Technology Meets Cruise Trends

Port of Miami entrancePHOTO: Port of Miami entrance. (photo via Flickr/Phillip Pessar)Cruise travel is so hot right now.

In order to determine just how hot, advertising platform Sojern partnered with Google to ascertain the outlook.

The three biggest takeaways from the report pertain to mobile planning, influence and alternative forms of travel. First, there has been an uptick in mobile cruise searches during 2017—33 percent to be exact, accounting for 29 percent of such overall searches. Second, pricing (89 percent) and entertainment (47 percent) are among the factors that influence potential cruisers.

Third, those searching for other vacations may still opt for a cruise in time.

Additionally, the report cross-referenced Google’s treasure trove of search and survey data with Sojern’s own intent information from traveler profiles and purchase signals.

As much as mobile and online are important these days, offline booking is still viable. Of past cruisers, 41 percent still made their reservations either by utilizing a travel agent or calling the cruise line directly. However, trends are certainly shifting more digital, so online travel agencies are crucial. After all, 69 percent of cruisers desire to book their next trip online.

Going digital is an influence in itself. The video specifically is cited as an important tool in capturing travelers’ attention, (which is one of the very reasons I produce my own Popular Cruising YouTube channel).

As far as marketing is concerned, there is a multitude of paths a buyer may take before booking.

One of the most common, with a 37 percent share, remains a simple cruise search followed by the reservation. However, there are also bookings that follow one or more searches for other travel forms and agencies either before or after a cruise inquiry.

In other words, agents, as well as cruise lines, should have a strong online presence, especially via social media.

As one might expect, searches for key air destinations also correspond to cruise searches. In the top ten are Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Los Angeles, Boston, Cancun, Vancouver, San Juan, Honolulu, and Tampa.

Given most of these are also cruise hubs, it makes perfect sense that a search for something land-based might transfer over to something cruise based.

The report points out that, despite the wonderful all-inclusive value proposition of cruises, it is not always what leads people first to a cruise. Rather, it’s more often about a destination or experience.

Once another gets them interested, however, the value is a great way to win them over.

It’s worth noting a majority of cruise searches still occur on desktop platforms and almost all bookings are made on the desktop over mobile. During a week, most searches happen on Mondays and Tuesdays, with three-quarters via desktop. However, by the weekend, mobile searches account for one-third of the traffic.

Meanwhile, only 9 to 11 percent of reservations are actually made over mobile versus the remainder via desktop. There definitely seems to be potential to convert more mobile searches to bookings accordingly. Perhaps apps need to mature in this area to ensure better consumer confidence.

Ultimately, there remain plenty of ways in which a traveler can research and purchase a cruise vacation. Both cruise lines and travel agents need to simply be aware of the prime marketing positions and avenues to occupy.

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Put a clear data plan in place

As the American author, salesperson and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24-hour days.”

I talk with a lot of business professionals who tell me they want to devote more time to social media marketing tasks to improve their brand presence, attract new customers or engage with clients. Many social media managers feel that social media moves at a fast pace, which makes it hard to keep up.

Also, if a business does not have a clear plan in place, then competing priorities will most likely bump social media marketing tasks off the to-do list. If this sounds familiar, keep reading to discover five action items to keep social media marketing tasks on track.

Action item No. 1: Use data to set goals and establish priorities.

At the cornerstone of any social-media marketing strategy is data. Analyzing data can provide valuable insights to help guide decisions. Every three months, travel agents should be taking a deep dive into social media metrics to make decisions about where to spend time and money on this form of marketing.

There are many ways to analyze data. For example, does video, text or imagery generate comments, shares and likes? How about other engagement performance statistics that track reach or interactions by social channel? And don’t forget about website traffic reports that reveal acquisition and conversion stats. Travel professionals need to know how visitors are coming to a website and also how many of those visitors are responding to calls to action on specific landing pages.

There are free metric reports available on each social media channel for business owners. You can combine those reports with website data details via Google Analytics for a complete picture.

To learn more about metrics and how to create a social media marketing plan you should read:

Action item No. 2: Tidy up social media profiles.

Making sure that consistent branding meets your online audience is necessary for public relations and for presenting a professional image online.

If you don’t have time to devote to posting regularly on social media, at least the online audience can find out more about your company.

Some people set up social media accounts and forget to check back with the descriptions to make sure the information is accurate and full of keywords. Make sure there is an address and that details about your travel niche and images are consistent and up to date.

Consider making a spreadsheet that lists all your company’s social media handles and stats. Not only will a spreadsheet of all the social media channels with links to the websites be a time-saver; it can also serve as a file to keep track of growth numbers for setting goals.

Do a search for your business name on all social media channels to see if there are orphan accounts, which someone at your company or you set up and then forgot to use (this does happen).

In fact, a Facebook search on your business name might show results for competitors or spammers who are using the name of your business.

Facebook Search is also helpful to glean information about suppliers. Pay attention to other travel agents who are ranked on Facebook search along with your suppliers because of keywords in their business descriptions.

Action item No. 3: Use social media tools for better time management.

To combat the frustration caused by not knowing what to post or not having enough time to post on numerous social media channels, consider using tools to help curate content and to post messages on multiple accounts at the same time. Here are some tools to help accomplish more with less time.

  • Find content to share with online audiences with tools such as Google Alerts,FeedlyScoop.it or Storify.
  • Use a tool such as Hootsuite to manage multiple social media accounts in one location.

Action item No. 4: Develop an asset library of sharable content.

Can you relate? It is Wave season, and your competitor seems to have sponsored ads all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You have a budget set aside for social media advertising (in fact, your preferred suppliers are even willing to co-op some of the expense), but you don’t have the time it takes to edit photos and to create compelling paid-ad campaigns.

Why not create a content action plan to anticipate the needs of consumers looking for travel products?

The following are suggestions for planning ad campaigns that increase brand awareness and engagement (remember engagement means access to more people who will become familiar with your brand; social selling is all about relationships).

  • Collect and save photos from suppliers or recent site visits to use for ad campaigns. Use a photo-editing app on your smartphone or a program such asCanva.com or PicMonkey.com to compare two vacation destinations side by side and ask the audience to pick their favorite. The image can be used on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter with a call to action asking the audience to pick the best one.
  • Generate small videos to share online. Next time you are on vacation or on a fam trip, start recording video. These can be edited quickly with Google Photos or with iMovie on an iPhone. Add music and narration later.
  • Have a list of popular hashtags at the ready. Hashtags are very versatile and can be used for building one’s audience, promote an event or develop a sweepstakes campaign.

Action item No. 5.: Research the competition and use your suppliers to help with social media tasks.

Travel agents are competing for screen time for consumers who are on information overload.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to finding generic content to share with the online audience, it makes more sense to get inspiration from your competition and suppliers.

Because social media is a public forum, there is no harm in exploring how the competition is using it. Perhaps there was a new product launch that you forgot to mention online; maybe there was a press release about a new cruise line, hotel or promotion that you did not read.

All these scenarios are realistic ways that travel agents can miss the boat when it comes to opportunities to share usable information with a target audience.

Instead of trying to develop original ideas, get inspired by the competition and use your suppliers to help with social media marketing tasks.

The following tools help find useable content to repurpose and keep an eye on the competition:

  • Research with Tagboard. Use hashtags to search for and collect public social media within seconds to streamline work flows.
  • Use DrumUp to explore keyword searches and curate trending content.
  • Discover hot topics with Google Trends.

Let me know how your quest for the information presented will inspire travel professionals to re-evaluate their approach to social media marketing tasks to save time and generate maximum results.

Focus on Social Media:

Missing the big picture

By Jamie Biesiada

Although travel is among the most visual of products, a surprisingly small number of agents are engaging with social media platforms built for photos and videos.

Facebook has become a place where many travel agents have successfully built a personal brand through posting photos of their travels and in many cases themselves. It has turned into a lead generator, often creating business or sparking a desire to travel in a past client, thanks to a well-placed destination photo or video.

But while their Facebook presence has grown, agents have largely been underutilizing other social media platforms, such as Instagram and YouTube, which because of their inherently visual nature lend themselves to travel products and could be powerful lead-generation tools.

Earlier this year, the travel search website Hipmunk released a study touching upon where millennials get their travel ideas. The data shows the potential of social media platforms other than Facebook: The study found that 44% of millennials get their travel inspiration from YouTube videos, 28% from Instagram.

“Overall, social media within the marketing media landscaping has officially arrived as a major opportunity for our industry for a few reasons,” said Sam McCully, vice president of marketing at Avoya Travel.

Moreover, McCully said that potential opportunities are not limited to millennials, as more and more travelers in a wide range of ages are taking to social media throughout their entire vacation process, from the planning stage right through their return home.

“Is there an untapped opportunity?” McCully said. “I would say absolutely.”