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New Travel Study Defines Digital Genius

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Assistant Editor’s Note: The following post, written by Gary Leopold, President and CEO of ISM Travel & Lifestyle Marketing was originally published on the ISM website as well as in MediaPost’s weekly newsletter “Marketing: Travel,” and is published here with ISM’s consent.

I think it’s fair to say that no industry has embraced digital faster than travel. Simply look at the numbers. While just 5.9% of U.S. retail sales are conducted via e-commerce, that number grows to a staggering 39% for travel. But it’s not just online sales that are impressive. It’s the reality that the digital space is providing a whole new arena in which travel brands are beginning to engage customers and serve them in ways never before possible.  But we were curious to understand which brands were truly leading the way across this digital landscape and to discover what lessons could be learned by evaluating the industry as a whole.

That’s what motivated us at ISM to partner with digital think tank L2 and George Washington University to conduct the first-ever comprehensive look at the digital competence of 89 travel brands. The “L2 Digital IQ Index: Travel” assessed airline, hotel and cruise companies across four criteria: website, digital marketing, social media and mobile. Each brand was scored against more than 350 qualitative and quantitative data points and assigned a Digital IQ ranking of Genius, Gifted, Average, Challenged or Feeble.

Among the many key findings we discovered was the direct correlation between high Digital IQ and ROI. The index revealed that hotels with a higher Digital IQ had a higher Average Daily Rate (ADR) and have been able to rebound more quickly from the recession. In effect, the more digitally competent the brand, the greater its pricing power.

Across the entire travel industry, we also found a direct link between Digital IQ and the average time a consumer spends on a Web site. Genius sites hold user attention for an average of 6.2 minutes, while Feeble sites get only 3.4 minutes. That’s nearly double the time to engage with and sell to your customers.

While we certainly identified a variety of travel brands that are truly Genius, what stood out was how much room there is for improvement across all travel sectors. Amazingly, only 28% of travel brands incorporate social media sharing on their Web sites. Only 60% incorporate video. And a paltry 9% incorporate user reviews.

We found that airlines, in general, had higher Digital IQs, with six airlines performing at a Genius level and landing in our Top 10 list, and several received very high marks for their social media initiatives. In fact, Delta topped the list of all travel brands and registered the highest Digital IQ (168). Travelers can check in to Delta flights via Facebook and book tickets through its mobile site. It offers mobile boarding passes, too. Not to mention 24-hour customer service via Twitter ([email protected]), which is rapidly becoming the “real time” standard that travelers expect.

Cruises fared the worst: many cruise brands still have poorly designed Web sites and lack e-commerce functionality, social media integration and mobile applications. And while the industry may still rely on travel agents and other non-direct channels for actual bookings, there’s no reason a brand today should be so Feeble in its digital outreach.

If nothing else, the study revealed just how much travelers have embraced digital as their medium of choice and that they increasingly want brands to come to them. Genius travel brands use digital channels to go to their customers across platforms; on the web, on social media and on their mobile phones. Having a user-friendly, e-commerce-enabled Web site is now simply the price of entry, as customers increasingly demand interaction across other devices and platforms.

You can download a complimentary copy of the study here, including the Digital IQ of all the brands measured.

For those who are curious, the highest L2 Digital IQ so far recorded is for NASA, at 184.
Perhaps getting your digital strategies right really is rocket science.

Gary Leopold
President and CEO

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