Everything changed…and then it didn’t


While the dust still settles on the flexible working, hybrid working, office working, home-working debate, we can pretty much all agree that after two years of video calls, it’s nice to meet real people again. Once in a while. Last week, Wild Dog attended the ABTA Travel Marketing Conference on the 17th floor of News UK’s shiny office next to the Thames.

Despite the presentation screen being flanked by views of St Paul’s and The Gherkin, our attention was held by the two day conference, with topics ranging from niche aspects of digital communication channels (SEO, TikTok, Meta, email marketing) to broader debates around the role of Marketing within travel businesses, and the issues companies are facing in recruitment.

For our turn on the stage, our presentation looked back at what (if anything) had changed in digital behaviour and capability during the Pandemic, and what from that can be applied to that crucial stage of the purchase journey – the conversion.

In the world of Specialist Tour Operators, buying online isn’t necessarily the ultimate goal. Talking to a real human is crucial – customers want something tailored to their unique requirements, and those can’t be conveyed through a form. Potential customers talking to real experts helps both sides. The Operator gets to know more about the customer and can create something more personal; meanwhile the customer gets a feel for what kind of experience is on offer, and has the reassurance that they are speaking to a real expert with a name, not just buying something off the shelf.

However, this real world analogue interaction creates a break in the digital journey that has taken place up to this point. What happens next? And meanwhile, as we emerge from the Pandemic, when our lives were lived digitally more than ever before, what else has changed that should influence how we curate the digital experience?

It’s hard to extrapolate digital trends into travel as it’s such a unique category. People signed up to streaming services in their droves, and are now cancelling their subscriptions. Both were seen as extreme behaviours, but in reality it’s not surprising that streaming was popular when people were not allowed to leave the house, and now seems like an unnecessary expense. Neither were indicative of broader trends. Same goes for shopping (online vs going to the high street) or eating (cooking vs going out).

Travel, however, was irreplaceable.

Going back to the last comparable year (early 2020) there are differences in behaviour. Volumes of traffic (overall site users) to travel sites is still playing catch-up, but user behaviour is interestingly different. The number of pages viewed per session is up, in some cases by more than 140%. Time spent per session is also up (+40%) as people delve deeper into their research. Meanwhile, there is more than a 40% increase in the share of traffic to mobile devices.


What people are looking at is changing too. A deep dive into one of our specialist travel operators (most popular pages viewed) shows that pre-Pandemic people were looking for product. They were navigating via destinations or styles of travel, until finding what they were looking for. During the Pandemic that shifted (as there was no product to buy) to more inspirational browsing. Luckily this operator had a robust backlog of inspirational content – history, food and drink, music, local culture – that became their most popular pages to keep people engaged when travel was off the cards.

And the most popular content since the beginning of March? The Flexible Booking page. Inspirational content and a range of suitable travel options is important, but am I going to be looked after? Is everything going to be ok if I book with you?

On the first day of the Travel Conference, one of the speakers, whilst trying to prise out the relative values of all the complex digital channels available to marketers, said, ‘Whatever research people have done, whatever channels they have used in their journey, at some stage they are going to end up on your website. And if they disappear, it’s not because they’re going to come back later; it’s because they’re not coming back”.

This really chimed with us and corroborated our belief that the website conversion process in Specialist Travel isn’t just a case of click here, buy now. It’s a series of discrete stages, and users have different motivations and needs at each stage, and these need to be thought through in terms of how Operators present themselves.

  1. First Impressions
    All travel companies sell travel. What is distinct about your offering, and how can you get it across to a new user in a matter of seconds to encourage them to find out more? The companies that will come out of the Pandemic strongest will be the ones that have used this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work out what is different or distinct about their offering, and find a way to position it to their users. It’s likely that more than half of users will be on a mobile, so is your mobile presence an afterthought or carefully considered? Is all the interesting content hidden behind a hamburger menu, or is it displayed in view?
  2. Research and Discovery
    Users are planning holidays with 2 years of research under their belts. They’ve really understood the importance of travel in their lives and do not take it for granted. As a result, they seem to be being more demanding, require more hand-holding, and meanwhile are looking for expertise and reassurance. How are you showing them that you can balance unique, bespoke inspiration, whilst providing the reassurance they need to go to the next stage?
  3. Post Enquiry
    In the world of specialist tour operators, after a perfectly crafted digital marketing plan, an inspiring, distinct and reassuring web presence, there is an enforced digital cut-off point once an enquiry is made. Bespoke tours are not being bought online, and the personal touch – emails, succession of phone calls – is crucial. However, what happens next? We are hearing of between four and six companies are being contacted for proposals, where pre-Pandemic it was one or two. Leaving prospects hanging while proposals are being cobbled together and emailed over as PDFs is not the digital experience that demanding, newly digital savvy customers are expecting. Which is why we created Wild Dog Canvas – a dashboard to generate digital itineraries as PWA microsites to be sent out to prospects directly after an enquiry. It gives them an elegant, inspiring digital experience, and meanwhile can keep them informed as plans develop and change, until it acts as the traveller’s digital companion on the trip itself.

Download the presentation

To find out more: visit wilddogcanvas.com or get in touch.