One of the key sessions at The 9th Marketing Conclave organised by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) was ‘Digital Marketing: Travel’ that focused on how a few organisations have successfully leveraged the platform and are effectively using social media marketing to connect with their audience. Moderated by Atul Hegde, CEO, Ignitee Digital Services the panel members included Stephen King, general manager-India, Virgin Atlantic; Subramanya Sharma, chief marketing officer, Cleartrip and Arif Patel, regional director of sales and marketing, South Asia, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
Recent years have seen a significant shift in consumer profile and preference. For one of India’s leading online travel agents (OTAs), Cleartrip, 25 per cent of the traffic today comes from mobile. It was 10 per cent last year. Interestingly, according to Sharma, the conversion is one-third of desktop. The next wave in marketing, he believes, is personalisation and targeting – for example source of target if he is coming from Google/ meta search, etc. “We are fanatical about consumer experience. We have developed passbook for iPhone and Android phones. The product can do a great deal to lower customer acquisition cost,” added Sharma.
Virgin Atlantic has spent a lot of money in the last few years in digital marketing technology. “We are now putting digital at the heart of what we do. We have our changed our website making it richer, there are more pictures, campaigns are also featured on the website. We are trying to remind people that flying is exciting,” said King. When the airline made changes to its economy class page, it led to 50 per cent more conversions through the page. Videos that have been put on the website have also added to the conversion rate. Prices were also put up to show transparency. King conceded that sms is an excellent way of communicating with the passenger. There is also the Virgin Atlantic App and partner apps. “50 per cent of frequent fliers access us through mobile web. We have a huge social media team, while Twitter keeps us up to date,” mentioned King. On board also some features have been added like sending of sms by passengers, the rates are same as international roaming.
Digital at Starwood includes launch of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) website and Facebook App, brand pages on Instagram and Pinterest, and strong focus on reputation and social engagement. “We have 24X7 media teams all over the world monitoring web activity,” said Patel. Starwood has mobile website in eight core languages. “Revenues through this channel have gone up considerably. We have uploaded videos which have enhanced search results,” added Patel.
An important emerging trend is in fact the video, which makes a lot of impact on consumer choice in the travel and tourism industry. “Since there is a lot of content on video, people are going to resize it, repackage it and make smaller versions of it,” stated Hegde, pointing out that there has been a marked increase in video consumption in India. He informed that four months back there were 125 million video views a day and today it is 150 million views in a day. Today there are more than 100 million users of YouTube in India; it was less than 20 million three years back. Also YouTube is introducing new formats for brands to create channel, get more branding and interactivity. “They are working with large brands to do syndicated research, pilots, new formats and properties. Interactive videos will be very important maybe not this year but next year,” mentioned Hegde.
The hospitality sector is using social media effectively. Prospective customers can find information about the business, location, price range and the latest updates through social media. “Companies view the use of online communities as a profitable marketing tool from which they can derive several benefits,” stated Hegde.
Hotel companies get a lot of feedback regarding their brands by monitoring consumer’s online conversations thus enabling them to resolve problems quickly and work to improve future brand performance. This apart, online communities are providing a real-time resource regarding market trends and consumer needs. “Companies in hospitality sector use these resources to modify advertising messages and develop special targeted features for future campaigns. Companies also observe whether their brands are truly suited to consumers‘lifestyles and can learn which features of their products make them special or unique in the eyes of the consumer,” he remarked.