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Facebook’s Head of Travel reveals their ambitions for travel planning and booking

There was a telling interview in Skift with Facebook’s Head of Travel, Christine Warner, that illustrates just how ambitious the company is getting about travel.

Interestingly, Warner described Facebook as a “discovery platform” and Instagram as “a place for inspiration”—terms that Google uses in its own “micro-moments” language. While these phrases are now widely used by industry marketers, its use by Facebook’s own Head of Travel takes on added meaning.

At the very least, it hints at an awareness of the company’s specific strengths in the travel journey, and how it might seek to compete with Google in the early stages before planning and research take place.

Whatever the intent, it’s clear that Facebook has the potential to be a major travel industry platform in its own right, and it’s starting to offer an array of marketing and direct booking opportunities for hotels.

Facebook’s expansion into travel

At the end of last year, Facebook launched a new “Recommendations” tool to help users discover new experiences, things to do, events, and services based on suggestions from their friends. While not specifically designed for travel, we discussed how this feature certainly has potential as a new channel for hotel bookings.

More tellingly, Facebook recently announced the soft launch of a trip planning tool within the Facebook app, called City Guides. The app can be used to discover hotels, restaurants, activities and tours in various cities based on recommendations from friends. A list of “Places the Locals Go” also pulls together popular spots worth checking out.

Facebook City Guides example
Facebook’s City Guides plays on its main advantage: offering recommendations based on the user’s social network.

As well as functioning as a planning tool, City Guides has a “Book Now” button, which is currently being used by a limited number of restaurants and hotels. But other hotels, restaurants, attractions and tours can all be messaged or called directly through the app.

Hotels on Facebook City Guides with Book Now button

City Guides will almost certainly drive more traffic to Facebook early in the inspiration phrase of travel, representing one of a number of exciting opportunities for hotel marketers.

A potential rival to Google?

Google’s moves into the travel industry have been well publicized, and now Facebook is expanding its own presence with a view to monetizing itself as a booking platform. But does the social media giant represent a true threat to Google in this space?

One of Facebook’s undoubted strengths is its position as an early influencer. Just over half (52%) of Facebook users say their friend’s photos inspire their travel plans, and it’s in these early stages that Facebook could gain market share. However, in the short term at least, Google remains the go-to option when it comes to research and planning.

That said, the release of City Guides will act as a direct competitor to Google’s own planning tool, Google Trips. And with the addition of a direct booking feature, City Guides offers travelers the added attraction of being able to move from inspiration to planning to booking all within the same platform.

Google has already hinted at the possibility of integrating booking capabilities within Trips, and the release of City Guides may well act as the catalyst that brings this feature to market sooner rather than later.

Advertising opportunities

While Facebook is clearly persuasive in the inspiration phase of travel, it’s also a platform that can reach consumers at all stages of their travel journey.

According to a Facebook-commissioned study, during an average planning period for travel, users spent five times longer on Facebook rather than on travel-related apps, sites and searches. Although the study doesn’t stay they were specifically planning travel on Facebook, the implication is that the website is a constant source of information for users—and receives significantly more screen time than any specific travel site or source.

This level of exposure represents a significant opportunity for hotels to engage potential guests with relevant content during the travel research period, an opportunity further enhanced with last year’s release of Facebook’s industry-specific ad platform, Dynamic Ads for Travel (DAT).

DAT enables travel brands to automatically retarget anyone who has shown recent interest in their website or mobile app. If a person visits a hotel website but doesn’t end up booking, they can be retargeted with a tailored ad that features the exact date they looked at along with relevant trip details.

Facebook dynamic travel ad example from IHG

A number of brands have benefited from this retargeting tool, including IHG. After switching from Facebook’s standard dynamic ad products to dynamic ads for travel, IHG benefited from a 20% percent lower cost per booking and a 50% increase in scale.

How hotels can leverage Facebook’s booking potential

The dizzying online journey travelers take on their path to booking makes it hard to target them with relevant messages in the right place and right time. Facebook’s own study found that consumers make 56 visits to travel-related digital touchpoints across devices.

However, Facebook represents arguably the best place to reach out and connect. Two-thirds of its 1.8 billion monthly users visit the site every day. This high level of engagement offers hotels a unique space to continually engage with users and influence each stage of their decision-making.

There are wealth of ways to enhance your Facebook marketing, not least through its highly refined targeting options. The ability to segment audiences with filters such as age, gender, location and personal interests can be hugely effective. Facebook claims targeted ads on their site are 89% effective compared with 38% effectiveness for the average online ad.

Facebook Messenger is also becoming a major growth area for hotels looking to establish more personal communication with guests. Brands can now send Sponsored Messages within Messenger to anyone who starts a conversation with them; a conversation can involve a previous request for updates or a response to a Facebook News Feed ad.

In an interesting move, Facebook has also been testing News Feed-style ads inside Messenger itself, although only on a small scale in Thailand and Australia. While Head of Product for Messaging, Stan Chudnovsky, emphasized this test won’t be rolled out elsewhere “for a long time,” it demonstrates yet again how Facebook is looking at new ways to grow its ad revenue.

A golden opportunity for hotel marketers

At the start of this year, we discussed Facebook’s growing travel intent as part of our trends predictions for this year. With Dynamic Ads for Travel and the recent release of City Guides, the company is clearly serious about becoming a force in the booking journey.

By posting engaging content, answering questions through Messenger, and investing in paid advertising opportunities, Facebook represents an end-to-end inspiration and direct booking platform that hotels would do well to leverage.

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