How Travelocity Thrives In A Crowded Marketplace By Always Thinking Customer First
Elisabeth Brier and Ashley Parker

While back in the day, planning a trip exclusively required the expertise and know how of a seasoned travel agent, today, our means to doing so are practically infinite.

With the growth of the online stratosphere along with society’s seemingly revamped wanderlust, inordinate amounts of travel sites have sprung up in recent years.

However, despite this mass saturation, Travelocity has become the pinnacle online travel assistance. Through constantly evolving, being customer-centric and boasting one of the most recognizable and clever brand mascots, Travelocity has remained unrivaled.

Ashley Parker, Travelocity’s Director of Brand Marketing chatted with TechDay to explain the processes behind the company’s unwavering success and offer insights into how other businesses may follow suit.

Founded in 1996, Travelocity became one of the premier sites that took over the role of travel agents. As this online market has become increasingly more saturated in recent years, how has Travelocity maintained dominance and kept its momentum going?

Maintaining momentum in a crowded marketplace is a challenge for any company, but Travelocity, the world’s first full-line online travel agency, has thrived by continually focusing on our customers and why they book their travel with Travelocity.

First, while the travel market as a whole is crowded, Travelocity is one of very few full-line providers of travel services – so from flight and hotel to rental car and even activities and excursions, Travelocity makes it easy to book a trip with hundreds of thousands of options all in one place.

Second, our strong brand and world-class brand icon – The Roaming Gnome - have allowed us to stay top of mind. Our messaging has evolved over the years to reflect customer needs, from taglines like “You’ll Never Roam Alone” – which served to ease customer minds in a time when online travel (and all online commerce) was a new thing, to “Go And Smell The Roses”, which urged people to go out and explore the world, to now, where “Wander Wisely” is a message that acknowledges that consumers have many choices these days – but that Travelocity is the wisest choice because, in addition to competitive selection and pricing, we have the customers' back 24/7 before, during and after the trip. The Travelocity Roaming Gnome has been a constant through all of these campaigns, connecting deeply with travelers with his combination of wit and wisdom, and is a big part of the reason that Travelocity today enjoys a brand awareness level (in the US) of 98%.

Finally, we continually improve the customer experience through a “test and learn” process to ensure that our travelers are presented with the best options, right prices and most efficient service every time that they use Travelocity.

What unique value propositions does Travelocity offer that competitors don't? How is this conveyed via specific verbiage and overall branding?

Travelocity prides itself on delivering best-in-class customer service, a promise that we back up with our “Customer 1st Guarantee”. This is an exclusive to Travelocity program that delivers 24/7 service over online channels (including social media) before, during and after the trip. This customer promise is highlighted on site and in our advertising, for example this TV ad is just one example of that service in action, and is tagged at the end with Customer 1st Guarantee messaging. We feel that the Customer 1st Guarantee is the embodiment of our key consumer message to use Travelocity in order to “Wander Wisely”.

To what extent does social media play in perpetuating the brand? How does this social presence assist in differentiating Travelocity from other travel platforms?

The importance of social media in the travel decision process cannot be underestimated. Various studies have shown that anywhere from 50% to 90% of travel decisions are influenced at least in part by what consumers are exposed to in social media. Travelocity leverages this powerful channel in many different ways.

Through our @Travelocity handles, we are able to efficiently share information on travel deals and trends, while our @RoamingGnome social media channels are uniquely positioned to influence travelers as they follow the travel exploits of the Roaming Gnome.

We are also able to use the power of our social media channels to work with travel partners to help build awareness for their products and properties.The ubiquity of social media combined with it being a true two-way channel also makes it the ideal mechanism for Travelocity to implement its Customer 1st Guarantee, since travelers can connect with us quickly whenever and wherever – which is especially important during the critical “in-trip” phase of the travel journey.

What was the initial thinking behind the "Wander Wisely" slogan and how does this sentiment epitomize Travelocity's values?

We travel to find happiness and enjoyment, yet research shows that over half of us often return without having found it. Therefore, at Travelocity, we aim not only to inspire people to travel, but also to make travel more enjoyable for our customers. With the Travelocity Customer First Guarantee, we work to remove the barriers that obstruct enjoyable travel and encourage customers to “Wander Wisely.”

We developed the Wander Wisely campaign in 2015 to evolve our brand to the changing customer mindset and reinforce this message – that Travelocity is the optimal choice for travelers because our customer-centric approach allows travelers to focus on enjoying their experiences and worry less about the stressors associated with traveling. Our best-in-class customer service serves as a promise to customers that we have their back if anything does not meet their expectations at any point – including before, during or after their trip. Best of all, the Travelocity Roaming Gnome effectively delivers this message through his role as the “wisest traveler of them all.”

What marketing strategies have been most effective in converting users of competitor sites onto the Travelocity platform?

We have a lot of options in our toolbox to bring customers into the Travelocity booking environment – from targeted email marketing to search engine marketing to special deals for packages or for mobile customers. While these are important customer acquisition tools, what is even more important is to keep customers coming back to Travelocity again and again. Our brand campaigns featuring the Roaming Gnome go a long way to keeping Travelocity top of mind, while our best-in-class customer service – epitomized by our Customer 1st Guarantee – works to create satisfied, and therefore loyal, customers.

Any general advice you could offer budding entrepreneurs aiming to successfully rise above the noise?

One piece of advice would be to stay true to the core of your brand and to find a consistent thread that ties your messages and campaigns together through the years. For Travelocity, while the phraseology of our messaging has evolved to reflect changing customer needs and expectations, the core idea that Travelocity is committed to helping people expand their horizons through travel has never wavered. And of course, the Roaming Gnome – who first appeared in Travelocity advertising in 2004 – has been inspiring Travelocity customers through his exploits for some 13 years – and he is still going strong!

Having this level of consistency allows brands to build equity over the years much more effectively than the up-and-down, stop-and-go fashion that is the hallmark of brands that lurch from campaign to campaign without a singular guidepost upon which a true long-term brand message can be built.

Anything exciting we have to look forward to from Travelocity?

One of the great things about the travel industry is that we never run out of amazing new sights and sounds to excite people about the prospect of travel. We are always adding new properties and destinations to our site, and by following the Roaming Gnome on Twitter and Instagram, there is always a new bit of travel inspiration to get people ready for their next journey. And of course, we always look forward to rolling out a new campaign featuring the Roaming Gnome – so keep your eyes open for that as well!