What do travellers want from pre-travel emails?
A pre-travel email or a pre-travel automation series should provide all of the valuable information that a traveller needs to make a successful trip. What’s surprising is that whilst these automated emails do include information about the booking such as flight numbers, departure info and so on, the content of these ‘pre-travel’ emails really hasn’t progressed in the last 10 years. With travel booking rolling into peak (bless those January blues) I decided to analyse the last 20 flights I took (basically my travel itinerary from the last year) and realised, somewhat disappointedly but not wholly surprised, that the Top 5 UK and US airlines that I’ve flown with in the last 12 months sent me really poor pre-travel content. Here's a few examples of pre-travel emails myself and the team have received recently:
In the travel industry, email can be leveraged to deliver highly personalised, time-sensitive, value-laden communications that are completely relevant to a traveller’s upcoming trip. Customers have gone through the booking process so you have a lot of data that you can use, so why are Airlines and the travel industry as a whole, not using the data to its fullest?
There’s a very real opportunity that many airlines and travel companies are missing out on. Capitalising on opportunities to generate additional revenue between the booking and the date of travel/check-in is a must. Equally, it’s really important to deliver high quality, valuable content in that pre-travel period.
For an airline, if the flights are booked, there’s time and opportunity to promote additional add-ons of third party offers such as live car hire ability, live hotel availability and more. You know the dates and destination of travel so delivering content in emails based on this will increase revenue from the channel. Likewise, including live currency conversions, promoting the latest exchange rates is a powerful addition to email. Leveraging Open Time content to deliver the latest, personalized content at every open is proven to increase revenue.
Alongside revenue opportunities, Open Time technology also saves email teams significant time. It’s no longer necessary to build out bulky dynamic content rules with content that needs frequently updating and managing. All of this can move to an automated approach, where the latest content is built on the fly at open time based on the data you know about a customer.
Take this Thomas Cook example, which was setup over two years ago, and runs as part of a fully automated campaign. The Open Time tag was added to the HTML back in 2014, but continues to show the latest exchange rate based on the recipient’s destination at every open.
Here's an example of the live tag:
Airlines and hotels may want to consider incorporating live elements into email around upgrades and room/seat availability to drive urgency and prompt customers to upgrade. For example, an airline could show the number of upgrade seats available, and even the exact seats available at the time of email open.
In the immediate days before travel it’s a key time to build a relationship with your customer and to really cement your brand in their mind as being a great travel partner. At this stage, you really should be using what you know about a recipient and automatically display content that is only relevant to their trip. I need to know useful things like the weather, what time online check-in closes, what the exchange rate is and so on.
As part of the automation program, send an email a couple of days prior to travel with an automated countdown timer, counting down to the closure of online check-in for their flight. From this you’ll see an increase in the number of people checking in online and as a knock on effect see less queues at your check-in. Here’s a great example of this from Aer Lingus:
In the same email you could include a live weather forecast showing me a live 5-day forecast at my destination for my date of arrival and then ongoing from that point. Every time I check back in with that pre-travel email, I’ll see the latest weather forecast for my trip. Whilst this isn’t a revenue driver as such, it’s a good way to connect with the customer and deliver content that they need. Here’s an example from IHG:
Here's an example of the live weather Tag:
Finally, it’s a good opportunity to promote live currency again, especially if you work with a partner that offers a click and collect option to buy now at a rate and collect at the airport. Show the live exchange rate from the home currency to the currency at the travel destination.
Whilst every pre-travel scenario is different, there may be days, weeks or many months before the date of travel, what is consistent is that every customer needs to receive relevant and up-to-date content before they depart. It’s no longer enough to send a transactional email for confirmation and then treat the pre-departure period as a promotional window to bombard the traveller with content totally unrelated to their trip. This is unlikely to yield engagement or encourage further booking, in fact it could have the opposite effect. Cleverly crafted, strategically thought out content delivery that well-timed and always up-to-date is something that all travel companies should be looking to do in 2017.
Here’s an example of what my perfect pre-travel email a couple of days before my trip would include:
- Personalised boarding pass image to include: firstname, surname, flight number, airport code.
- Link to self-check-in with timer showing time left to check-in (expect to see higher number of online check-ins and reduced queues at the airport)
- Device targeting to encourage me to download the app for paperless travel (expect to see more people checking in via the app, more trees in the rainforest, less bits of paper left on the plane).
- Live exchange rate for my destination so I that I can buy my currency. Stress-Free.
- Weather at my destination for a few days (I need to know what to pack and what to book).
- Last minute live car hire/hotel availability & prices (for people that leave it until the last minute).
- Activity suggestions based on date of arrival, availability and weather at destination (because this is cool).
- Get me to the airport – GPS directions to the airport for when I’m ready to leave home.