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How eBay is trying to ‘make travel work’ – and what’s in it for you

August 29, 2014

(Published in TTG – 06.08.14)

After a four-year hiatus, eBay is returning to travel. Sales director Rob Bassett tells Matthew Parsons how the trade can better target consumers based on the behaviours of its 18 million users

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”Next year will be the year of travel,” declares Rob Bassett, sales director at eBay Advertising UK.

Different sectors come under the spotlight annually at the online marketplace, such as automotive or technology, but Bassett says he and his team of 12 have their sights set on making travel work next year.

It’s not the first time. In January 2010, eBay partnered with business-to-consumer website Octopus Travel. However, this joint venture was axed by Kuoni in early 2011 shortly after the company acquired GTA, the parent company of Octopus, from Travelport.

The renewed interest in travel follows a collaboration with no-frills airline Transavia in January this year.

The humorous campaign, called “bye-bye”, was labelled the first “object-flight converter”. It enabled customers in France to pay for their airline tickets with second-hand objects.

As part of the joint venture, a poster campaign saw classic holiday images of women lounging on beaches and men on ski slopes gradually covered with new and used objects that had been sold on the online marketplace.

One of the adverts from Transavia's 'object-flight converter' campaign

It was hailed a success as Google searches for Transavia rose 54% and airline sales rose 45%.

Bassett wants to recreate this kind of campaign in the UK. “Travel is really important. We’ve realised now we should focus on it,” he says. “We’re moving from passive to active, and we want to push this.”

As well as creative campaigns – for which Bassett says eBay can act as an “events provider” – travel sellers can harness the behavioural insights on offer. “We can look at targeting socio-demographic groups, such as empty nesters, like Yahoo does, but we also observe behaviours,” he says.

For example, companies can target consumers based on what they are buying or searching, who they are, and even where they are.

In the first six months of this year, members over the age of 60 made 47,000 searches for ski equipment (there are one million active users a month in this age bracket). Adverts for ski holidays, for example, can therefore be placed around this activity.

Everything must go

While other online giants such as Facebook and Yahoo have “verticalised” over the past couple of years, creating dedicated travel divisions, Bassett says this is hard to do when you are a website that needs to “sell everything”.

“Travel is part of the retail landscape. Travel companies should position themselves back in front of people”

Rob Bassett

But Bassett’s revived focus on travel stems from his belief eBay can, in fact, act like a local high street – or, more specifically, how the high street used to be.

“Travel is part of the retail landscape,” he says. “On the high street, on your way to John Lewis, for example, you used to be able to walk past several travel agencies. Travel companies should position themselves back in front of people.”

Later this year, Secret Escapes will run a campaign on eBay, while a tourist board project is set for winter. “We have a 41% reach of the UK population, so we’re a barometer for where shoppers are at. We want to be in the basket of choices [for the travel trade], and I like the idea of us being a ‘cheerful window’.”

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