I’m now back in Chicago (for the weekend, at least) after a productive few days in Atlanta at the Eye for Travel, Customer Centric Strategies in Travel conference. One thing I forgot to mention when writing up day 1 of the conference was the focus on email marketing. It wasn’t that long ago people were saying email was dying, but more recently I referenced here some research showing email marketing outperforming social media marketing. There was even some good discussion on direct mail, so this really was a conference about substance over hype and results over ranting.

In the day one wrap up I also omitted mentioning the presentation from Rob Borden of Carnival Cruise Lines, even though it was full of insight. The methodical approach these guys have to regular customer contact over the 24 month average gap between cruise purchases, plus the induction path for new members to the email opt-in program seemed to hit the right note. A lot of airlines I know immediately add new email sign-ups to the general distribution list, but at Carnival you get around 5 special welcome emails at set intervals with customized landing pages on click through for each; it is not until 27 days after sign-up that you enter the regular stream of email marketing with all the existing addresses on their database. If your airline is not doing something similar to this, take it as an action item to investigate whether you should.

On Day 2, Jessica Rodbell who is Head of Travel, Southeast, at Google, kicked off with a good presentation, although it relied heavily on a report that uses a research methodology I am typically not in favor of when it comes to really getting an insight into how travelers actually behave online. The research done in conjunction with OTX is (I believe) the same research report covered in this 40 minute webinar from 2009. Some of the questions at the end of the webinar highlight limitations in the study.

But if you want to spend around 40 minutes on a Google webinar, the one below is probably a better use of your time.

Although if you really want to make productive use of your time, forget both webinars, and head over to the Google UK report done in conjunction with Nielsen that I previously called the best piece of market research I’d seen in the past 12 months.

I spoke to Jessica Rodbell after her presentation and there is no doubt that in her six months working in travel (previous Google experience was in financial services and some time spent in China) she has managed to get a good grasp on the key issues impacting advertisers in the industry. I mentioned to her, and I’ll say it again here, if Google in the US commission a report on US consumers similar to one done in the UK, then I’ll be near the front of the queue waiting to give it a good write up.

When Jessica was up on stage she received the obligatory question on the ITA acquisition which she nicely deflected with a “we have no intention of creating the booking” type of answer. One other interesting comment she made was that 1 in 3 searches on a mobile device have a local intent. I’m not sure that is too relevant to airlines, but for hoteliers and destination content providers it has huge relevance.

Plenty of other good presenters on day 2 that I don’t have time to cover here. My own presentation was an interesting personal experience as I was supposed to be doing a double act with Max Starkov of Hospitality eBusiness Solutions, but he got caught in the horrible New York weather and missed the conference. Nothing like a last minute change of plans to keep me on my toes, so I kept the same slides but turned a 15 minute presentation into half an hour by adding much more interactivity. John Burns of Hospitality Technology Consulting did a great job as moderator over the full 90 minutes of the session by getting plenty of audience questions after my presentation was over.

Most memorable comment from the audience during my session came from Ryan Gosdin of Alliance Hospitality Management with his story of a Facebook campaign he ran that cost under $200 in advertising, but which returned many multiples of that amount in profit on incremental hotel bookings. Someone else in the audience then chipped in with a similarly positive Facebook advertising story. I mentioned how when I was at the Phocuswright conference last November someone whose company facilitates key word bidding and related advertising for multiple clients and millions of dollars in ad spend told me that Facebook as an advertising platform was woeful in delivering results. Even with that in mind, there is no doubt that some great copy aimed a very targeted segment at the right time (eg. Ryan’s example of sports fans of a particular team attending a particular game at a particular time and linking a hotel offer into that) will always overcome any more macro concerns on the effectiveness of Facebook as a large scale advertising platform.

That said, I’m starting to see a lot more research claiming Facebook advertising effectiveness overall is improving, but I don’t have any hard data (especially airline data) to really know which side is winning the argument.