How smaller travel brands can ride the personalization wave

By Matt Langie – Adara | April 2, 2019

The recently published report, IBM Marketing Trends 2019, lists “hyper-personalization” as one of the top tech elements to look out for this year (which, of course, requires robust AI like IBM’s Watson technology).

That advice is well and good for a global airline, or even a regional cruise line. For most smaller travel brands, even regular personalization can seem out of reach. But, with a new perspective, personalization is certainly possible.

Starting from a different place

Destination marketers, tourism brands and smaller travel brand marketers are used to feeling like the odd ones out when they hear about trends in travel marketing for many reasons:

Smaller brands usually don’t have a loyalty program

Unlike a global hotel chain, destination marketers like Visit Jacksonville are unlikely to have millions of people signed up for a loyalty program.

This reduces the amount of first party data that a brand has access to, reduces their ability to contact and interact with travelers, and lowers the number of touchpoints they have with travelers.

Smaller brands can’t afford fancy apps

Not every travel brand has the horsepower to create multi-million dollar apps with personalized mobile updates like Delta and Marriott.

These mega travel brands have apps that are not only collecting insights, but are also creating brand engagement right on a person’s smartphone. 

Smaller brands have smaller budgets

Few local travel and tourism brands can afford a Superbowl ad, or even a national ad campaign.

With marketing teams of three or four, instead of 30 or 40 (or even 400!), tourism brands are already stretched thin trying to cover a multitude of digital channels across social media, TV, out-of-home, digital and more.

Travelers, and therefore, data points are dispersed

For local travel marketers, even large ones like Visit Dallas, the 50 million visitors they get each year are spread across airports, hotels, parks, and many other unique points across the metro area.

Compare that to the 180 million customers that Delta counted last year – in a nice centralized database.

Done with excuses, time to personalize

Even with all of these obstacles, destination marketers and local tourism marketers have plenty of opportunity to personalize. And they must, because consumers really do expect it. 

No loyalty program? Personalize with influencers

Some destination and tourism organizations are thinking about influencers as their top-tier loyalty members.

Providing incentives that are personalized to individual influencers is tremendously helpful in driving engagement with this key audience.

To widen the net, marketers can also help influencers “personalize” their own messages to their followers.

At a recent tourism conference for Arkansas tourism marketers, the group embraced the idea of working with micro-influencers to spread the word on their favorite places to travel in the state.

These tourism marketers can look at the different elements that make different influencers unique and tailor special promotions for them to share.

For example, one influencer might focus on outdoor adventure while another likes antiquing. Giving them each a different incentive for their own loyalty and a different message for their followers multiplies the value of the program significantly.

No app? Use the website

Visit California probed Google queries to better understand what travelers were looking for as they planned to visit the state.

With these insights, they revamped their website to be much more specific to these trends.

In order to customize the journey, new sites like theirs are asking travelers to share a bit of information that isn’t too personal, but that’s very useful in adding relevance. For example, choosing between sun or snow, shopping or sports.

Other tourism sites are employing automated chat windows to cater to people with questions and surveys about planned trips to suggest destinations, deals and more.

While these experiences aren’t truly personalized, they feel much more personal, and that’s what counts.

Small budgets? Think email

Despite all the talk about influencers, email is the best way to reach millennials (now the largest working generation in the U.S.)

For many marketers with limited budgets, focusing on building an up-to-date email database is a great, and affordable, way to set the stage of personalization.

Millennials want to know more about the quirky, out of the way, authentic elements of a destination, and what better way to help them discover them than through email. 

Nearly half of millennials consider themselves “all-in enthusiasts” of travel compared to only 25% of the rest of the population.

These enthusiastic travelers are very likely to share their preferences through short surveys on ads and in social media, but only if it makes their experience more personalized in the future. Tourism brands can use their responses to tailor email content.

Data disability? Make every insight count

For any destination, the hard part about insights is that they’re fragmented. Not only do travelers take many more journeys than ever before, but many meaningful conversions could be happening through other organizations. For smaller marketing teams, it’s important to start with a data goal.

Ontario Canada’s Regional Tourism Organization Four, Inc. decided that they needed to understand what journeys were most important to visitors, and find the elements of those journeys that either had breakage or hurdles to conversion.

Once they gathered this data, they were able to improve connections between their own campaigns and website, as well as prioritize elements of the customer experience to make easier to find and more informative.

This set the stage for personalization among key parts of a traveler’s planning stages.

Destination marketers can coordinate data collection with operators, or even focus on a single important data point such as Net Promoter Score or total visits.

Local operators benefit from understanding how they fit into their travelers’ overall visit and can offer personalized discounts and packages based on segmented trends.

Marketers with limited resources have always been good at getting creative. The beauty of personalization is that it doesn’t require AI and a seven figure marketing tech budget to execute.

Travelers ultimately want a relevant experience, and the best way for marketers to provide it is to put personalization first.

The Bottom Line: 

Travelers want a personalized experience. They want first-hand information that allows them to plan every step of the journey, and “local tips” that give them a glimpse of the place — even before arriving to it.

Small enterprises can get on board this growing market demand, and should ride this wave in order to grow their brand and business. Through a number of technological tools (apps, email, targeted and specific advertisements, etc), even small-budget businesses can have extreme success in the personalization market.

For travelers looking to buy the perfect experience, and agencies looking to sell it to them, the niche of personalization is a simple, but game-changing, direction to go. 

For the source of this original article, and more fascinating and cutting-edge travel news, visit:


Author: Shannon Cantor