ONLINE travel agent Zuji is spending 35% of its total marketing budget on search marketing and optimisation.

Why? “Because it works and is measurable down to the very last cent,” explained regional Zuji boss Scott Blume.

Blume said search marketing – widely acknowledged as the key to online success – has rapidly evolved into a highly sophisticated science that favoured larger operators.

“To be able to perform in that (search) business is not an easy thing to do for some of the smaller players.

“However, it is crucial now and will be into the future.”

But it seems Blume has something of a love/hate relationship with online marketing, where instinct is often overcome by accounting logic.

“Every single thing on the Internet is measurable,” he told delegates at the Tourism Directions conference.

“We know where customers go after they leave us, we know at what stage they bail out of a booking…

“It’s a bean counter’s dream and it drives me insane because we see so much data … we are drowning in data.”

Yet the basics of good travel business remain, such as building strong relationships with industry partners.

He said business to business sales now comprise about 20% of Zuji’s volumes thanks to hotel agreements with the likes of Virgin Blue (Australia) and Jet Airways (India).

“B2B is not sexy and people have a tendency to under-estimate how important it is to major Online Travel Agents.

“Affiliates are also very strong,” he said, advising delegates to embrace this as a distribution strategy because good affiliate sites can drive significant sale volumes.

“There are search nuts sitting in garages from India to Santa Monica making very serious money.”

Blume said there was still enormous potential in the Asian online space with e-commerce travel transactions trailing more mature markets.

“In Hong Kong less than 10% of travel bookings are made online, while in Singapore that figure is less than 25%.

Zuji is part of Travelocity and has online travel businesses in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Australia, Korea and New Zealand.

Travel Trends: November 1, 2007

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