How travel marketers find the right route to customer loyalty

In a disjointed sector, marketers need to get to know their customers more personally and listen to feedback

Mailchimp Sector Articles 03 1

In such a fragmented industry as online travel, customers are more likely to remain loyal to companies that make their lives easier and solve problems without a fuss.

Yet it seems this is one sector where some companies leave customers frustrated and do not do enough to win repeat business. Data from marketing automation experts Dotdigital reveals that 81% of travel bookings are abandoned before completion.

This is perhaps unsurprising when many travel businesses lack a clear view of their customers. According to real-time data services firm Solace, only 30% of travel businesses are creating a single customer view across different marketing channels. Of these, only 1%-2% are using this data to deliver a full cross-channel experience for customers to build loyalty.

Global travel is projected to exceed pre-pandemic levels for the first time this year – a promising sign for marketers as they seek to engage customers. But with the behaviour of leisure and business travellers constantly evolving, companies need to up their game and get to know their customers more personally if they are to win loyalty. 

“Micro-targeting holds great potential to increase customer loyalty,” says Lars Formanek, senior strategy consultant at data-driven marketing company Acxiom. “If you can offer different rewards to different people within one loyalty programme, and give them more choice and flexibility, you will generate repeat business.”

More travel firms will likely start using artificial intelligence to boost their customer service. AI makes it easier to analyse previous transactions and customer intent, and provide the best answers to incoming questions, which should reduce complaints and therefore boost loyalty.

Here, three travel companies explain how they get customers to come back repeatedly.

Marc Roebersen 
Chief operating officer at Clink Hostels, a network of backpacker hostels in Europe 

Hostels have changed over the last 30 years and Clink Hostels is using the adventure travellers’ sense of community as the central piece of our customer loyalty strategy.

I joined the firm in September after a career working in hotel groups, but the company was formed by two sisters from Dublin, Anne and Shelly Dolan. After years of experiencing different hostels, they opened their first one in London in 1997. We now have properties in Amsterdam and Dublin and are looking to expand in 2024.

Clink has a young customer demographic, so we need a strong social media presence. We use TikTok and Instagram to remind travel enthusiasts that once they decide to take another trip, our hostels offer the perfect accommodation. 

We are active on TikTok with funny videos and special promotions, and we run a lot of social events where people get to meet other travellers. These are places where we collect email addresses. 

Email marketing is a vital tool for Clink, so we create relevant content including providing local tourist information. 

Our seasonal communication taps into previous customers’ future travel plans, while the emails remind customers, particularly older ones, of how the hostel experience has changed over time in terms of the facilities available.

Customer loyalty also comes from responding to traveller feedback and improving the website experience. 

We realised that a lot of people were struggling with the online check-in process and this was leading to lower reviews. We have made the process simpler because poor reviews can affect the bottom line.

My warning to other online travel brands is to avoid the temptation to send too many emails to customers, even if the content is interesting. 

You want to have fans and ambassadors for your brand but you don’t want to annoy people. This can happen a lot in the hospitality sector where, if you are not careful, the travel messaging can lose its value.

Stephen Ellison 
Marketing and sales manager at Vintage Travel, a provider of villa holidays 

Vintage Travel has been providing villa holidays for more than 30 years and around half of our customers have booked with us before.

We are proud of our reviews, which encouraged people to re-book. The reviews remind customers that this is a brand they can trust. We recently achieved a Platinum Trusted Service Award from verified buyer reviews platform Feefo.

When it comes to marketing, I am careful with the language we use when targeting our main audiences of families and extended family groups.

We are offering mid to high range holidays and we never use the word luxury as that is very subjective.

I’ve learnt that you have to consider the lifetime value of a customer rather than just think about the individual booking someone is making. Other things that do not work very well include too much obvious discounting once someone has booked with us, plus a lack of communication.

When it comes to email marketing, we communicate up-to-date travel information about different destinations and provide relevant tourist content about the area people are travelling to. This demonstrates our expertise. We also repurpose our blog content across social media.

Having a mix of marketing options builds trust in our brand and it is important we spend our marketing budget in the channels that our previous customers are using. We still produce paper brochures as well as investing in email marketing and our website. 

We began advertising on Boom Radio in January to reach our important over-55s demographic, and we are sponsoring the station’s Vintage Chart show, which is fun.

We are proactive with our communication and appreciate how it links to our customer service. For example, we would telephone someone if we felt they had bought an unsuitable holiday online and offer a refund or help them to book an alternative.

Our customer service remains crucial to building loyalty. I often refer back to the Covid-19 pandemic when many travel companies suffered. I believe that how we treated our customers then is paying dividends today in terms of getting people to book again.

We didn’t furlough anyone because we needed our staff to deal with the rescheduling of holidays and refunds. We saw this as a long-term investment in customer service.

Matthew Hall 
Managing director at Hoppa, a travel transport comparison site 

The last thing travellers want when they arrive at a destination is to have problems with car hire, taxis or airport transfers.

We are a travel transport comparison site working with about 7,000 providers in 160 countries and we know our brand reputation relies on customers not being let down when they arrive.

Email marketing is the most important channel for customer retention and loyalty. We have found that customers who have opted in to receive email communication are three times more likely to book with us. Overall, between 30% and 40% of people have used our site before.

Regular emails allow us to stay in touch with customers, communicate our service and announce any new providers in different locations.

We know that the more personalised an email is, the higher the level of engagement we enjoy from existing customers. 

If we know someone has booked to go to New York, for example, then the content created is relevant to that trip.

The company’s blog is also a vital part of our ongoing marketing. It informs customers about local travel information, such as the cheapest places to visit.

What is crucial for a company like Hoppa is that the service people receive when they arrive at a destination is what they expect from us. No one wants to discover that their taxi has not arrived or the car hire has not been confirmed.

After-sales is important when it comes to customer loyalty. We are available to help 24/7 on WhatsApp if someone on the ground has a poor experience with a local provider. We will fix the issue and organise an alternative transport provider if that is necessary.

We are building a customer community, and in October we launched an app where people can leave feedback and ask questions.

As a travel company, the key is not to over-promise on something you cannot deliver because, if things go wrong, social media can be a disaster for you. Loyalty comes from focusing on delivering a simple service that can solve issues quickly.

Key lessons for marketers

Loyalty takeaways for travel marketing leaders

Expand Close

Discover how Mailchimp can help you get your email marketing strategy right

Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the people interviewed and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Intuit, Mailchimp or any of its cornerstone brands or employees. The primary purpose of this article is to educate and inform. This article does not constitute financial or other professional advice or services.