January and February are always busy months for the travel industry.

With post-Christmas blues and cold winter days, it is the time of year when a large number of consumers plan their summer holiday for the year ahead.

We take a look at how the travel industry is using TV and web to drive sales.

Online travel is big business. Even for some traditional bricks and mortar travel operators, web is now delivering 50% of their sales.

January and February is a highly competitive time of the year, not just within travel – With fashion sales, sofa discounts and heath and fitness brands all fighting for the consumers pounds.

Getting the right message and delivering it via the right channels is key and this year it seems the major travel operators have used a mix of TV and online marketing to drive sales.

It certainly appears to be the trend so far in 2008 for travel operators to use TV to deliver their branding with very little direct response messaging.

First choice launched its new TV campaign on Christmas day, focusing on the family and the importance of spending quality time together.

It’s a highly emotional, brand positioning ad, with slow-motion footage of a father as his son runs into his arms, with the underlying message that “being together is brilliant”. (A little soppy perhaps)

Center Parcs developed a new TV ad featuring a couple unable to remember the last time they experienced the emotions they felt during their Center Parcs holiday.

Thomas Cook thinks we all deserve an extra day’s holiday, with a simple promotion that still manages to get that all the sun and sand into the ad accompanied by the track “What a Difference a Day Makes”.

You may have also seen Warner Leisure Hotels sponsoring ITV1 drama The Palace, in addition to a run of ads on digital TV channels. The ads show the historic nature of their properties and the experiences available.

Haven Holidays has also taken a sponsorship position with ITV1 family drama Primeval. The ads have been well thought-out to connect to the show, again focusing on the family fun of their holidays.

So what about the direct response activity?

Well it seems the travel operators are turning to the web to capture the awareness driven by TV and drive the sales.

Supporting their TV push, Center Parcs launched their largest ever online marketing initiative with more than £300,000 to be spent online in the first two months of 2008.

MyTravel have launched a hard hitting banner campaign proclaiming the “sunshine is on sale” (not sure how that works), and Thomas Cook are beating down savings on summer holidays (which sounds very aggressive!).

Travelodge are also running a banner and email marketing campaign for their £19 rooms, while Haven are offering Easter breaks from £149 for the whole family.

Thomson jumped ahead of Expedia as the most popular travel agency over the New Year period, according to stats from Hitwise. They were also ahead of other leading online pure players including Lastminute.com, Travelsupermarket.com and Cheapflights.

Interestingly, there seems to be little relationship between the TV ads and the online executations, and few travel companies are using their TV ad in video rich media formats. Certainly a missed opportunity.

However, it seems the travel industry is unitied on the use of TV vs Web. Let’s hope it delivers the results.

Matthew Finch – view blog