5 Behavioral Science Marketing Tips For The Travel & Hospitality Industry

By Lianne Wade (Vice President, Customer Insight)

As we are in the depths of winter — with a blizzard just hitting New England with more than a foot of snow — many of us are happily considering vacation travel plans for this year, hoping for that warm refuge of palm trees and tropical drinks.

A good deal of time is spent planning that next vacation by checking reviews, researching destinations, and comparing travel prices between companies. And today, most of this is done on mobile devices.

For travel & hospitality marketers, it is important to be in front of us would-be travelers throughout the consideration and purchase journey in order to be there at the right time, with the right message, and in the right channel. And it’s becoming more challenging than ever to do this with online and social media influences and the many choices these represent.

How do travel marketers meet this challenge and compete effectively?

One approach which is creating a buzz in the marketing industry is applying the science of human behavior to motivate action — something we do every day at Wilde Agency. Behavioral science studies how people make decisions, and research has found that up to 95% of decisions are made subconsciously.

How do you tap into these subconscious decisions to motivate consumers to prompt the desired actions you want?

There are literally hundreds of behavioral science principles, but I’ll share 5 of these principles and illustrate how they can be applied to the Travel & Hospitality industry to connect with empowered would-be travelers.


1. PERSONALIZATION

Consumers are expecting a customized, tailored experience from travel brands. One way to accomplish this is to leverage data that you have about consumers and deliver customized messaging and offerings across multiple channels.

Psychographics can enhance your data, covering lifestyle/interests/attitudinal information which can be used to connect with consumers at a deeper and more meaningful level.

Millennials and GenXers rate personalization as the most important element to their mobile experience. (Tweet this!)

Uber does this well by providing a personalized experience, storing a customer’s payment info in exchange for one-click car rentals and tracking of their chosen vehicle.

And, more and more consumers want to feel home away from home while on vacation. How do travel marketers answer this need?

Here are a couple of examples:

Airbnb introduced a new service, called Airbnb Trips, to give guests a more personalized experience by making restaurant reservations, tour bookings, and offering guidebooks with a local flair.

Airbnb Trips Screenshot

For the growing segment of pet lovers out there —79.7 million of us representing 65% of US households according to the APPA National Pet Owners Survey — there are hotels such as Marriott, who accommodate pets and treat them like real guests.

But how do you reach these pet owners and lovers? Enhance your data by appending information about their pet ownership status and market to them with customized messaging and service offerings that appeal to their pet interests and needs.

Marriott - Pet Friendly Hotels


2. COGNITIVE FLUENCY

We are all essentially lazy people, as we don’t naturally want to work too hard to get the things we want.  There is a behavioral science principle that supports this called Cognitive Fluency.

If something is easy to understand or do, you will be more likely to take action, and it will be more credible as well. (Tweet this!)

How does this apply to travel marketing? First, a couple of facts according to the 2015 Adobe Digital Index Travel Report:

  • Mobile devices are being used more often among travelers. One of every $5 spent on travel comes from a mobile device.
  • 72% of consumers rank simplification of tasks as the most important aspect of the experience.

Consumers expect a streamlined mobile experience and will abandon an app or a website if it is too difficult… And, well, JetBlue is listening. They offer integrated boarding passes with Apple Passbook. This provides a seamless customer experience encouraging consumers to want to fly JetBlue.

Chatbots, or Digital Personal Travel Assistants, are also becoming popular because they know customers’ preferences for airlines and hotels and help streamline the process of choosing/changing plans.
A specific area of opportunity for travel marketers is sending SMS texts to consumers. In a study by OpenMarket Chatbot Survey, 54% of mobile consumers find it very useful to respond conversationally via Chatbot SMS text, yet 75% of consumers are not receiving SMS notifications from travel companies. So travel marketers, listen up and start sending those texts — but in the right context and in combination with other channels.

Digital Personal Travel Assistants


3. AUTHORITY PRINCIPLE

Remember when travel agents were the only way to book travel? Understandably, in our digital world, the number of travel agents has dropped significantly since 2000 when there were 124,000; now down to 70,000 in 2016.

In 2015, 18% of travelers worked with an agent, a significant 50% jump from the previous year. They are making a comeback!

You can thank Millennials, in part, for this resurgence. 34% percent of Millennials said that they had consulted a travel agent in the last 12 months — higher than any other generational group; and 39% plan to do so in next 2 years.

Why? Travel agents offer consumers unique, personalized experiences with the expertise to do the research and help travelers enjoy unique vacations. They are considered the new concierge.

Although I’m not a millennial, I use travel agents. I recently made a return visit to Hawaii for a two-week vacation with my husband to celebrate a special anniversary (and return to the place of our honeymoon). I didn’t think twice about using a travel agent, as I wanted to be sure that our experience would be just as special as our first trip to these magical islands.

And I was glad I did; our agent provided us with exceptional service, great rates on hotels and transfers, valuable advice, tips on the best luau, fabulous restaurants with one-of-a-kind views, and several other extras along the way that made our return visit very special to us.

This trust that Millennials (and others, like me) have in travel agents reflects the Authority Principle.

That is, you are more likely to heed advice or take action from someone you look up to or admire, or trust as a credible source. (Tweet this!)

Travel booking companies can promote the personalized service that agents can provide consumers, reducing stress from the travel planning process and relying on the agents to ask the right questions to get the experiences you seek.

Departure Lounge, an innovative travel agency and coffee/wine bar in Austin, takes it to a new level by providing a space where visitors can discover the world’s top destinations in an upscale, interactive discovery zone while enjoying coffee, wine and treats.

Departure Lounge


4. SOCIAL PROOF

Many of us rely on the advice of our friends, peers or others that are similar to us, even if we don’t know them.  This is called Social Proof, and it can be a very powerful motivator, particularly in the travel industry.

The growth of user-generated content (or UGC for short) provides authenticity and can influence consumers towards a brand more than the brand itself can. We want inspiration and validation from our peers.

Overall, 76% of consumers trust UGC content over brand content. (Tweet this!)

And Millennials plan travel 89% of the time based on content posted by peers online! This is according to Hospitality Technology, 5 Ways Social Media Has Transformed Tourism Marketing.

Hotels, airlines and travel sites are picking up on this trend by using this UGC. Kimpton Hotels used guests’ wedding photos and encouraged them to take photos, tag them with the hashtag #KimptonWeddings. It was free, authentic, and can be used across marketing channels, such as Twitter.

#KimptonWeddings Campaign


5. VISUAL STORYTELLING

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is still true today, and perhaps even more so in the Travel & Hospitality industry. Providing a visual narrative is very powerful. Look at the growth of Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.

Visuals which tell a story can help travel marketers emotionally connect with consumers, by allowing them to visualize themselves in the unique experience. (Tweet this!)

And coupled with storytelling, it will be more memorable as well.

According to the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association, travel marketers are leveraging visual storytelling more. 89% use content creators and demand for visual assets (such as video and photography) continues to grow. Other sources for visual storytelling are UGC and social media influencers.

So utilize visual tools in your travel website user experience and across social media platforms.  As part of this, tell a story to pull them in and include authentic videos/photos of real people and places.

South African Tourism’s video is a good example of a brand telling a story in an emotional and visual way.


Should you want to learn more about how behavioral science can be applied to the Travel & Hospitality industry, download our travel and dining infographic, based on our proprietary behavioral economics research study.

Should you want to speak to us, contact John.Sisson@WildeAgency.com and learn how behavioral science can be applied to your specific marketing challenges to influence the consumer behaviors you desire to achieve your goals in 2017.

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