Travel Marketing by Email

I am squarely in the middle of the target market for a lot of things in the travel industry: mid 30s, no kids, some disposable income, frequent traveler, with a love of adventure. If I could live on planes or in hotel rooms, I would. I subscribe to too many travel newsletters and email lists to count. Of those, except for one that I love and the occasional few with a compelling subject line, most are instantly deleted. What could online advertisers and travel marketers do to get me to read more emails and book more trips?

“Last Day to Enjoy 30% Off” or “7-Night Transatlantic Cruise – Only $900” almost never pique my curiosity, yet I see variations of those leading off about ten emails a week. They tend to regularly show deals with limited availability, lots of exclusions or they pitch price points that don’t seem like that great of a deal at all. A majority of the time, I can guess the fine print (the Gotcha!) before I even click the links. Usually the airfare or cruises are from a few major airports nowhere near me; or the hotel deals are only valid Monday through Thursday; or the price displayed is only the base price, with many costly add-ons to come. Worse still is when the deal sounds compelling, but the site it leads me to for more information contains almost none.

Email marketing offers a unique opportunity to engage in a dialogue with potential customers, making it particularly disappointing when that opportunity is lost or ignored. It’s 2014 and marketers are trying to appeal to those at the intersection of impulse buyer and leisure traveler by using techniques that have been around since 1998. With the focus of the business world on harvesting big data to extrapolate what an individual consumer probably wants, the common sense method of asking the consumer is being completely overlooked.

It’s hard to imagine that “tell us what you want” should be viewed as innovative, but apparently it is. Since the industry tends to focus on rock-bottom prices or quick sellout deals, one thing that’s always baffled me is why companies don’t just ask me what I would consider a great deal (I wrote a similar suggestion about airfare and other products a while back). In this case, they could give me a list of activities, destinations, or types of trips and ask me what I think a great price is for each. Build my marketing profile around that and pitch to me accordingly. Why continually email a $15,000 month-long cruise to someone who only has five vacation days and a budget of $1000? The obvious answer is because emails are so cheap to send that you can cast a wide net. But if I unsubscribe before you send me the one deal I might have booked, we both lose.

If I could talk directly to travel marketers, agents or advertisers about how to craft emails or promotions that would make me book with far higher frequency, I’d say this: if airfare is involved, don’t make me hunt around for the true price including airfare from New Orleans, where I live; let me list destinations I have always wanted to see, and email me whenever there’s a great deal to these; and let me list places, activities or price points I’m unlikely to ever respond to, and save the effort by never emailing me about them.

Here’s a great example: About two weeks ago, I received an email about a $499 per person/double occupancy all-inclusive resort weekend in Cancun, including a direct flight from New Orleans. It’s not the type of vacation I usually go for, I have never been to Cancun, nor did I realize there were direct 1.5 hour flights from here. There were no surprise charges or hidden fees, and when I got to the final booking page, I was shocked to see that $998 was still the total. Not only did I instantly book the trip, but I then blasted it to friends to rally the troops for an impromptu summer weekend getaway.

The trips like this that I have booked based solely on an email I received have common traits. They included destinations I have never before visited. They spelled out clearly and in plain language the true total cost and exclusions without me having to dig around to figure them out. Lastly, I could book them entirely online, without ever having to pick up the phone to call an agent. Marketing is moving from the one-size-fits-all approach towards one where every consumer wants to be delighted by a seemingly bespoke pitch. The email marketing industry has yet to really figure out the mass customization concept. One email that really appeals to me has a far higher likelihood of convincing me to book than a series of emails which are all just the same noisy competition to offer the lowest price.