Travel Brands Herald the Era of AI-Powered Marketing
Sep 22, 2023 / By Vanessa Horwell
How often have you heard of AI, or more specifically ChatGPT, disrupting industries in the last twelve months?
Our agency has worked with technology companies in the airline and travel industries for nearly two decades. Without fail, everyone has asked how they can integrate ChatGPT into the experiences they are creating and how they can use ChatGPT to market their brands effectively.
ChatGPT certainly isn’t a silver bullet for every marketing effort (and it hasn’t been for us at THINKINK), but it can change and improve how you do some things. In marketing terms, solutions are focusing on two things: better targeting and creating a superior customer experience.
Let’s look at how travel brands are utilizing generative AI platforms like ChatGPT to transform how they market to businesses and customers.
The Customer Support Issue
Whether you’re a travel agent, airline, or hotel booking platform, great customer support helps companies stand out in a crowded market. But not every customer wants to pick up the phone and talk to someone directly. They want information now so that they can make a decision now.
And the reality is that most customer support queries relate to things that could be quickly answered online. For example, does it make sense to call to find out why it might take longer to confirm a hotel booking?
No, and a customer service agent will refer to a set of pre-prepared answers in the company’s database anyway.
With ChatGPT, you can connect it directly to your database so customers can ask questions and receive answers based on your company’s policies. These chatbots are nothing new but are valuable for saving time and resources.
Plus, you’re giving the customer a prompt response to their questions with limited effort. Instead, your support agents can focus less on the mundane and more on the big issues impacting end-users.
Take The Hotels Network AI Assistant as an example of how hotel marketers quickly create personalized, engaging messages. This tool generates multiple options based on the goal and tone of the communication. It also detects the language of the customer to influence its options.
But to view ChatGPT’s role as a more enhanced chatbot means you’re not seeing the potential inherent within generative AI.
Simple Trip Planning for Travelers
One of the arenas where travel brands have made significant strides is within trip planning. Some customers already know where they want to go and just need to work out the logistics. Others know they want to go somewhere but have no idea where or even when.
Travel brands recognize that this is one niche that can help them market themselves as offering high-value, high-powered solutions.
But it’s also where travel brands split into two distinct categories: low-effort plugins vs. core products.
Expedia, for example, falls into the former category. Their trip planner used a basic OpenAI API and connected it to Expedia’s databases. It’s nothing more than a simple chat window and offers practically the same experience as opening a ChatGPT tab yourself.
In other words, who cares?
Contrast this to Troupe, a mobile app dedicated to helping people find short-term rentals for group trips. It uses inventory from both Expedia and Vrbo and can provide recommendations using open-ended prompts.
Troupe lets customers enter basic prompts like "house for eight people in New York City." They’ll then see a list of options or an interactive map showing where those options are and a link to the booking website.
It’s easy to see which solution is the more marketable option. One offers little innovation, and the other is a core product that targets a key customer pain point.
Harnessing the Power of Data for More Effective Travel Marketing
ChatGPT is also capable of collecting and storing data. This is why the platform remembers your previous conversations and can pick up exactly where you left off.
But it’s not the data collection aspect that’s particularly revolutionary. We know from experience that the travel companies we work with already have a reliable data pipeline. Where the innovation comes to the fore is in the interpretation of said data.
Generative AI is a platform whereby marketers can ask ChatGPT pertinent questions about customer preferences and trends. The program can then answer based on the data that it has at its disposal.
It’s not a new invention. But it’s building on what we already have, just with fewer steps in the process and more accessibility for marketers who may not have the technical expertise to utilize legacy data analysis tools.
Bringing More Personalization to the Travel Business
Travel is a business that sells services. Two people can purchase the same flight or stay at the same hotel and have two completely different experiences. This contrasts with selling a static product like a washing machine or a TV.
Personalization has been a factor in customer decision-making for years, and there are no signs of this changing in the future. A ThinkWithGoogle study found that 57% of U.S. travelers said brands should tailor their information based on past behaviors and preferences. Another travel study about to be released by iSeatz, a travel loyalty technology platform (and also a THINKINK client) found that over 50% of travelers say it’s extremely or very important to them to receive offers that are personalized to their needs, from the travel loyalty programs they belong to, and 75% of consumers agree that receiving personalized offers will save them money on travel.
But that’s easier said than done. As local travel agents have shuttered and travel brands have moved to serve a global audience, offering that same level of personalization has been one of the industry’s biggest challenges.
For example, take the average trip planner. Any AI-powered trip planner can answer basics like, “What are the best places to snorkel in North America?” or “What are the top attractions of Sri Lanka?” but there’s nothing that serves the needs of the individual.
Contrast this to CharterGPT by Jet. AI. Unlike general trip planners, this niche tool uses personalization to help users find and book private jets based on specific information like the number of passengers and departure airports.
Other apps, like CharterGPT, can remember customers' conversations on their accounts, making providing a higher level of support based on their previous behaviors so much easier. Naturally, this provides more information marketers can use to create targeted automated campaigns.
Providing Customers What They Need Before They Need It
It’s no secret that winning and retaining customers in any industry is about identifying and addressing their pain points. A key challenge is that marketers must anticipate these pain points without the customer telling them.
In travel, this means providing your customers with those value-added extras that complete the customer experience and open up the Eden of word-of-mouth marketing.
How are travel companies using ChatGPT and AI to do that?
One example is ArrivalGuides, which provides concise, accurate, and updated travel information to destination marketing organizations. This information is gathered directly from tourism bureaus on the ground, like Visit London and the Stockholm Visitors Board.
This information can be plugged into AI and used to provide targeted information to customers based on their preferences. It can also be wielded by marketers looking to promote certain destinations to a specific set of customers.
The magic is in the fact that this is the latest information. It goes further than what vanilla ChatGPT can provide because that data is just scraped from the Internet, with no guarantees of completeness or accuracy.
It’s yet another example of how marketers can use ChatGPT to provide more value to their target markets.
Producing Content that Sells
Content is king… and it always will be.
Content marketing is as relevant to the travel industry today as it always has been. In a crowded market with customers prone to impulse purchases, content that hits the right notes leverages both authority and attracts new business.
It’s why airlines like Aer Lingus and Ryanair already use tools like ArrivalGuides to promote destinations instead of flights alone.
However, any good marketer knows that content must be tailored to the audience. There’s a reason why travel companies go all-in on promoting flights and packages to Hawaii and the Caribbean around Christmas.
ChatGPT-powered apps can support marketers in producing valuable content that reinvigorates the sales funnel through a combination of data analysis and content generation.
Here’s an example: a hotel in Munich, Germany, wants to promote short getaways to visit the city’s renowned Christmas markets. Marketers can use AI to decipher who their audience is and which segment of that audience is likely to be interested in a Christmas city break to Munich. They can further analyze the behaviors of this identified segment to produce content that resonates with them.
And it’s not just full-blown destination guides or blogs, either. Brands can utilize the same process for social media captions and content calendar creation.
The New Age of AI-Powered Marketing
ChatGPT can perform so many different functions, which has led to OpenAI’s creation being used in various innovative apps fresh off the grapevine.
From a marketing perspective, the value comes not just from chatbot functionality but from enhancing the entire customer experience and inspiring target audiences.
It could be providing specific, real-time information about flight times to enticing wavering travelers with engaging travel guides. Either way, marketers have more tools than ever to engage their desired audiences.
But ChatGPT is only the tip of an iceberg that’s yet to emerge. It’s far from perfect, and some would argue that as a Natural Language Processing (NLP) platform, it’s barely AI. Despite its flaws, we see it as a work in progress that will only improve over time.
And that’s when the real arms race will begin in the travel industry.
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