Diane Clarkson [Posted by Diane Clarkson]

On June 10 – 12, I had the opportunity to attend the Microsoft Travel Marketing Summit along with 40 marketing executives from across the travel industry. It was a summit in the best sense of the word:  a forum of open and frank conversation about the challenges and opportunities within the travel industry today.

Here are a few points raised in conversations and panels that I thought were particularly interesting:

  • Travel marketers understand the importance of social media to travelers. At the same time, the appropriate strategy can be elusive. Travel marketers are wary that for every success story, there are untold stories of social marketing efforts that didn’t hit the mark. I have often written that now is the time to experiment and found it interesting that several companies reported their experimentation led to growing pains in understanding where social media sits internally: PR, marketing, operations. Many marketers reported their early social media efforts have led to internal joint ownership and collaboration processes grounded in legal and compliance guidelines.

  • The question of brand versus performance advertising attracted many lively conversations. As John Peebles from Avis observed, to a large extent it is up to the customer if an ad is brand or response advertising. Attribution continues to be a challenge, further complicated by the influence of social media. I encourage our travel clients to read “Redefining Attribution in a Social Computing Era” by my colleague Emily Riley.
  • Loyalty remains front of mind among travel marketers. As Forrester has reported, there has been a 19% decline in brand loyal travelers between 2006 and 2008. Loyalty programs are

    ubiquitous. Travelers belong to multiple programs and reset the playing field every time points are redeemed. Premier customer service will be an increasingly important component to a successful loyalty strategy.

Marketers echoed the findings we’ve had a Forrester: some people are not traveling and those who are are spending less. But there was no hand-wringing at last week’s Summit. But there are opportunities; most simply, to do things better. As Randy Wooten of Micorsoft stated in his presentation, an economic meltdown is a terrible thing to waste.