luxury traveller is particularly strongly influenced by their peers compared to more mass-market consumers. You can try to encourage word of mouth referrals by supporting the shareability of your content, particularly on platforms such as Instagram which are significant for luxury travel.
You may also try working with luxury travel influencers to try to agree on messaging that works within your niche.
Luxury players have also done well at collaborating with one another in recent years – there’s a strong trend for luxury fashion partnering with luxury hotels, and there are even some more unexpected partnerships such as Gucci and Disney, or Dolce & Gabbana with Smeg. If you’re venturing into such a partnership the messaging may well be the key to the success of the collaboration.
Brands that find a niche in which to operate are likely to enjoy higher visibility compared to those that try to tackle the mass market. That’s particularly true in a digital sense. If you’re trying to compete against other operators for the keywords ‘beach holidays’, then you are likely to face tough competition, higher costs per click on paid ads and getting visibility through organic search could prove more challenging.
If you’re trying to promote yourself within a travel niche you can usually expect less competition and hopefully lower costs per click. Your organic SEO should be able to make you more visible than if you were trying to compete against other providers of beach holidays.
If you’re crafting your SEO strategy in a travel niche, it’s important to really understand organic search and make sure you’re making your brand as visible as possible. Stay on top of trends within your niche and make sure you adjust your keyword strategy to keep on top of changes.
Don’t underestimate the importance of metadata in helping your brand stand out from the crowd on search results pages.
Marketing to a broad group of consumers is notoriously expensive. Whilst you may be more effective with your spend when you’re targeting a niche, you still have to spend money to acquire customers within niches. This means identifying the keywords that are effective in each market, investing in international SEO and optimising your site for all the different language versions for the audiences you are trying to reach.
Niche groups tend to self-organise, meaning there are identifiable groups online such as in social media platforms or in particular areas of eCommerce. It’s possible to target these groups using advertising or outreach.
Your brand can also benefit from listening to your target audiences and getting a better idea of what they might want from a brand like yours.
If you’re operating internationally, you can probably expect your customers to organise themselves differently according to their language and cultural background. North American audiences might be in a Reddit forum, whilst Baidu Tieba (Baidu forums) might be a meeting place for Chinese audiences.
Social media platforms are also supportive in helping you target customers according to their preferred language, or a host of other characteristics such as their demographic or interests.
Try to use your platforms to define and reach the right audience for your particular niche, as this can be a highly cost-effective way to market travel. Different platforms offer different tools for segmenting audiences. Remember that the most effective way to win on social media is to listen and participate but avoid overt selling unless it’s in the form of an ad.
It’s a tough time to be in travel marketing. Whilst opportunities are emerging as the world recovers from years of pandemic turmoil, there are many competitors for the newly resumed travel trade.
The winners of this new landscape travel marketing are likely to be those that meet the emotional needs of customers that are starting to travel again. The travel market still shows a lot of promise but travellers have changed and brands need to show that they are able to meet those emotional needs going forward.