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Expert Interview

Our Expert: Carrie Koenig, Director of Digital Revenue Strategy and Development, Miles Partnership

In a survey conducted in June 2012, Destination Analysts and Miles Partnership examined the travel opinions, activities and motivations of 1,000 American leisure travelers. We caught up with Carrie Koenig of Miles Partnership to talk about their results, how the travel industry is changing and what Chicago area businesses can do to take advantage in 2013.

What are the five key takeaways from your study? How can businesses take advantage of them?

  • Proactive marketing is critical in a soft travel market. Make sure that your strategy permeates through multiple channels.
  • Deals and offers should be an essential part of your advertising message. Travelers who are proactive enough to plan their trips online will also be looking for ways to save.
  • DMOs provide an invaluable partner and media channel.
  • Advertisers need a complex, multimedia solution. With mobile and web's growing popularity, companies should not neglect print advertising. It remains a valuable component to any campaign.
  • Mobile is now a mainstream element to travel. If your organization expects to compete in the digital space, optimizing your mobile channels is essential.

In what ways are the habits of travelers changing?

American leisure travelers are using an increasing range of media - both online and offline. Travelers are using print in the highest level recorded since 2006 (49%). Mobile has increased 85% in two years' time. Travelers are looking for maps, hotels, restaurants and events both before and during travel.

With the prevalence of the internet and reliance on mobile devices, to what do you attribute print's sudden spike in popularity?

That is a subjective question, so I'll answer with my opinion. I think it's all about emotions and engagement. I read a quote once that said "one surfs the internet but swims in magazines." People tie a lot of emotion and importance to their vacations.

So travelers react differently to print and mobile marketing?

Web and mobile are especially great for the execution phase of travel, like deciding what to do or where to eat once a visitor has arrived at a particular destination. However, during the destination decision or inspiration phase, people want to take their time to ensure that they have a wonderful experience. We are completely inundated with digital media, and I think that people are relishing in a break from that.

What advice would you give to companies who are looking to leverage a traveler's propensity towards using both online and offline sources?

Make sure that you have an integrated media strategy. Multi-layered media strategies including print, web, email and social media. Be judicious with your dollars and focus on buying quality, not quantity.

What's a good first step in improving your digital strategy?

Make sure you're mobile-friendly, which, by the way, doesn't require you to have a separate mobile site. Build your website with responsive design and improve the cross-platform user experience.

What, in your opinion, will separate successful businesses from weaker ones in 2013?

Successful businesses will continue a diversified media approach that focuses on the quality of traffic they get - NOT the volume. I cannot stress this enough: not all clicks are created equal.

What sorts of metrics should savvy business owners look at while judging the success of online campaigns?

As a first step, start tracking the bounce rate of every campaign. Instead of simply tracking your cost per click (CPC), start looking at cost per engagement. Secondly, set up "goals" in Google Analytics to track behaviors that lead to conversion. Conversions include visitors who request information, sign up for eNewsletters, check pricing, etc. Use campaign tracking codes (they're free) to measure traffic and the goal completion of all incoming campaigns. Measuring cost-per-click is not enough.

What would you say to someone who was on the fence about investing in an online conversion strategy?

Did you know that while 80% of travelers use the internet as low as 30% of them (up to 50%) book accommodations online? That means as many as half of the visitors to your website may be influenced to convert but do not follow through. Make it easy for your customers to convert online; it just makes sense.

How big a role should couponing play for businesses that rely on tourism?

Deals and offers should be an essential part of your advertising message. Yes, still. Continue to incorporate deals and packages in your messaging; over 60% of American leisure travelers actively seek them out.

Are there certain industries that should place more emphasis on mobile marketing than others?

Consumers are seeking in-market information, especially from hotels and restaurants. Those industries need to mobile-optimize.

What would business owners be surprised to learn from your survey?

I think that most people will be surprised by the uptick in print. There has been this misunderstanding of how travelers are using media that this statistic highlights.

How important are Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) like Choose Chicago?

In the past 12 months, 40% of travelers polled consulted an official destination marketing organization (DMO) resource. They spent 30% more than people who did not consult a DMO and they have higher income and education to boot. If you want to reach travelers who have deeper pockets, stay longer and travel more often, get on the DMO bandwagon.

What can Miles Partnership do to help?

Miles can help you to leverage the powerful, qualified audience that Choose Chicago creates in the Leisure, International/Group Tour and Meetings and Conventions segments. Our integrated opportunities allow you to reach visitors to Chicago at all points of the travel planning process.

Miles knows travel. As the official publishing partner of Choose Chicago, Brand USA and 63 other destinations nationwide and abroad, they spend six figures annually on research to better understand how travelers are negotiating the fractured media landscape to make destination selection decisions and how they are utilizing the myriad of channels to plan their trip.

For more about how Miles Partnership can help promote your organization, contact Carrie Koneig at Carrie.Koenig@MilesPartnership.com.