2008 – The Year Of Niche Travel
I have good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news, so this article can proceed in the positive manner readers will have become accustomed to: Travel bookings are down in the USA, both online and offline for 2007. Now, the flip side: travel expenditure is on the up. Usually one would expect these two figures to move in largely the same direction, but as there is a drop in the number of people buying, the larger revenues can only mean that people are willing to spend more for a holiday. This is good news but what does it mean? In a recent article, Forrester analyst Henry Hartveldt states that “Customers are tired of spending two or three hours trying to find the airline or hotel or vacation package that meets their needs.” In the same article, Jeffery Grau, Emarketer’s senior analyst, states that “Online travel distributors’ booking tools were made for mass consumption of uniform goods.
They have yet to switch to an era of individual consumption of unique goods.” Jeffrey goes on to say that holidays should not be designed through some kind of one-size-fits-all brief. Increasingly people want the personalisation that offline travel agencies are often better at providing. To me, from an online marketing point of view, this is a huge opportunity for niche operators. Not only are people prepared to spend more on their holidays but they are increasing looking for more individual holidays.
These niche holiday makers lean towards those experts who have the knowledge to create interesting holiday experiences for them. Often the brick and mortar holiday providers offer customers a better experience in this regard – they can talk to a sales rep, who will be able to understand their experiences and help them to make their ideal holiday. We carried out some of our own keyword research on a variety of phrases related to tailor made holidays and found that there are a nice selection of these being used on UK search engines with fairly good numbers. So, we know the market is there, but how can niche operators capitalise on the demand? The answer is, of course, by providing everything that can be found in the high street online. You need to allow customers to mix and match hotels, flights and itineraries to create their own unique experience. By all means offer itinerary suggestions, but always remember that your customers are unique and will like certain bits while disliking others, so give them the option to make the changes THEY want. You will likely find a large proportion of your visitors will consider paying just a little more for their own holiday experience, rather than having to make do with an inflexible package that is sold to the mass market. Of course this could create a dilemma in the programming of your site – as Jeffery Grau said earlier – most websites are designed for the old world where consumer choice meant selecting the country, city and hotel. If you have the time and resources to make your site offer the functionality, then excellent, but it isn’t always necessary: You can create a similar effect by listing a few sample itineraries online, and then offering your customers a chance to have their dream package made for them in person: Provide phone numbers, with calls to action, letting the customer know that they can have their dream vacation tailored to their needs, and that your staff are prepared to bend over backwards to structure a package just for them. It may seem that changing the way your company offers holidays is excessive for the niche market which is, by definition, limited, but the trends in the US (which Europe usually catches up with sooner or later) suggest to us that the market is going to exert greater influence in the future.
2008 could well be the year of niche travel, and if you get the groundwork right, you may find a nice increase in traffic from those disillusioned by the paint-by-numbers nature of the UK package holiday market.
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