In the old days, when travel agents did most of the booking for their customers, competition was fierce among travel agents. Customers were able to play one agent against another in order to get the best price for the same airline ticket, hotel room, or car rental. Travel agents had to advertise in many formats to get their name out and, yet, most of their business came by word of mouth
New Breed of Travel Agent
Today, while there are still plenty of travel agents, the travel agent with an office and a desk piled high with papers is a dying breed. Most bookings get made via online travel agents or OTA’s. Competition is fierce among OTA’s and they have to find ways to get their names across to people. Nevertheless, most of their business is conducted with people who might not remember which OTA they booked through a day or a week after making their reservation.
New Type of Advertising
We might think that customers are the most important people to any OTA and that they would advertise or otherwise make themselves known directly to their traveling customers. It would be reasonable to think that in order for an OTA to become known” to the largest number of people, it would have to produce and pay for modern, internet-based advertising. So, it is ironic that the most important “customers” to OTA’s are not travelers but search engines and the “advertising” OTA’s do is to jockey for position on search engines.
The process of jockeying for position on a search engine is not called advertising; it’s our old friend Search Engine Optimization or SEO.
SEO is by far the most important form of 21st century “advertising”.
We see the same phenomenon play out in almost every industry. Product quality and customer service often take a back seat to SEO. If a person wants to buy a refrigerator online they might research refrigerators and decide which one they want. Then they buy the one from the site they get the best price from. That site relies on SEO to get placed high on the search engine’s pages.
However, there is one industry where that is not the case: online casinos. These casinos all run basically the same online games so they have to excel at the quality of their sites and on customer service to gain the loyalty of players and the word of mouth they need to generate new players.
There are some fundamental truths buried in the quest for the best SEO.
Even as companies try to generate the kind of brand recognition that 20th century companies enjoyed, customers are less and less concerned with brands and more concerned with getting exactly what they want.
In the travel industry, customers don’t care which hotel or motel chain they stay in as long as the room is comfortable and clean and close to the places they want to visit. This has also led to the growth of alternative sleeping arrangements. The proliferation of hospitality industry chains means that they are all basically the same. The Ma and Pa motel is also coming to its final chapter.
Customers may choose a motel because of its amenities such as a heated pool in the winter. The motel may feel compelled to serve a breakfast of sorts but no one books the place because of it. More likely, a customer may book the motel because it is close to the area they want to visit the next day.
Location, Location, Location
This age-old business mantra still applies but it primarily applies to where a website is placed on a search engine.
21st Century Planning Paradigm
Let’s say you live on the east coast of the United Sates and you want to plan a vacation. If you are completely free as to the season you’ll travel in, you need to decide what type of vacation you want.
Some want to get away from cold winters; some want to get away from hot and humid summers; some want fall foliage; some want the beach. There are innumerable possibilities and if you haven’t made up your mind you might enter the search “types of vacations”.
You might be amazed at how many different types of vacations there are. The sites that appear first after that search are the ones with the best SEO specifically for that search. If you change your search, you might get a different set of results.
Clicking and Staying
SEO is not the only factor in getting a customer to stay on a site after he or she has clicked on it. Many sites don’t take into account that older customers might have a difficult time perusing their site with its small font, extra-long rows of text, long paragraphs, and bad color contrast between the letters and the background.
Time is of the Essence
Do it yourself vacation planners need to make the time to do their own research but few people outside of the retired have the time to do deep research. SEO is the straw that stirs the drink for travelers and all those people in the travel industry. A tourist attraction may have a beautiful website and a fine attraction but if the search engine doesn’t highlight it based on normal search requests, the attraction will always play second fiddle to attractions whose sites are better constructed from the SEO standpoint.
Many small businesses are still unaware of the enormous importance of SEO. It’s an investment that pays off in new customers.