Email Marketing guide for Travel and Hospitality

Done right, email marketing is one of the best-performing channels for the travel and tourism industry. So it’s time you start taking full advantage of it. The ticket to success lies in an email marketing strategy that will grow your big or small business.

But how? To master email marketing in Travel, you need to bring two things:

1. The right strategy and way to use email marketing
Your email marketing strategy will be like your roadmap to success. An effective travel email marketing strategy uses many types of email campaigns together. Allowing you to target customers in the best possible way. But how is this done?

2. The right partner
The marketer’s secret weapon should be the email platform: the best ESPs allow you to easily create and send emails. They let you integrate and automate your email campaigns.

In this guide, we will see how these two fit together. We will walk through some campaign examples that you should not miss in your travel and tourism email strategy. With each, we provide details on what features you need from your ESP to make them a success.

header-emailguide-strategy-selection

Chapters:
1. Which emails are effective in Travel Industry?
2. Choosing the right email marketing software
3. Travel and Tourism emails not to miss in your strategy
Newsletters and scheduled emails
Flash Sales and timed offers
Seasonal Event emails
4. Email Automation and Lifecycle emails
Welcome Programs
Feedback emails
VIP and Loyalty Programs

1. Which types of emails are effective in Travel Industry?

Travel and tourism companies are expected to offer a smooth customer experience. This is why your best bet is to bring marketing, life-cycle, and transactional emails to work together. Ideally, you need an email solution that allows you to create and send all of them.

Here is a quick overview of the different email types:

Marketing Email
Lifecycle Email
Transactional Email
Marketing emails are mass messages sent out to all or targeted segments of your subscribers.
Lifecycle emails are series of automated emails predefined according to where your subscriber is.
Transactional emails are triggered by an action taken by a specific user to guide their process.
Examples:
* Flash Sales
* Newsletters
* Seasonal Events
Examples:
* Welcome Emails
* Feedback Emails
* Loyalty Programs
Examples:
* Booking Confirmations
* Password reset
* Cart Abandonment

Transactional and Marketing work together in your email strategy.
See these Trainline examples, for instance. Although easily recognizable as transactional (left) and marketing (right), they have matching styles. This is the first step.

By making sure your marketing and transactional emails have the same branding, your customers will trust they are communicating with one company. A company that has a clear and distinguishable brand identity.

trainline transactional and marketing email examples

Transactional and many lifecycle emails are “event-triggered” automations. The travel and tourism industry has a proven high engagement with these types of emails.

Customers are eager to make sure their experience is as smooth (well organized) and enjoyable as possible and are more likely to open emails related to their purchase. This typically leads to greater engagement with emails related to the product or service being offered.

Customers expect (and read!) automated emails from airlines, hotels, booking sites, and tour operators because these provide information or ask them to complete their bookings, add profile details, or check in.

We will show you travel and tourism email campaign examples that you should include in your travel and tourism email strategy. With each, we highlight what you need from your ESP to make them a success.

But first, what should you look for in email marketing software for the travel industry?

2. The best email marketing software for the travel industry

In evaluating your email marketing software, there is nothing as handy as a ”packing list” with features your email marketing software needs to offer. Remember, email marketing is a powerful channel. The main decision will be to what degree an ESP allows you to build lasting relationships with your customers, drive conversions, and increase your ROI.

Here is our “packing list” of top must-haves for an ESP in the travel industry.

  • Email creation and design: a powerful drag-and-drop editor to create your emails easily in a few minutes and a variety of customizable and fully responsive email templates.
  • Email personalization for creating content that’s specific to the individual.
  • Email segmentation to target your contacts based on their travel preferences and profile.
  • Responsive subscription widgets or integration to any of the best landing page builders. This is to build your contact list by obtaining full consent. These tend to work best when included in pages that provide value and content to visitors, such as blogs, landing pages, or resource pages.
  • Structured and clear contact administration that allows you to manage your subscriber lists easily.
  • A/B testing – to split test and optimize your campaigns.
  • Can handle both transactional and marketing emails
  • Detailed statistics that allow you to analyze and improve the newsletters you sent out.
  • Strong marketing automation tools help you to manage planned customer/subscriber journeys.
  • Integrations with your other apps and systems.
    Some examples of useful integrations are:
    CRM integration, allowing data to be used as quickly as possible after purchase and at points of key interactions (e.g. key flight information).
    Eventbrite – a global ticketing and event technology platform that allows event organizers to plan, promote, and sell tickets to events; and
    Zapier, which can be used as a pipeline to several other useful integrations.
  • GDPR compliant your ESP must be GDPR compliant and have other certifications.
  • And first-class deliverability to ensure your emails reach the inbox.

It is not all about the email marketing software, the ideal ESP should also have:

  • References and other clients in the travel industry.
  • Industry knowledge and email marketing best practices in travel and hospitality to share.
  • Customer support and account management at the level you require.

3. Travel and Tourism emails not to miss in your strategy

Marketing emails are vital for the travel and tourism industry, as they can have a massive impact on the reader. The right marketing communication can convince subscribers to book that holiday they’ve been dreaming of for a long time or inspire that last-minute booking.

Newsletters and scheduled emails

Newsletters are unmistakably core to any email marketing strategy, but especially in the travel industry.

Fantasizing about city breaks and beach vacations is something we’ve all done at some point. People may consider taking a vacation all year round, with peaks and dips, but we don’t know exactly when the decision will be made. That’s why creating regular emails to keep in touch with them and promote your destinations will allow you to entice your contacts and be there when they need it.

People won’t book a trip every time they get your newsletter. But by sending out content that adds value and that they enjoy reading, you will keep them top-of-mind, and they’ll probably think of your company once they’re ready to book their trip.

Content to include in newsletters:

  • Enticing and beautiful images of the holiday destinations. This can be cities, places or beautiful sceneries – either professional or user-generated.
  • Text that invites subscribers to take action and research or book that destination.
  • Special offers that call upon readers to take action.
  • Inspirational content that targets a specific destination so that readers can find out more.

Every ESPs will allow you to send newsletters, but there are specific features that you want it to have to make your newsletter campaigns that much better. For example, the handling of images.

airbnb newsletter

Importance of visuals in travel email
It can’t be denied that visuals are vital for the travel and tourism industry. This is because they paint the picture of the destination.

Photography community 500px created a travel agency to test what imagery works with which travel destinations. For the tests, they built landing pages for each, accompanied by imagery, content, and a button reading, “Take me there now.”

Key findings

  • People in images can increase conversion, depending on where they are. For Havana, pictures with people had twice the conversions. But, for images of nature — waterfalls, mountains, and beaches — photos with people performed flat or worse.
  • Nature landscapes without (young) people are 22% more engaging for viewers 35 years or older.
  • With high-quality photos, the conversion rates of other destinations like Austria and Slovenia got close to top destinations.

Research from Tripadvisor says that photos have the greatest impact, driving engagement from travelers researching on hotel and B&B pages on their site even more than reviews. (While reviews are still as important).
With imagery being so important, you will want your ESP to allow you to include dynamic content and edit those images easily, but also easily include GIFs, videos, etc. Or to be able to insert the images dynamically from your site.

Email template and workflow functionality
As newsletters are sent out often, you want to save time creating emails. An ESP that offers reusable email templates and even creating and saving content blocks will make your life much easier.

Collaborating on a single email is based on the email production workflow. Different teams and departments must work together for the email to resonate fully with your brand. First, goals need to be brainstormed and set, then the content has to be created, and the email has to be designed. Before being sent, the email will have to be approved.
If there is a lot of back and forth in creating your email campaigns, you will want your ESP to offer changes approval, even dynamic features such as live collaboration within their email builder.

Remember that personalization can have a big impact on the attention subscribers pay to your message. For example, you can creatively include the customer’s name in your images. It is a great way of making your customer feel valued and giving the impression that content is specifically created and tailored for them.

dynamic email personalisation in travel

Flash Sales and timed offers

Limited offers are extremely popular in the tourism industry. Brands like Secret Escapes, Voyage Privé, and Groupon have turned the flash sales model into the core of their business.

Although travelers are getting savvier and exploring multiple possibilities before booking their trips, many decisions are still based on price, deals, and discounts.

travel-flash-offer-edreams

Tip: Match your offers with your branding
Everybody loves a good deal, but continuous offers might not be the right approach for every hospitality offering. A hotel that only ever communicates to its guest list that they have a “great deal” for them, starts to look like a hotel on a fire sale all year round. How will a full-rate customer that stayed at their property feel if they get emailed each month with 15 to 50% discounts?

“Discounts and Specials” can’t be the only reason you send an email to your hotel database. It has to fit with your branding. But even if you are not planning to do flash sales regularly, offering tickets or upgrades at discounted rates can help boost sales during quieter periods.

To send this offer email, you want your ESP to do advanced segmentation and automated A/B testing.

  • Segmenting a contact list lets you pick the right groups to include in your specific flash sales and travel offers. Think about the customer profile. What are their preferred destinations and typical travel time of year? As well as considering purchasing behavior, you want to exclude people who already booked.
  • With A/B testing, you can try different email versions to see what works best. For instance, the subject line and copy will inspire the most engagement. For 100% conversion-driven mail like this, you want to optimize and grab each conversion.

A flash sale is over… in a flash, so there is little time for split testing. It is great if your test winner can be automatically sent to the rest of your email list.

Displaying an animated countdown in flash sale emails can increase the reader’s urgency.

travel countdown timer email

Seasonal Event Emails

Seasonal events, such as public holidays and vacations, can be your peak booking periods, but they are also a great excuse to promote some of your exclusive deals.

Think about it… By communicating with the proper timing, you can influence your subscribers and give them a little nudge into going on a trip during the Easter break or a Bank Holiday weekend. Never underestimate how valuable seasonal promotions are for the travel industry.

We can take it a step further and go into specific events during the year, making destinations even more attractive.

Some examples of special seasonal events you can promote:
Christmas markets;
Street or music festivals, like Carnival in Brazil or Oktoberfest in Germany;
Cultural events such as art exhibitions of literary festivals;
Sports events, such as the Tour de France or Wimbledon;
Special interest events, such as Fashion week.

Informing about special events may convince people to finally go for that trip they’ve been thinking about for a while. Designing creative campaigns around certain marketing moments provides variation and can have a positive impact on your conversion.

seasonal email example kayak travel

Email targeting on previous purchases and behavior
For seasonal emails, you want your email software to be able to target subscribers who looked for specific event travel topics on your website. This way, you can target people who have already shown an interest to convince them to finalize their booking.

You may also want to target people who have previously booked a specific seasonal trip, as they may want to repeat the experience. For all this, advanced email segmentation based on behavior and purchases is the feature you are looking for.

4. Email Automation For The Travel And Tourism Industry:

Email marketing for travel companies is certainly not only about mass emails. If email blasts are the only way you currently excite prospective travelers, you are missing out on the power of email automation.

Travel is extremely personal, and so is the way people organize and time their vacations. Email automation allows you to customize your emails to be both personal and timely.

travel-marketing-buyer-journey

Here are some key scenarios companies in the travel and tourism industry should consider when planning their email marketing strategy and choosing their ESP.

Welcome Programs

Welcome series allows you to greet your customers when they join your community and to offer them valuable information to make the most of your services.

Let them know what type of communication they can expect from you, allow them to pick their preferences, and enrich their profile. This will allow you to send more targeted emails later on that are more likely to interest them.

If they subscribed during a purchase, a welcome series can contain useful information for their upcoming trip, like a tutorial to make the most of your service or platform. You can also consider promoting referral codes and discounts to share with friends and family.

travel welcome email

Welcome emails can also be a great way to give new customers a brief introduction to your brand and to present yourself. Voyage Prive does this very well by making all customers feel welcomed and valued regardless of their holiday preferences.

The brand also uses the opportunity to highlight a “discovery” of the offers that are on at the moment. The Call to Action is repeated at the bottom of the campaign, almost like a PS, that stands out thanks to the use of the bold font.

To keep track of the success of the email campaigns you send out, ensure your ESP provides detailed statistics and reports of how your automated emails perform in different scenarios.

Understandable stats for automated emails is not as standard as you might expect. The statistics for these valuable emails help you understand where and how you should improve your emails.

Feedback Emails

Businesses in the travel and tourism industry rely heavily on users’ reviews and ratings of their offers. This is never-ending, as more recent and “fresh” reviews are trusted most. However, people won’t remember to go back and share their feedback or leave a review by themselves (unless they’ve had a terrible experience). So, it is your role to remind them to do so.

Consider combining a Thank You email with a CTA that drives users to a review site. If you want to make sure they don’t miss your feedback request, send them a dedicated email with a quick survey so that they can rate their experience in just a few clicks.

Always make sure that you let customers know how valuable their feedback is to you, as there is always room for improvement, and you want to know how to provide the best user experience.

airbnb-travel-survey-email

Airbnb’s feedback email is a good example. They explain that getting customers’ feedback will help them provide a better service, but they also let the reader know that they value their time, so the survey will only take a few minutes.

People tend to be put off by a long series of questions (who has the time for that?!), so letting them know that it will only be quick will increase the chances of getting feedback from them.

You will want your ESP to offer a platform that allows you to build responsive emails for feedback emails. This way, customers will be able to display your emails on their phones easily and to take the survey on the go as they receive it on their phones.

A survey builder could be another feature, depending on where you plan to host and store these.

VIP/Loyalty Programs

It is not uncommon in the travel and tourism industry for businesses to have loyalty or frequent flyer programs to engage customers to return to them.

Emailing members to let them know about their points, offering them promotions to increase their balance, or rewarding them for reaching a certain milestone is a way to keep them engaged and ensure they remember your brand.

Alternatively, you can have different tiers for returning customers that always book their holidays through you, providing them with special discounts as they reach their fifth, tenth, and fifteenth booking.

Examples of loyalty programs that tend to be successful are exclusive rewards and loyalty clubs, frequent flyer programs, etc.

virgin-loyal-marketing-club-travel

Reward programs are a means to engage customers with your brand and reward their loyalty. Like Virgin Atlantic, send out to your customers’ emails with special offers tailored to their tastes, or you can also, conversely, offer them something they may not have thought about.

In its email, Virgin Atlantic offers customers an overview of a wide range of holidays they offer to stimulate their urgency to book something and have something to look forward to. Offering your customers a personalized experience will strengthen the relationship and build brand loyalty.

One of the features that you want your ESP to have to ensure that loyal customers don’t miss out on these emails is a dedicated deliverability team. You want your ESP not only to take email deliverability very seriously but also to offer you expert assistance so that, even when things go wrong, they can help you get on the right track.

Email marketing strategy for Travel and tourism

While competition in the travel and hospitality industry is fierce, email marketing is one of those rare channels that can help you nail it and attract and retain customers.

Newsletters, deals and inspirational emails, loyalty, and all types of life-cycle automation can give you a competitive edge to keep travelers returning for more.

Finding the right email marketing strategy and the right email software partner for your company will take time, but a thorough job will be rewarded.

About Jordie van Rijn


Jordie van Rijn is an independent email marketing consultant and analyst. He is the founder of Email Vendor Selection and specializes in smart email marketing, online marketing strategy, software selection, campaign management, optimisation and RFP / vendor selection. He tested, reviewed, and wrote about 100+ business software including email marketing services, CRMs, ecommerce platforms, and online course creators. Published in-depth email marketing guides for financial service, ecommerce, travel, restaurant, and fashion industries.

Named one of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch" by Entrepreneur magazine. Companies like Scania, KLM, Unilever, AEGON, CZ, FNV, NRC Media have asked me for advice.

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