Why affiliate marketing has taken off in the travel sector

The travel market was an early adopter of affiliate marketing and over the past decade, large aggregators in particular have played a key role in using it to drive sales and increase reach online. As leads and sales generated for major travel businesses are traditionally heavily supported by external parties such as travel agents, affiliate marketing has naturally proved a great way to extend a brand’s online reach. As we enter the New Year, brands and their networks are continuing to invest time and resource in the ways outlined below to ensure that affiliate marketing offers value to businesses’ bottom line.

Launching with a network

Choosing the right network will help to increase the reach of a travel brand, while diversifying the type of traffic the site receives. Networks offer a more diverse set of sites that the travel brand might not have previously had access to.  Working with third parties has been debated greatly in the travel sector, due to the small margins made on, for example, package holidays. However, affiliate marketing challenges this theory by offering further transparency into which affiliates are driving consumers to a purchases and are then able to reward them accordingly.  This information can be used to create more bespoke arrangements, while also optimising performance by rewarding those affiliates that are performing well.

Planning targeted deals online in the travel sector

A well thought out promotion online will help drive sales and retain customers. Leading publishers have been at the forefront of developing offers that attract real traction with consumers.  Skyscanner, for example, offer deals of the day that are handpicked, making the affiliate more than just a comparison site, but also an additional online arena for consumers to find the best value for money. In addition, a brand could work with some of the meta search and comparison sites to drive customers to destination specific offers based on their on-site searches – for example this could be a list of specific deals for the Caribbean that are presented to the consumer relating to what they have already been searching for.

Call Tracking: connecting online and offline marketing

Marketing consultancies continue to urge travel brands to look closely at how they join up their online and offline marketing campaigns. The major benefits of integrated campaign is that they help to ensure consistency of branding for all campaigns and maximise return on campaign investment across the marketing mix. In reality, recent research we conducted showed that less than a quarter (23%) of marketers have completely joined up online and offline campaigns.

New technologies are now however better positioning travel marketers to counter this trend in 2011 and call tracking solutions is one good example of this. They allow affiliates to go beyond traditional online engagement and enable them to drive phone calls to brands’ call centres.  To do this for our clients, we generate unique phone numbers for individual publishers for use in their online promotional activities and on their websites. All the numbers are trackable, so that there is visibility over which affiliate is responsible for each lead generated to the call centre. This helps travel brands to optimise relationship with those publishers that prove the most profitable.

Planning and tailoring affiliate selection

Thinking intelligently about which publishers will provide the most sales and nurture leads best at different times is invaluable. We have been working with Virgin Atlantic who has adopted a tailored and strategic approach to gaining as much return on investment as possible, by serving very specific and private deals for certain publishers. By reviewing which type of promotions and publishers produce the best results in the past, the company has been able to build a clear picture of what type of publishers are able to offer the most business benefit from a particular deal. This assists the planning process for the brand, the network and the affiliate alike to drive optimum ROI.

Brands in the travel sector, like any other industry, are continually looking at ways to improve sales online and keep the competitive advantage over competitors. As affiliate marketing has established itself  as an important part of many travel businesses’ online sales strategy, it will be those brands that can combine best practice of the basics with innovation that will continue to fly high in 2011.

Pete Rowe

Peter Rowe has held the position of Managing Director, affilinet UK, since 2008 and is a member of the European Management Team. He has full operational responsibility for all areas of the UK business including Sales, Affiliate Management, Client Services, Marketing, Strategy and Finance.
As part of the team that launched affilinet UK in late 2005, Peter has helped establish affilinet in a highly competitive marketplace and been integral in recruiting and growing key accounts. Prior to joining affilinet Peter was Head of Operations at dgm and a Project Manager for HP Global Services working in the Telecoms practice. Peter holds a BA (Hons) in Business and Finance.
Interview with Peter Rowe.

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