- The online travel market is cut-throat, and brands struggle to keep people’s attention.
- Best Western is trying to beat the odds, using artificial intelligence to personalize ads using IBM Watson Advertising.
- It’s already found people are spending twice as long with these ads as other Watson ads.
- Read how AI is transforming health, transportation, investing, and more in other articles from our special report, How AI is Changing Everything.
In the competitive online travel market, brands struggle to keep people’s attention.
A 2018 report by Expedia Group Media Solutions and Millward Brown Digital found people who are booking travel packages visit sites 38 times in the 45 days before they actually make a reservation.
Best Western thinks it has found a way to beat the odds with the help of AI. Using IBM Watson’s advertising products, it’s running a campaign that spits out personalized travel recommendations and tries to get people to click through to its site and book rooms by asking them about their travel plans.
"Travel is on the bleeding edge of customers’ digital experience," Best Western CMO Dorothy Dowling said. "So travel has been on the forefront of digital innovation. This is a dynamic ad unit that provides much more personalization."
Best Western also used AI last summer with an ad that supplied discounts and tips in response to questions like, "Can I stay at the beach?" and "Can I bring my dog?" People spent one to two minutes per session with those ads — twice as long as the average time spent with other IBM Watson ads, according to Best Western. Best Western is using results from that campaign to inform its recommendations this year, Dowling said.
"In travel, people are shopping longer and even after they purchase," Dowling said. "So we’re going for engagement and getting them to purchase, but also to make sure they don’t cancel and then repurchase somewhere else. We’re really on a journey to know our customers better."
AI is still considered experimental
Marketers are in the early stages of using AI. A report by Sojern Travel Platform, a programmatic advertising company for travel marketers, listed personalized ads and real-time offers as the top challenge for marketers surveyed, cited by 46%, followed closely by "achieving ROI and profitability targets for advertising investments," "targeting travelers during a specific point along their path to purchase," and "keeping up with the fast-paced advertising and technology landscape" (all at 45%).
Best Western still considers AI an experimental part of its ad mix, to reach people early in the travel planning process. For its loyalty program members, it also created an AI-driven chatbot last year to answer questions. Using any new technology also requires the marketer to work with multiple partners.
"AI is nascent in the travel vertical," Dowling said. "AI is another dimension we use to understand some of the signals the travel is giving us across the journey. It is a learning environment for us to see what the customer is bringing back to us — and it’s about refining the answers we give."
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