Get to know WYSTC speaker Gina Baillie from EyeforTravel
Given WYSE Travel Confederation‘s recent findings that 35% of youth travellers use mobile applications for research, we asked Gina for her thoughts on how mobile is transforming the youth travel industry.
Q1: When and how did you first get interested in research, trend, insight and innovation in online travel?
From Ash Clouds to major technological changes – there is never a dull moment in the travel industry. I started working for EyeforTravel in 2006. Back then there was no social media, the iPhone had not been invented and some companies were (somewhat surprisingly) still grappling with what to do with a website.
It’s fascinating to see how consumer technology is fundamentally changing the way travel brands communicate with their customers and I am passionate about helping to drive forward innovation within the travel space in this area. We are lagging behind some sectors and yet we work in one of the largest industries in the world – selling what I feel is the most exciting and inspirational product in the world.
Q2: Where were you working before joining EyeforTravel and how did that role prepare you for your role at EyeforTravel?
I was actually working for the European Union in Sweden. I was required to constantly be taking in huge amounts of information which helped me get to grips with the research side of my role.
Q3: How do you see social media usage evolving for young travellers and are online travel businesses generally ahead or behind the curve?
I’ve been monitoring social media in travel for 8 years now and I’m still amazed how many major brands still don’t quite get it. For years the industry has procrastinated over desperately trying to find a monetary ROI without realising the huge value social media offers in terms of customer engagement and loyalty.
Young people are constantly experimenting with new social platforms but brands need to work out what’s just a passing fad and what really delivers value. It’s not easy – some brands really get it and some brands fail dismally so it’s hard to generalise as to whether we are ahead or behind the curve. I work a lot with brands in the States and I love their willingness to try new platforms and ideas. The wide differences across Asia also fascinate me.
Social media has opened up a world of opportunity for travel brands to connect with their customers and the recent growth in popularity of visual social media goes hand in hand with travel.
Q4: Can you give one or two examples of businesses that, in your view, are doing a good job with social media?
It’s an obvious one but KLM is the first brand that comes to mind here. I feel that the reason for KLM’s success is that they embraced social media right from the start and weren’t afraid to experiment. Through investment and through their willingness to try new ideas they have built a huge following.
In terms of customer service, they reply to customers in 10 different languages and aim to reply to all queries within the hour or failing that then definitely the same day. I believe they do have over 140 staff working on social media which not all brands can afford but there are definitely some lessons to be learned here.
A second example would be Airbnb – they have used social media to directly engage customers and build a loyal community very rapidly. They have integrated social media across their business departments right from the start and unlike most brands, haven’t let social media operate in a silo.
Q5: There has been some very recent reporting in mainstream media that the apps market is slowing. Are you seeing the appetite for new travel apps for young people slowing? If not – what is hot right now?
I don’t think having a mobile app is the right strategy for all brands. It requires constant resources and investment to keep the customer interested in it and also to keep up-to-speed with platform updates.
That said, I’ve spoken to brands who have seen real value in their app. In fact studies have proven apps significantly increase the likelihood that a customer would buy from a brand – Forrester research found that 80% of time spent on mobile by consumers in the States was within mobile apps.
The importance is to balance your app strategy with your mobile web strategy – young people are searching for your brand online via their mobile device and if your brand isn’t coming up and delivering the experience they expect then no doubt your competitors will be.
Q6: If an online youth travel business understands the importance of putting mobile first but hasn’t activated a mobile campaign before, what advice would you offer?
I would definitely prioritise your mobile web strategy before thinking about investing in a mobile app. It’s vital that young people can find your brand as part of their research into their travel experience. If you are not in their initial searches then chances are they will eliminate you early on and continue to pursue their travel plans via competitor sites.
EyeforTravel’s recent Mobile in Travel 2014 report series found that mobile is reviving 2 key communication mediums we thought were dying – call centres and email.
If you are not ready to offer a mobile booking functionality then at least ensure you have a clear number to call especially if you offer a fairly complex product. You also need to ensure your emails can easily be read via a mobile device as 80% of subscribers will delete emails that don’t ‘look good’ on their phones.
Q7: If you had to predict the next big business trend in online travel, what types of new businesses might you predict? OR, put another way: Where do you think the next big opportunity in online travel is?
Peer-to-peer companies such as Airbnb, Housetrip, BlaBlacar, Uber, Lyft etc have become huge disruptors to the online travel space in the last 2-3 years. Capitalising on new technology, each has been able to gain customers rapidly. I think what’s interesting is that when you talk to such brands they often see themselves as technology companies among the likes of Amazon rather than travel brands. As consumer technology continues to evolve we will see more and more savvy start-ups use it to gain market share fairly quickly and win new customers.
Q8: If you were to give one data-driven piece of advice to a new, online youth travel business, what would that be?
Use data to personalize the customer’s travel experience. A ‘one size fits all’ marketing approach will not cut it with young travelers today. They expect you to know and understand who they are, what they want and when they want it.
Q9: We are looking forward to seeing you at WYSTC in Dublin. Who and what are you looking forward to seeing at WYSTC Dublin?
It’s exciting to be part of the world’s largest youth travel conference! I’m really looking forward to Carl Michel’s presentation from Generator Hostels. They are transforming the hostel experience and have some very impressive examples of how they really ‘get’ young travelers. Their hostels are quite simply amazing and make me wish I was an 18 year old backpacker again! Pete Ward from WAYN also always shares some great case studies.
Q10: What do you never travel without?
I never travel without my swimming stuff as I simply love swimming and would hate to miss the opportunity to take advantage of a hotel pool, or quick dip in the sea!
To find out how to ensure your business has the most effective mobile strategy in place, join Gina’s seminar at 14.00 on Friday, 26 September in the Liffey Meeting Room 3, 1st floor of the Convention Centre Dublin. For more information on the seminar click here.