What’s it like to be a travel-only publisher in the affiliate marketing industry today?

Colin Carter, Director, Weather2Travel.com

Having been a travel publisher in the affiliate marketing industry for over 12 years, we’ve seen it all and learnt a lot. Much has changed in that time within the travel and affiliate marketing as well as in technology and society itself.

We’ve had the ash cloud, terrorist attacks, Brexit vote, Trump, hurricanes (although not as often as you’d think) and so many ‘years of the mobile’. Affiliates and travel brands have come and gone – Monarch, lowcostholidays, Alitalia and Air Berlin. However, travel remains one of the most exciting verticals to work in. Let’s face it; everyone loves going on holiday!

When we talk about travel, most people focus on the big three products: holidays, flights and hotels – however, there are so many more travel products and subtleties to consider. The basic principle is that someone is looking to travel from A to B and often needs somewhere to stay while they are there for business, leisure or both.

The immediate problem for a travel publisher is that there are many ways to get from A to B (plane, train, hire car, ferry, etc…) and many different places to stay (hotel, villa, apartment, rental property, tent, caravan, cabin, etc…). Then there are the packages and all the extras that can also be booked such as airport parking, travel insurance and transfers.

The path to booking travel extras, such as airport parking, is very different from booking a holiday. Travel extras tend to be last minute purchases and have a much smaller basket size. Mobile bookings are also more likely on travel extras than for holidays and cruises – although that doesn’t stop many researching holidays on a mobile – cross-device tracking would be an advantage.

So as a travel publisher, the key is to focus on your audience, the travel products they are interested in and likely timescale involved.

What types of publishers work in travel?

Apart from the obvious generic cashback, voucher and closed user group affiliates, there is a wide selection of publishers working in travel. They range from the big meta search affiliates and review websites to the niche travel blogs and single destination guides.

The challenge for the affiliate marketing industry is to engage with such a varied collection of publishers. A travel blog might not make many sales each month. However, if you have a 100 travel blogs engaged and promoting your brand they can soon add up.

It’s impossible for an account manager to meet with hundreds of publishers on a one-to-one basis, but they can engage with larger groups of affiliates through competitions, surveys, networking events and press trips.

It’s hard work to get the sale…

If you’re talking about promoting holidays, it is a long journey (excuse the pun) to secure a sale. Some people take hours, weeks, months deciding when and where to go on holiday, and what product to book. According to research by Expedia, consumers visit on average 38 websites before booking. It is a considered purchase with average order values much higher than consumer goods.

This all makes it a challenge to generate affiliate sales in travel, as there is just so much noise around: other publishers, de-duplication from another channel, last minute cancellations etc.

…and you want to be paid?

Something unique about the travel industry is when a product is purchased; it is possible that it won’t be consumed (i.e. holiday, flight or hotel stay) for up to two years after the transaction. So it’s important for publishers to consider cancellation rates and also the approval policy on sales. Many hotel chains, airlines and OTAs don’t confirm sales until after the traveller has travelled – so you could be waiting a long time for your money.

It’s time to phone a friend.

There are still a few travel products where an online purchase is pretty rare with consumers still preferring to use a phone or high street. Cruises and long-haul holidays are usually where we see leakage with only a few travel brands offering telephone tracking or dedicated numbers for publishers.

Zero commission and international silos.

Some of the other challenges facing travel publishers relate to merchants offering variable commission rates (and even zero commissions) on certain products, types of customers, types of publishers or target regions. With a few exceptions, it is easy for brands to silo regional websites – it would be great to see more cross-border tracking and transparency of commission rates and de-duplication policies.

Datafeeds and APIs: what’s it all about?

Anyone who knows me knows I love data, so obviously, I love the idea of data feeds and APIs in the travel industry. When feeds started becoming popular there was the added benefit that re-targeters could utilise the data for display purposes. The problem nowadays is that there just aren’t very many publishers who have an interest or technical resources to deal with data feeds let alone APIs.

Feeds are often built in the same format as a shopping feed without any thought of the end user. This of course differs for each type of travel product – so really there should be a standard format for each product type.

As a travel publisher, Weather2Travel.com continues to face daily challenges within the affiliate marketing industry, however, I couldn’t think of a more diverse and exciting vertical to work in. There is a great opportunity for more travel publishers to engage in affiliate marketing providing we as an industry make the right choices moving forward.

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