EyeforTravel North America 2018

October 2018, Las Vegas

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5 ways for airlines to bust the inspiration myth

Is an airline’s role in the inspiration phase of the travel journey overblown? Tom Bacon doesn’t think so but believes that carriers can approach it differently

Inspiration is a big issue in travel but what are airlines doing and how are they driving it? The inspiration phase, of course, is to create new demand. It may be to motivate customers to consider purchasing travel to a new destination or to book that untaken trip that they wouldn’t otherwise have considered. ‘Stimulation’ is the term applied to driving new consideration.

Of course, price driven stimulation is the most common form - fare sales are a recurring theme for travel suppliers. When bookings are deemed weak, airlines drop the fare. Fare sales, of course, focus more on passengers already in the consideration phase; they are intended to have a stimulating effect – new sales – but that must be weighed against the expected dilution effect – lower fares for passengers who were already in the funnel, already inspired.

The other major tool of stimulation involves destination-specific marketing: top tourist sites, the best hotels, unique experiences and the like. Typically, the marketing or e-commerce function of a travel supplier is responsible for such inspiration.

At the Aviation Festival in Miami in May, Seth Cassel, President of EveryMundo, outlined what he called the ‘myth of inspiration’.

As an example of possible inspiration, Delta Airlines offers an image of New York City on its landing page. Whether the customer is looking for flight alternatives to Florida or Europe, he is greeted with a fabulous image of the Big Apple. The question: exactly how inspiring is this imagery?

On the other hand, Lufthansa Airlines has an extremely ambitious approach to destination inspiration. For a variety of destinations, it offers ‘city pages’ with detailed information about culture, sites, hotels, and so on. The landing page features one city at a time but clicking on it sends the customer to the whole library of city-specific information.

Unfortunately, Cassel points out that the research shows that travellers consider investigating flight alternatives on airline websites only after they have already decided on a destination – the airline doesn’t inspire consideration of a destination. Broader more destination-oriented travel sites like Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor are much better positioned to inspire; they employ local contributors who constantly update the sites with timely information – something airlines cannot easily replicate.

Delta’s city image, arguably, adds noise to a landing page that is already cluttered, and not designed well for flight search. Meanwhile Lufthansa’s ‘city pages’ could be described as overly ambitious and ultimately misguided – although Lufthansa might argue that they are not trying to inspire but be of use to the customer at this point!

Potentially, however, Lufthansa would drive more upsell if the pages were more directed to specific revenue opportunities that they can monetise by adding value to the customer journey (car/hotel bookings, for example).

Some might conclude that airlines shouldn’t be in the inspiration phase – this just isn’t how customers use airlines. In my opinion, an airline’s role in inspiration needs to be re-focused and here are five ways to do so effectively.

  1. Promotion of new, more convenient schedules to destinations 
    Potentially, for example, certain travellers have always dreamed of going to New Zealand but never moved to the consideration phase because they thought it difficult to get there. A new non-stop service to New Zealand from their city is likely inspiring content. Similarly, Cuba may not be well known as an opportunity even now and greater awareness could be inspirational. Southwest is well known in most US cities but customers in some of its new international destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America need to be made more aware of their expanded schedules. Each of these tactics may drive more focused ‘inspiration’.
  2. Broader inspiration objectives for a group of popular destinations: Rather than trying to be an expert in specific cities, promoting a broader theme encompassing multiple destinations – beach or mountain or Europe – may be more broadly attractive to customers and may ‘hit the inspiration button’ for certain customers. In effect, campaigns like this can tap into existing customer dreams (I’ve always wanted to go to Europe); it can make such a dream more concrete (we offer daily flights to eight destinations from your city). Inspiration can come from a traveller that comes to an airline’s website for a short business trip but who has always dreamed of more ‘exotic’ travel.
  3. Flag carrier branding: Many carriers are associated with a specific destination or culture. Flag carriers, in fact, are often charged with promoting the country as well as the airline. And, although such branding clearly applies to flag carriers, it can extend to any that focuses on a city or country. ANA, for example, has developed the award winning Is Japan Cool? campaign. The video series is not intended to offer extensive, timely city-specific information (museum times or best restaurants) but instead to promote the overall culture, a more timeless theme that reinforces the airline brand.
  4. ‘Personalised’ inspiration: Most travel suppliers are working toward increased personalisation in e-merchandising. A more personalised marketing approach should likewise include personalised inspiration. A customer who is known to enjoy beach vacations can be shown different imagery to a couple that regularly travels to New York.
  5. Ancillary focused inspiration: Rather than attempting to stimulate more flight purchases, inspiration can be more focused on driving more revenue from those who have already decided to fly – in other words the upsell. Such opportunities for inspiration include big seat, or lounge access, or car/hotel bookings, among other ancillary and third-party services.

Airlines remain relatively weak in the Inspiration phase of the travel journey. They can become more effective by more clearly identifying their objectives in Inspiration and by designing tactics that are targeted toward those specific goals.

Tom Bacon has been in the business 25 years, as an airline veteran and now industry consultant in revenue optimisation. He leads audit teams for airline commercial activities including revenue management, scheduling and fleet planning. Questions? Email Tom or visit his website

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