The average travel consumer is said to carry out 20 searches and look at 38 websites before making an online booking.
So, how does a boutique travel agency ensure it captures attention in an increasingly competitive digital space?
I recently heard Tamara Lohan, the CTO and co-founder of Mr & Mrs Smith, speak at Abode Summit on the subject. Here are a few key points from her session.
Carefully curated hotels
Mr & Mrs Smith originally began after a disastrous hotel stay, whereby Tamara and her then-boyfriend (now husband and business partner) were met with a decidedly different experience than the one they’d imagined.
Realising that most travel agencies skip over what actually makes a holiday special – i.e. the little but memorable details – they set out to create a company which has the customer’s needs and desires in mind.
With the core aim of inspiring people to travel to extraordinary places, it researches the best and most overlooked boutique hotels, which are often unique in terms of design and architecture. The company also values hotels that are environmentally-friendly or dedicated to local issues. Its selection of hotels in the Maldives is a clear example of this. With waste management becoming an increasing issue on the island, Mr & Mrs Smith only chooses eco-friendly and sustainable hotels that aim to counteract the problem.
Alongside this, one aspect that also sets Mr & Mrs Smith apart is the fact that its hotels go through a rigorous testing and review process, with employees visiting each one to ensure it delivers a truly memorable experience.
So, while its value proposition is clear, how does Mr & Mrs Smith capture clicks – crucially even before customers turn to search? Instead of serving intent, the brand aims to create it by fostering loyalty.
It differentiates itself from competitors like Booking.com and On The Beach by being a ‘travel club’ rather than an online booking platform. This idea builds on customer’s long-term interest in travel as well as their desire to forge relationships with like-minded people.
While membership to Mr & Mrs Smith only means booking through the website (there is no cost or fee to become a ‘member’), this idea aligns with the brand’s promise of offering something extra special. Booking with the brand means customers can enjoy perks such as being met with champagne on arrival, as well as exclusive offers and experiences throughout the year.
Not only does this evoke a sense of exclusivity – making members feel recognised and inspired – but the included benefits mean consumers are much more likely to return again in future.
— Olivia von Halle (@OliviavonHalle) January 13, 2017
Delivering unique content
‘Does everything have to be digital?’ was the title of Tamara’s talk. The answer is pretty obvious, of course, with Mr & Mrs Smith typically partaking in both online and offline marketing activity to ensure it reaches customers in multiple ways.
But while not everything has to be digital, it does have to be unique – which is a philosophy reflected in branded events like the ‘Smith Boutique Hotel Awards’.
The annual awards ceremony honours the best hotels in the industry, with voters being made up of tastemakers, specialists and industry insiders. Unlike typically stuffy or corporate award ceremonies, it is consumer-facing, inviting customers and influencers to also attend.
As well as forging one-to-one relationships with consumers, the awards are also a great way to create valuable content. Two weeks before this year’s event, the company sent photographer Polly Brown on a whistle-stop tour of the winning hotels, documenting the results on both Instagram and a printed newspaper that was sent to a few select and loyal customers.
Just like the travel experiences found in its hotels, it is special and meaningful touches like this that truly sets Mr & Mrs Smith apart.
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