The global travel sector is reaching a confusing saturation point, so winning brands must differentiate through experience.

The global travel market is growing at such a fast pace there’s a real risk that more choice is only leading to more confusion for consumers and less differentiation for brands. As the travel sector continues to evolve around the changing needs and habits of travellers, brands need to rethink what role they play and what value they can offer consumers. 

Even the most cursory glance at the travel sector will find a proliferation of images showcasing the same old tropes – beautiful landscapes, exotic cultures, people on a journey of discovery, experiences full of wonder (see selection below) – irrespective of where exactly any particular brand might fit within any particular part of that travel ecosystem.

Consequently, the travel sector has become a blur of imagery that has made it increasingly difficult to identify one brand from one another, let alone one product, service or experience from the next. Click on a website and often you have to dig deep to discover what they’re actually selling. Is this a holiday? A hotel? A concierge-style service? Or a tour of the local neighbourhood? Or some other kind of intermediary?

This confusion is not helped by the underlying shift in the travel sector towards convergence. Hotels like Moxy promise a flavour of home; home rentals like Luxico promise the feel of a hotel. Airbnb is contemplating not just how best to rent your home but its in-house design and innovation studio; Samara is contemplating how best to build and design it. Meanwhile AirAsia has recently announced its intention to sell much more than flights, as reported in the CEO’s recent interview with Skift. And, of course, Google is doing what Google does best: everything!

The solution? In a world in which the experience is everything, we need to put travellers, not brands, at the centre. As one of our global travel clients recently summed up: “Everyone is hellbent on getting their brand in front of the customer as often as possible. We spend too much time on that, not enough on making the customer’s experience better.” 

Future-proof travel brands are not “hellbent on getting their brand in front of the customer as often as possible”, rather they know that understanding their role in the travel ecosystem is the key to making the customer’s experience better. 

That could mean your brand is highly ‘visible’, like Klook which injects itself into the travel ecosystem to help travellers find and book tours and activities. Or indeed ‘invisible’, like Amadeus, the back-end computer reservation system that sits behind the scenes but touches just about every aspect of the travel and tourism industry in the interests of ease and efficiency. 

It could mean your brand helps people ‘spend time’, like Airbnb and the advent of Airbnb’s hyper-local, handcrafted Experiences. Or perhaps ‘save time’, just as mobile-only travel booking platform Hopper uses data analysis and its conversational commerce to help determine the best and cheapest time to fly. Consequently, 20% of Hopper’s $500 million in bookings have come from flights people didn’t even ask for. 

Or it could mean your brand can ‘control’ the journey to ensure travellers can enjoy an end-to-end experience, just as American Airlines can do for its domestic flyers – and why it simplified its brand architecture to remove many of the brands, sub-brands and pseudo-brands that were getting in the way of customers and a smooth journey. Or maybe your brand can only ‘influence’ the experience, like Air Tahiti Nui, the majority of whose customers have to take code-share flights as part of their journey to reach the Islands of Tahiti. In which case, your brand must complement others just as effectively as it might compete with them, if the customer is your key focus.

There are myriad scenarios to consider as part of this ever-evolving travel sector. Now more than ever, future-proofing your brand means that knowing your place in the world can make a world of difference.


This article first appeared in Campaign on 24 May 2019.