Disclaimer: The Event was held before circuit breaker measures set in.

Our Head of Digital Strategy, Alysa Carolina, spoke at a workshop “Digital Marketing in the Travel and Leisure Industry”, co-organized with American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham Singapore). She was joined by other travel and leisure (T&L) industry experts, including Farah Sinjeri, Senior E-Marketing Manager, at The Fullerton Hotels & Resorts and Jude Davidson, Regional Director for Asia at HomeAway.

The workshop discussed key trends happening in the T&L industry and the latest digital strategies for marketers to adopt in the post-COVID-19 world.

As the COVID-19 pandemic grips the world, it has impacted multiple industries. The first to feel its brunt and the hardest hit is the travel and leisure industry. The World Travel and Tourism Council projected that there will be a global loss of 75 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue because of COVID-19.

That is a staggering impact! How can the T&L industry bounce back after the outbreak?

Read on to find out the key points discussed during the workshop.

Trends reshaping the Customer journey

Longer customer journey

We understand that when it comes to travel, inspiration is everywhere. It could come from scrolling through a friend’s post, seeing an ad, or walking past a travel store. An individual is constantly thinking about travel but when it comes to actual planning and purchase for a trip, it can take months to a year.

Before the coronavirus crisis, the average traveler spent 13% of their time online conducting travel-related activities.

This amount of time could be increased significantly post COVID-19, especially when they are recovering from economic losses, face tighter budget constraints, and even think about putting off their travel plans.

Travelers are also taking more time to reconsider their purchase decision. This means a greater trend towards trip cancellations or re-bookings.

A focus on the travelers’ needs outweighs a price focus

Your customers’ needs must be prioritized.

An individual travels for different reasons, whether it’s for a family visit, a break from their daily hustle or to satisfy their wanderlust. But as long as a brand shows that it can meet these traveling needs, people usually respond by taking an action which is to make a purchase.

That is because today’s travelers need help planning not just any trip, but also the right trip experience for them. Thus knowing what motivates their travels will help inspire new products, value propositions, and marketing strategies, which can all help to build customer loyalty for a T&L business.

Social media and videos are important sources of travel inspiration 

Visual content is appealing. With 79% of consumers preferring to watch a video to learn about a brand, it is no wonder that visual content is an extremely important source of inspiration when it comes to travel. Our Instagram feeds are full of travel selfies and pictures of stunning spots posted by travel influencers. These images and stories contribute to the wanderlust and the FOMO moment for people, as Davidson calls it.

Jude shared that, “The millennial generation is what’s driving the growth of the travel industry as they now have more money to spend on travel. They also spend a considerable amount of time on social media and the internet, surfing and constantly researching for their next dream vacation.  If we ignore this generation, we are not thinking about how they use digital tools such as social media and mobile, we are going to lose business.”

Now that we are aware of these trends, how can the T&L industry provide a better customer experience for different kinds of travelers?

Key digital transformations that are driving travel

Visual content and personalized customer experience will be the 2 greatest driving forces behind the growth of the T&L industry.

It was a common consensus during the workshop that businesses in the T&L industry need to research and tailor to their customers’ needs and user experience.

Data is also critical to understand customer behavior, and it also impacts the way T&L businesses provide customers with recommendations, offers and opportunities.

Jude explained that HomeAway (part of the Expedia group) experiences an average of 2.3 billion interactions on their site every month. These interactions help the company understand what people are searching for and how long is their travel window.

“Increasingly, they (travelers) want in an online world, what old school travel agents used to do for us… travelers are looking for brands that can package their trip together for them.  Planning journeys can be complicated, and travelers often end up taking weird paths as they are researching. While they want the freedom to plan their own trips, they also appreciate when brands help them customize their search and personalize the products offered to them.”

Leveraging on customer-centric technology to enhance the customer experience

HomeAway uses technology to understand customers’ pain points and joys. One way it does this is via user testing of their website where they study the users’ facial expressions while they browse their site. Davidson explains, “We watch what they do, watch what they frown at and how they react as they browse our site”.  

Additionally, HomeAway also offers virtual tours of their listed vacation homes. This type of remote viewing can improve user experience and help the potential traveler know what to expect, especially for families with kids, who usually have a lower tolerance for disappointments.
Vacation Home Virtual Tours with Homeaway

The virtual tours also help vacation homeowners earn more bookings. With the tours, they can showcase their homes better and allow people to “feel” and “see” the inside of the actual home. This encourages confidence in their homes and compels travelers to book their homes.

Digital marketing is important but it all starts with an optimized website

Another important point that was discussed during the workshop was how digital marketing was a vital tool to attract and increase direct bookings. To begin with, companies need to act quickly to improve customer’s online experience. With everything going digital, it should come as no surprise that companies should be focusing efforts on digital advertising.

According to Farah, the key trends the hospitality industry is seeing is aggressive digital marketing by OTAs and the upcoming rise of Google Hotel Ads. This coupled with the existing high online competition has made it harder to make your voice heard.

The key step to ensuring The Fullerton Hotel’s digital marketing efforts drive revenue is to start from the basics – with a high revenue producing hotel website. Their website was optimized for load speed and more mobile devices with a simple booking process. As Farah explains, “Speed and design of a website are highly important. Loading speed is exceptionally critical and relevant for any website. For the APAC region, users expect a maximum of 2.8 seconds for a page to load”.

She added, “The simpler the design, the better it is. Your message should be clear and your site should also allow easy navigation. Simplify customers’ booking process. There is an 80% chance that the customer won’t book with you if you don’t have these (site requirements)”.

With the basics in place, the team then focused on SEO to improve their search rankings.


Digital marketing strategies for the TL Industry

Alysa identified key areas that T&L businesses should focus on. They include content marketing, social media marketing as well as Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing.

Social media marketing and content marketing are ways for companies to provide value add content and are effective ways to educate potential customers on your product offerings.

The Fullerton Hotel leverages user-generated content for social media content. It encourages users to share social media images taken at the property with the brand hashtags #fullertonexperience and #fullertonmemories. The user-generated content is then reshared on its own social media accounts.

The event highlighted the trends faced by the travel and leisure industry. It is necessary for brands in the industry to embrace customer-centric technology and bring their potential customers on virtual experiences. These virtual experiences can then lead to bookings for the real travel experience. While there is increasing competition in the digital space, it is always important to ensure the basics are in place like an optimized website.

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Razy Shah has over 10 years experience as a digital marketer and strongly believes in walking the talk. He is the editor of Indian lifestyle portal Razy is a member of the marketing committee at BritCham. He has a keen sense of adventure and recently climbed Mount Yushan, the highest peak in Taiwan.

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