Last year, Alessandra Di Lorenzo, lastminute.com Group’s chief commercial officer media & partnerships, was named in The Drum’s Digerati 100 most influential people in the UK digital sector.
Lee Hayhurst caught up with the former Yahoo, Nokia, Vodafone and eBay marketing executive to find out what she sees as the key trends for travel marketing professionals in 2018.
One of the big drivers of consolidation in travel is coming from customer demands for a simplifying the travel shopping experience, according to Di Lorenzo.
In December, lastminute.com Group sealed the acquisition of German OTA weg.de as it looks to grow its audience to attract bookers and also advertisers looking to access its valuable audience.
Di Lorenzo said travel firms will increasingly compete on the basis of the scale of their audience reach and look to provide a full one-stop shopping experience.
“We are seeing a lot of consolidation in the market,” she said. “Consumers are looking for simple, they want a simple experience when they are shopping.
“They don’t want to be browsing millions of OTAs and so it’s our job as travel provides to keep it simple.
“We are playing in that simplification game and we want to bring brands together and provide a good customer experience across Europe. We pride ourselves on our reach.”
Lastminute.com Group’s audience of 43 million makes it a major player placing it in the top five in Europe, said Di Lorenzo, and understanding the psychology of the these shoppers is key.
“As the internet becomes more mainstream, particularly in southern Europe where it’s not as developed in terms of penetration, people are getting more and more used to comparing and knowledgeable about what the offers are.
“People are looking for best price, but they are also looking for convenience. That means offering product in the dynamic packaging space.
“Can we offer hotels, flights, and experiences in one booking, simplify the customer journey but also give them a better price?”
Lastminute.com Group is by no means the only travel company to be talking again about the virtues of bundling product, but as an OTA with roots Europe, where the package holiday remains strong, it at least has this approach grafted onto its DNA.
At the core of this strategy is the long tail of travel products that are the essence of the travel experience customers are looking for when they use OTAs like Lastminute for inspiration.
“As a brand, we are pink and we are vibrant. We want to offer consumers moment they will remember. By packaging all these things up we hope they will come back to us more and more,” Di Lorenzo said.
One of the side effects of this focus on the customer experience is a blurring and stretching of traditional business models.
Di Lorenzo said customers should not need to be concerned whether they’ve landed on a price comparison site, an OTA or a review site, they should be able to complete their journey.
For Lastminute.com Group the launch in 2016 of its media brand The Travel People introduced an entirely new advertising network business model to the group.
This is where audience reach comes in and innovative tie-ups with the likes of Spotify and the recently announced partnership with Rough Guides comes in.
Last year the group reported revenues generated by The Travel People grew 30% year on year and Lastminute introduced more travel and non-travel brands to its audience.
Di Lorenzo said: “The ambition we have is to increase the audience of travellers we can offer to brands.
“We are turning the company into a media company that offers experiences, that offers content and information to people and that helps them to book as well.
“This is very different to what others are offering. The reach we have, the more mid-sized travel companies we can work with the more we open up monetisation opportunities for these companies.”
Among the areas Lastminute has identified as having potential is sports-related activities and their affiliation to travel and linked products like clothing and equipment.
One of the promises of a greater use, and understanding, of data in travel is that affiliations both between brands and products can be discoverer and this is what The Travel People is all about.
For all marketeers looming new EU General Data Protection Regulations will place greater strictures on what brands can and can’t do with the personal data they collect from customers.
Di Lorenzo said complying with GDPR requirements and asking for explicit consent will ensure brands do not fall foul of the law.
“As long as consumers don’t feel like they are having something forced on them they will be okay. I think we are going to see more value and engagement with advertising.
“The more data we can provide the more advertising becomes data driven the more relevant it becomes and people will accept it.
“It’s all about the power of data and the more you can infer from someone’s interests, the more you know about customers and what they will be wanting to do in the future. It’s something we all need to work on as an industry.”
Di Lorenzo sees the future of marketing as evolving into a more automated approach as programmatic technology powered by Artificial Intelligence gets more sophisticated and becomes the only way to handle the masses of data available today from multiple sources.
Bur she said “we are not quite there yet” and for Lastminute Group the focus is on personalisation which she says the travel industry is only just starting to get to grips with.
“No one can say they are advanced in this yet,” Di Lorenzo said, “because it’s very hard to do in travel.
“We have a troop of data scientists working on making our tools more intelligent. It’s very tricky but the good thing is we are learning every day.
“To take then optimistic view from a human perspective I think in the future machines will be a way to optimise human work, to make us more powerful and more intelligent.
“There are clear areas like operational tasks and more repetitive work where machines will be used to free up more time to focus on what we are good at as humans, like the emotional side of marketing.”