By Dave Thomas, head of UK at global domain marketplace SeDo
The travel industry was arguably one of the first sectors to recognise and pounce on the potential of the internet.
Probably the example that’s most likely to spring to mind is Lastminute.com, but Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman weren’t the only ones to see the web’s potential.
The sector was littered with innovations. And the signs are that travel has every intention of taking advantage of the new platforms that the internet has given rise too, such as mobile devices and apps.
Yet, while it’s charging headlong into new markets, is the industry starting to lose its edge? At a time when the Internet has proliferated to mean that you can capture a consumer anywhere, from surfing on their laptop to browsing on a mobile while queuing to pay for a carton of milk, it’s more important than ever that travel operators get their online strategy right.
So what exactly is it that is being overlooked? Online promotion – check. Big, feel good TV adverts – check. Websites optimised for mobile browsing – check. Knowledge of how people search for their holidays – erm, check? Not quite.
There’s no point in being seen in all the right places if you aren’t generating the traffic – and that is the crux of the issue.
While big brand names have pledged the future of their business to online, the industry hasn’t kept pace with how people search for their holidays. The impact of this is that despite some big budget advertising, they’re struggling to get people through the virtual door and pressing ‘confirm’ on their holiday packages.
I don’t know one person that doesn’t use Google as the starting point for their online holiday search. Most of us are simple creatures at heart. If we fancy going on a golfing holiday, then that’s what we type into Google.
It’s the rise of exact word name searches that is making the travel industry take a sharp intake of breath, because quite simply their business model and Internet strategy doesn’t factor this in.
At the time of writing if you search for golf holidays, golfholidays.com is top of the search rankings, quickly followed by golfbreaks.com. These domains exactly match a search term that someone is likely to enter into their search engine and yet despite offering golfing holidays, the big brands are nowhere to be seen.
It is a clear indication that as consumer behaviour changes, travel operators cannot rely on their brand to carry them.
Exact match search terms isn’t a trend that is set to disappear any time soon. In fact, as mobile browsing increases then from an ease-of-use perspective this approach to locating holidays is set to skyrocket.
By only investing in their ‘key’ websites, travel operators are missing out on a big opportunity. Not only that but they are giving rise to a whole new economic holiday ecosystem as people who understand SEO start to snap up these domains, capture the consumer interest and sell on the leads.
In the last 12 months we’ve seen over 200 travel-related domain names hoovered up, from caribbeanpackages.com through to krugernationalpark.com. The majority of these domains have been purchased based on the popularity of Google searches and their ability to generate large volumes of direct traffic.
Some of these sites are for boutique travel companies, while others are being used for affiliates. And that’s the worst bit – when buying leads from a third party it isn’t the operator that gets the credit.
Instead people are much more likely to say to friends ‘we booked a great holiday on cheapholidays.co.uk’ then they are to say ‘we booked our holiday via cheapholidays.co.uk and flew with Thomas Cook who were great’.
Even now domains that have as many as 74,000 local exact matches and 12,100 global exact matches per month are up for grabs. That’s a lot of potential sales for operators to tap into.
By not owning supplementary domains not only are operators leaking money, they’re also stunting the growth of their online brand presence. It’s no longer enough to have one core website. Times have moved on.
Travel operators need to build an ecosystem of domains outside of their branded presence in order to capture consumers and their much sought after holiday spend.
After all with most households still feeling the pinch, holidays are likely a once-a-year affair. Lose it once and you’ll have to wait 12 months before you’re back in the running. Now those aren’t the kind of odds any CEO likes.