‘’Tour operators – use social media during global events to increase customer engagement’’

From 5th to 21st of August 2016, a major international multi-sport event in the tradition of the Olympic Games due to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As most people know the Olympic Games is one of the biggest global events, this year more than 11,000 athletes from 207 National Olympic Committees took part. The chance for a tour operator to increase brand awareness, set up Olympic Game related tours and get involved in the customer experience. Nonetheless, Neckermann Belgium has not related one post, in that period of time, to this major global event. They completely missed out on the opportunity to show their online involvement in what is actually happening in the world. On the opposite one of the major online tour operators, booking.com, grabbed the opportunity with both hands and throughout the month August they showed clear involvement in Rio 2016 (see comparison below).

Source: Neckermann Belgium, August 15, 2016 and Booking.com, August 21, 2016, both via Facebook

This is one of the main reasons why Event Driven Marketing is so important for tour operators. Event Driven Marketing (EDM) is a discipline within marketing, where commercial and communications activities are based upon relevant and identified changes in a customer’s individual needs’ (E.J. van Bel). EDM consists out of four type of events; singular, recurring, interactive and anticipative.  The most relevant for tour operators are the long term events with either a low or high predictability; recurring and anticipative. Recurring can for example be the Olympic Games, European football competitions, these are events that happen on a frequent basis. Secondly, the anticipative events are low in terms of predictability and  can for example be natural disasters or sudden political changes.

The involvement of your tour operator in global events will contribute to an increasing brand awareness. Getting your company involved in things such as the Olympic Games via social media platforms can work wonders in terms of helping potential customers become more familiar with everything your brand represents. In a positive way they will feel more connected to your tour operator as they can relate to you on a personal level. Handling a strong social media presence is an efficient way to build your company’s reputation and showcase your tour operator. By regularly updating your prospects on social happenings, they subconsciously start to view your company as an authority. (Angelova, V. 2013) By showing social capabilities it will grow awareness of your tour operator as a brand and of your products.

Showing online involvement in global events will not only increase brand awareness but also increase customer engagement. Simply because customers feel emotionally connected to the things your tour operator shares online.  An emotional connection with your prospects will vouch for your positive tour operator reputation. Event Driven Marketing is a very powerful branding force, and social media offers exactly this kind of relationship-building opportunity that is virtually limitless. From a marketing perspective, it delivers a massive opportunity for tour operators to increase the amount of engaged customers.

Social networks know that users value an informative, engaging, and visually-stimulating experience. Status updates that show a tour operator is aware of global events and actively anticipating its social media strategy on that will make a significant impact on the level customers engage with a tour operator.

Sources

Angelova, V. September 2, 2013. 7 Reasons Why Social Media is an Absolute Must for Business Branding. Accessed October 7th, 2016, via [ <http://www.likeable.com/blog/2013/09/7-reasons-why-social-media-is-an-absolute-must-for-business-branding> ]

Booking.com (August 21, 2016). In Facebook Booking.com. Retrieved October 7, 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/bookingcom/

Neckermann Belgium (August 15, 2016). In Facebook Neckermann Belgium. Retrieved October 7, 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=neckermann%20belgium

Peelen, E., & Beltman, R. Part IV Marketing. In E. Peelen, & R. Beltman, Customer Relationship Management (Vol. 2, pp. 100-110). United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.

Sahasrabuddhe, A. February 19, 2015. Why the future of tour operating could rest with the smartphone. Accessed October 7, 2016, via [ < https://www.tnooz.com/article/tour-operators-embrace-app-technology/> ]

‘’Using external data mining businesses will increase long-term customer engagement for tour operators’’

Data processing is the heartbeat of your business. Therefore it is necessary to handle your data with care, nowadays many tour operators use data mining techniques. Data mining is the use of inductive methods to assist a business in finding useful relationships between (selected) data. Narrowly defined, data mining is discovering interesting, non-obvious patterns hidden in a database. Data mining is necessary to promote innovation and increase efficiency of operations for tour operators. Discovering such patterns in your customer database have a high potential to contribute to future business growth. (Peelen, E., & Beltman, R.)

Yet, processing these massive amounts of data can be quite a challenge for tour operators nowadays. Especially for the tour operating businesses whom receive data in many forms, shapes and on different levels. Using an external business to process data will create many advantages for tour operating businesses. It is time saving and provides an easier understanding of your customer behaviour. This leads to precisely knowing where you can reach your customers and will increase long-term customer engagement.

Time saving

The increase in quantity of data and the decrease in the available analysis time have led to a growing need for efficient data processing. The use of an external business is incredibly time saving. Using an external business to process customer data will contribute to saving on labour time and labour related costs. Since your own employees will not need to spend any more time on researching, scanning and processing data. These cost savings may even weigh up to the costs that are made hiring an external data mining business.

Understanding of customer behaviour

Using external data mining businesses will provide your tour operator with a clearer overview of your consumers’ behavior. For example TUI Travel is pulling multiple data sources into its big data universe to better understand behavior and performance. “TUI views data as the heartbeat of digital operations”. To do this it has implemented two tools: Hadoop and Platfora. Platfora is a big data analytics software company, used as a tool to visualise and distribute the data. Platfora functions on top of Hadoop; that can scale exponentially and handle all forms of big data: customer interaction, transaction and machine data. (EyeforTravel, 2014) Thereby TUI Travel is able to track their customer data and have a clear insight in their consumers’ behavior. When they would do all this data mining themselves it would be unclear and not as easy to perfectly understand their customers. By monitoring each touch point with your customer via an external business, it enables tour operators to do more precise positioning. The process of using the right data and apply it via the right channel is made much more efficient via an external data mining business.

Long term customer engagement

Major life events such as marriage, a new house or job are occasions that can trigger interest in high-value products (such as a honeymoon). If a tour operator can identify these critical moments, it can better match customers with the most appropriate promotions—and, even more significant, establish long-term relationships (Brook, J. & Souza, R. 2013). The use of external businesses can provide a clearer insight in appropriate promotions to your customers at the right moment in time. The use of external businesses makes it easier to enhance a long-term relationship with a high valued customer, because it will simply be easier to predict your customers’ next touch point.

The use of an external data mining business can substantially contribute to your businesses competitive advantage. Instead of spilling man hours, requiring substantially more hours to process the large amount of data, use an external business experienced in processing large amounts of data. This will save your company significant labor costs and will provide more detailed, up-to-date, usable data. It will enable a tour operators to monitor the touch points and on a long term enhance customer engagement, because you simply know where to find them, what their interests are and how to communicate with them.

Sources

(2012) Big data needn’t be a big headache. How to tackle mind-blowing amounts of information, Strategic Direction, Vol. 28 Iss: 8, 22 – 24

Brook, J. & Souza, R. September 26, 2013. Big Data’s Five Routes to Value. Accessed on September 30, 2016, via: [ <https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/information_technology_strategy_digital_economy_opportunity_unlocked_big_data_five_routes_value/> ]

du Preez, D. (2012), “Big data: hands on or hands off?”, Computing, February 23, pp. 23‐4, ISSN: 0307‐8965

EyeforTravel, April 15, 2014. Data is heartbeat of digital operations, says Tui Travel. Accessed September 30, 2016, via: [ <http://www.eyefortravel.com/distribution-strategies/data-heartbeat-digital-operations-says-tui-travel> ]

Gunaseelan, S. Linkedin. May 5, 2014. Challenges of a tour operator. Accessed September 28, 2016, via: [ < https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140505172441-237608656-challenges-of-a-tour-operator> ]

Peelen, E., & Beltman, R. Part IV Marketing. In E. Peelen, & R. Beltman, Customer Relationship Management (Vol. 2, pp. 216-225). United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.

‘’Tour operators should use customer experiences to engage new customers”

 

People are moving and travelling all the time. Meanwhile sharing online where they are, whom they are with and what they experience; it has become an everyday activity to share online. According to professor Dimitrios Buhalis, this is an emerging future in the tourism business: interaction with the environment and find information about the environment.

In many product categories, information sharing, word of mouth, interaction and assistance from other customers post acquisition, it can significantly affect others’ behavior through increased persuasion and conversion of others to customers. This is the so called customer-influencer value; value contributed by a customer influencing other (potential) customers  (V. Kumar, L. Aksoy, B. Donkers, R. Venkatesan, T. Wiesel & S. Tillmanns, 2010).Tour operators could increase customer engagement via their existing customers.

naamloos

In the gross outline this is loop shows how engagement and interaction create value and new customers. But also how other customers are influenced by experiences from current users. Can we make other consumers being ambassadors for tour operators’ products in their environment?

The first phases practically all tour operators should be familiar with.  In short the first phases; it starts with inspiring a customer to book a tour with your agency. Research shows that currently search engines and YouTube are top online sources of inspiration. Travelers rely on social/video/photo sites and search engines for trip inspiration (Google, 2014). On these online platforms, besides the factual information provided by a tour operator, also the previous experience of a consumer will provide inspiration for the next consumer to travel to the same destination. In a research conducted by D. Bowie and J. Chi Chang (2005) inspiration also creates a certain expectation.

Followed by expectation is the execution phase, where the customer wants their expectations to meet reality. When a tour operator executes a tour, each customer involved will have a different experience.

The experience is influenced by the weather, people involved, overall circumstances, by the business organizing it etc. Therefore it is a challenge for a business to ensure, though each customer has a different experience, to create a positive experience with their brand. If a tour operator  positively influences the actual experience of one customer, they automatically influence the information flow towards the next customer.

The experience and the sharing phase; during or followed after the experience is the sharing phase. How they experience a tour will live up to how they share it online. When sharing online via a businesses’ social media platform, a customer automatically interacts online with your business. Indicating that they are engaged with your tour operator and interested in your offerings or online behavior. This is why social interaction increases customer engagement.

It is now the time for tour operators start an own online platform where customers can interact with each other. Find creative ways to distinguish yourself from other tour operators, here are some examples.

Start vlogging on YouTube

Making videos: The next frontier. Travelers engage heavily with online video and watch more than just travel content. Online videos are viewed throughout the travel journey, particularly before decisions are made. Online videos from brands are viewed by more than half of travelers.

Even though travel vlogs are the most viewed and engaging type of travel videos, only 14% of vlogs on YouTube are created by brands; 86% come from YouTube creators. There is a large opportunity for tour operators to attract customers with modern age technology. Understand the future in a very different way, it is not one product fits all. Adjusted to situation of consumer, to the context and environment. Make sure you are creating content that speaks to the needs of your audience in engaging formats. This is a way for a tour operator to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Be unique.

Create an app

Move from traditional to new media. People increasingly turn to devices for help. And more and more of this time is spent researching the details of trips on mobile. As of the first quarter of 2016, 40% of U.S. travel site visits come from mobile. Travelers extend their activities from desktops and tablets to smartphones across all stages. Smartphones are used throughout the travel process. A poor mobile experience forces travelers to move elsewhere (Google, 2014).

An example was made by TUI, they created an app; digital assistance app. The overall goal of the app is to enhance customer experience pre-during-post travel. Nowadays millions of customers book online, the digital assistant is a tool which links TUI’s points of contact with their customers. In order to do so, this app registers the customers’ searches  and preferences. But also enables their customer to share their experience on a destination, which are left for other app users to read.

To conclude, tour operator enable your customers to share the experiences they had with your business on an online platform created by you. Not an the average type of app, but one which is appealing to people to share experiences with others, such as the Digital Assistance App. Enable them to share experiences, post online reviews and leave comments. This increasing online social interaction will also increase the level of customer engagement.

Sources

  1. Gesenhues, Marketing Land. April 9, 2013. Survey: 90% of customer say buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Accessed on September 23, 2016, via [ <http://marketingland.com/survey-customers-more-frustrated-by-how-long-it-takes-to-resolve-a-customer-service-issue-than-the-resolution-38756> ]
  1. Bowie & J. Chi Chang, Oxford Brookes University. January 2005. Tourism satisfaction: A view from a mixed international guided package tour. Accessed on September 23, 2016, via [ <https://notendur.hi.is/stefanva/Skrar/Tourist%20Satisfaction_%20A%20view%20from%20a%20mixed%20internatinal%20guided%20package%20tour.pdf> ]

Google, June 2014.  The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision. Accessed on September 25, 2016, via: [ <https://storage.googleapis.com/think/docs/2014-travelers-road-to-decision_research_studies.pdf> ]

Google, July 2016. How micro-moments are reshaping the travel customer journey. Accessed on 25 September 2016, via [ < https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/micro-moments-travel-customer-journey.html >]

Kumar, V., Aksoy, L., Donkers, B., Venkatesan, R., Wiesel, T., & Tillmanns, S. (2010).

Moran, G. G., Muzellec, L. L., & Nolan, E. E. (2014). Consumer Moments of Truth in the Digital Context: How ‘Search’ and ‘E-Word of Mouth’ Can Fuel Consumer Decision Making. Journal Of Advertising Research -New York-, 54(2), 200-210.

TUI Group, November 13, 2013. TUI Travel begins international roll out of the ‘TUI Digital Assistant’. Accessed on September 25, 2016, via: [ < http://www.tuitravelplc.com/content/tui-travel-begins-international-roll-out-tui-digital-assistant> ]

Undervalued or overvalued customers: Capturing total customer engagement value. Journal. Of Service Research, 13(3), 297-310.

http://jsr.sagepub.com.proxy1.dom1.nhtv.nl/content/13/3/297.full.pdf+html

Video

Professor Dimitrios Buhalis on critical Technology and Marketing developments – eTourism

Futures. Accessed on September 20, 2016, via: [<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mrha2nS76Hc> ]

 

‘’Tour operators – mix your online and offline marketing channels!’’

The toughest challenge organizations face in Customer Engagement Management nowadays is multichannel management. Multichannel management refers to the organizations ability to interact with its customers through multiple channels which can be both online and offline. Some examples of these channels are websites, smart phones, retail stores, mail order catalogs, direct mail, email, social media etc. – and enabling customers to take action in response – preferably to buy your product or service – using the channel of their choice (SAS, 2015).

The past decade the online marketing channel has grown tremendously in the tour operating industry. Which is why many tour operators tempt to put a complete focus on the online marketing strategy. Though this may seem antiquated, but your business needs both channels in order to survive.  Rezdy explained, “most tour and activity bookings come from offline sources, because tours and activities are seen as being an afterthought, so they are booked in-destination. People will book through their hotel’s concierge, local VIC (visitor information centre), or just stumble upon a tour or activity when walking around.” Which is why the offline channel is still of high relevance for tour operators. It appeals to consumers who value personal relationships and expertise from a travel specialist.

The use of multiple channels will increase the level of customer engagement significantly. According to several researches, nearly 40% of online searchers make a purchase after being influenced by an offline channel. Using both marketing channels doesn’t mean separate campaigns but rather a marketing mix where your offline marketing strategy is supported and complemented by the marketing you are doing online, and vice versa (A. Cleaver, Strategy Consulting LTD).

Use the following example as inspiration on how online and offline marketing channels can support one another and increase customer engagement. At present there are 900 TUI Travel stores, of which 130 are in-house. When asked whether these stores will ever completely disappear to point zero, the answer is ‘no’. According to TUI, it is necessary to provide their customers both an online and offline experience. The shops did get a completely different function over the past decade; now they are mend to support the online marketing channel, whereas they used to be a sales point. This can be subtracted by the many up-to-date technology used in TUI Travel stores. In the center of each store they integrated a massive touch screen monitor, in order to show digital brochures, (travel) movies or the actual holiday destination. Furthermore, they installed a video wall at the entrance, which brings customers directly in the holiday atmosphere, offering real-time deals. TUI Travel is creating a place where employees can inspire and where customers can get information (Elbers, L., 2015). TUI Travel creates online and offline places where consumers can directly engage with their business.

Despite the increase in online activity, we still live in an offline world. As this is how your customers interact with the world, it is how you should be how tour operators are reaching customers – both online and offline. Offering customers a unique experience via multiple channels makes a significant impact on the level customers engage with your tour operator.

Sources

Cleaver, A. Strategy Consulting LTD. A Marriage Made In Heaven: How To Combine Your Online & Offline Marketing. Retrieved October 10th, 2016, from [ <http://www.strategyconsultingltd.com/how-to-combine-your-online-and-offline-marketing/> ]

Conrady, R. & Buck, M. In Trends and Issues in Global Tourism 2008 (Vol. 3, pp 165-169). Springer Science & Business Media, 15th of March 2008.

Elbers, L. September 30, 2015. Arke, oh nee TUI. Hoe gaat dat zo’n online en offline merkverandering? Retrieved October 10, 2016, from [ < http://www.travelnext.nl/arke-oh-nee-tui-hoe-gaat-dat-zon-online-en-offline-merkverandering.html> ]

Peelen, E., & Beltman, R. Part IV Marketing. In E. Peelen, & R. Beltman, Customer Relationship Management (Vol. 2, pp. 216-225). United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.

SAS. (2015). Multichannel marketing. Accessed September 8th, 2016 [Retrieved from: <http://www.sas.com/en_us/insights/marketing/multichannel-marketing.html>]

Rezdy, May 19, 2015. 3 Types of Bookings All Tour Operators Need. Retrieved September 9th, 2016, from [ <https://www.rezdy.com/blog/3-types-of-bookings-all-tour-operators-need/> ]