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Sojern’s APAC MD on why mobile & data are the best bet for travel mktg

With the holiday season here, the priority for travel marketers is to understand travel intent for the season. Sojern, the performance marketing platform for travel, recently released a Global Travel Insights report for travel marketers. In a conversation with Digital Market Asia, Russell Young, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Sojern explains how marketers can leverage these insights best and why the travel industry needs to take mobile and data more seriously.

December travel peaks around the world due, in large part, to holidays celebrated within the month, including Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, and so forth. Globally, the most popular days that travellers have searched to fly, so far, are December 23 and 22 — both days appear on the top departure dates for nearly every region, the Sojern report highlights.

Thailand features amongst top 10 most popular destinations in the world, as well as in Asia Pacific in Q3 2016. This is followed by regional favourites Singapore, Tokyo, London and Hong Kong.

By releasing this data, Sojern looks to give brands an idea about how people are travelling across the world and this helps them understand where and when to target travelers. Mr Young explains that data can help brands reach a better level of engagement. “Clients are often guided by their own historical trends and the notion of ‘this is how we’ve always done it’. Whilst we accept that clients know their own businesses better than us, we also challenge the status quo and allow the data to identify new ways to reach and engage with consumers and try to demonstrate to clients how data can help them to look beyond how they’ve done things in the past,” he said.

In 2015, Sojern delivered over USD 3 billion in bookings for their clients across air, hotel, car, cruise, and tourism verticals, up from USD 1 billion in 2014.

In 2016,  Sojern doubled its Singapore office in size and hired key senior executives at their headquarters in San Francisco and in London. “We are extremely excited to see where this year has netted out. We also achieved a USD 100 million revenue run rate, and have been profitable for a few consecutive quarters,” quipped Mr Young.

He feels that the Asian market’s openness in terms of digital travel marketers in the region is quite impressive. “There’s a willingness and genuine interest to embrace new technologies and solutions that can better serve their business. Most major hotel groups, airlines and a growing number of tourism organisations are understanding the value of having a programmatic marketing strategy in travel. We’re also seeing a growing number of APAC clients invest in multi-channel, multi-format and multi-device digital marketing activity across the travel sector,” he highlighted.

“The challenge is that, for clients just getting started with programmatic, it all looks complicated. As such, there is an increasing need for insight, infrastructure and investments, with room to experiment and learn. What you need as an advertiser is the right kind of tech partner who can use their programmatic expertise combined with deep data sets to help you reach the right audience,” Mr Young added.

Multi-device is the way to go
He outlines the need for brands look at a cross-screen presence seriously as he said, “Mobile is, without doubt, growing in importance for the travel marketer around the globe, but one thing to remember is that, while mobile searches are increasing fast (especially after hours and during the weekend) the actual booking is still mostly done on the desktop – it’s simply more comfortable and consumers feel more secure. So, it’s not only really important to have an appropriate mobile presence, a website that a consumer can navigate on their phone and ads that are visible on mobile devices, but it’s doubly important to follow that consumer across these devices and onto where they will be ultimately booking.”

He explains that the travel sector needs to catch up with the likes of retail and finance which use the mobile platform well by creating new ways of engaging and serving rather than just trying to replicate existing models. “But we are seeing that the travel industry is starting to adopt and adapt faster – look at chatbots, for instance, which certain hotel brands and airlines have started to embrace to good results. But as an industry we are still behind when it comes to making the mobile booking experience as good as it could be,” he adds.

Data is the King
Mr Young highlights two issues that cause consumers to see irrelevant ads at the wrong time.
The first one is imperfect targeting that does not take into account where the consumer is on the path to purchase. Secondly, he says there is a lack of frequency caps which he explains as forgetting to give users a break by setting a daily impression limit.

Rather than indiscriminately serving cheap ads, data is the key to making smarter decisions about which users see a brand’s messaging and when, he explains. “There is a good and a bad way to execute a programmatic strategy.  With second party data, for instance, you can know when someone is shopping and serve timely ads. Third party data allows you to understand more about the consumer and make sure you serve the right kind of ad (e.g., do they prefer luxury products, family destinations, etc.). Overlaying data with programmatic advertising allows you to reach people with ads they are actually interested in seeing.”

Data, along with content, are two buzzwords that come up in every marketing conversation. “Using data to segment and specifically target individuals based on their real time intent or purchase history, combined with the ability to deliver messages to them in a contextually relevant environment is becoming an essential part of all digital marketing campaigns. These two combined remove the notion of targeting the ‘average consumer’ and allow marketers to engage with consumers that are known to be interested in their products in a relevant and brand safe environment,” he explained.

Speaking about the industry’s future, Mr Young expects the travel and tourism industry in the world and in Singapore, in particular, to show no signs of slowing down or diminishing in 2017. “Asia Pacific has recorded the highest average increase in international tourist arrivals yearly over the past decade, according to a report on 2016 tourism highlights by the World Tourism Organisation. As the world’s fastest-growing travel market, the opportunities for Asia Pacific on a whole are massive. Our clients, who are all top travel brands are not showing any decrease in appetite for online advertising, but believe quite the contrary,” he concluded.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.