Airline Marketing: Love for Long-Haul

Here’s an interesting trend. Despite growing concerns regarding safety and the number of global destinations being considered for holidays of 4 days or longer, the popularity of long-haul travel is burgeoning.

Indeed, according to ABTA’s ‘Travel Trends 2016’ report, the number of long-haul customers has witnessed an increase of 350% over the past decade. According to ITB, long-haul travel has now grown to account for ‘17% of the total market in terms of trips’.

The Reason? It is suggested that the continued growth of the long-haul market has been spurred on by the wider availability of capable aircraft and the scrapping of the lower bands of Air Passenger Duty.

Below we take a look at those most likely to embark on long-haul travel, and what that means for current airlines marketing strategies and tactics.

Long-Haul Lovers

Long-haul travel is, you might argue, the preserve of the independently wealthy; those not tied down to responsibility. And while it is true that ‘bucket list’ holidays are most popular among those aged 18-34 – who take them more frequently than once every two years – there is another group worth considering.

Families. Over the past decade, the number of families embarking on long-haul travel has increased by a whopping 800%. This kind of growth simply can’t be ignored. It is particularly interesting, then, that BDRC Continental’s ‘Holiday Trends 2016’ report shows that these are the two groups most likely to be influenced by content on social media.

Here are the headlines:

Clearly, social media is the best way for airlines to connect growing long haul market with its biggest and fastest growing demographics.

Strategy: Love of Long Haul

The statistics above highlight three areas for airlines to focus on within social media; ensuring their brand is present in UGC (user generated content); creating compelling organic page content; and, delivering eye-catching advertising campaigns.

But to make sure that these three tactics all pull in the same direction, airlines also need to implement an in-depth strategy with a focus on the demographics most likely to be influenced by social media. These are also the demographics in which ‘bucket list’ holidays and long haul trips are the most popular. Content – advertising, organic, campaigns – should therefore be weighted in favour of (but not exclusively) information about long haul flights.

But this shouldn’t be solely offer-based either – natural beauty and ‘bucket list’ holidays suggest an interested in must-see/must-do sights. Promotion of these will be key in capturing the imagination of those on social media. A reliance on imagery is particularly important.

Tactics: Love of Long Haul

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at 3 social media marketing tactics that have been shown to be particularly effective at driving awareness and bookings for the travel and tourism industry.

1. Targeted Social Media Advertising

Mentioned above, advertising on social media influences the travel decisions of a sizeable 34% of 18-34s and 20% of those with children. But it’s more complicated than simply running some advertising promoting a range of offers.

“…the number of targeting options available to social media advertisers is astounding…”

In 2016, the number of targeting options available to social media advertisers is astounding; you can easily target age brackets and interests (travel to popular destinations like China and Australia), but with a little more work you can make your advertising campaigns perform considerably better.

By using Facebook’s data and Google Analytics to track those who click through to your website, you can harvest customer information and feed it back into Facebook to more closely target the content of your advertising. There is, after all, no point in delivering awareness advertising to someone already in the booking/planning phase of the holiday decision making cycle.

2. Organic Content

Good organic content is the fundamental bread and butter of any social media page. And, historically, it’s been something airlines haven’t delivered particularly well. Instead of focusing solely on on-brand content and promotions, try taking advantage of the natural beauty and must-do activities of the destinations you operate flights to.

“You need to give customers and fans something not only to engage with, but also content that will inspire…”

You need to give customers and fans something not only to engage with, but also content that will inspire long-haul travel. Emphasise the unique, compelling aspects of destinations you’d like to promote, instead of ‘stunning’ imagery of an Airbus A380 landing. This is a particularly potent approach given the popularity of ‘bucket list’ travel.

Thinking about UGC, organic and sponsored content is also a powerful way of encouraging users to share content about their experience with your airline. Whether it’s a review, a comment or imagery, it’s important to remember that 50% of 18-34s and 35% of those with children are influenced by a ‘friend’s social media activity’.

3. Data Capture Campaign

Targeted leads, leads you know are interested in flying with your airline, are a valuable commodity. Not everyone realises this, but social media – Facebook in particular – is effective as a lead generation tool. And because of the targeting options available for users, a campaign can deliver thousands of high-quality, opted-in leads.

The form your campaign takes is completely up to you, though we’ve found the simplest tend to be the most effective. An on-brand quiz or sweepstake application installed as a tab on your Facebook page can be a driving force not only for lead generation and data collection, but also brand awareness and education.

For more information about data capture and lead generation campaigns on Facebook, please see our work with Visit Japan

Final Thoughts

It’s good to see love for long-haul travel bucking many of the negative trends we’re seeing in the global travel and tourism industry. But for airlines to make the most of this growth, there needs to be a better connection between industry trends and the content, tactics and overall channel strategy, particularly on social media.

The key groups here are those aged 18-34 and families. Curating more and better content for these groups across social media channels will enable airlines to capitalise not only on long-haul growth, but ‘bucket list’ travel undertaken as frequently as once every year and a half.