The most common question we get in Q&As is usually which digital advertising channels we would recommend for attracting high-net-worth individuals or a variation of this question (“Where is our wealthy audience hanging out online?”, “Are rich people even online all day?” etc.). Our answer usually is: Nearly all of the channels can be used if you apply the right tactics to them, and none of them will work for you if you use them the wrong way. It depends on your brand and market after all. While this can be a frustrating answer to a luxury marketer that is looking for a quick win channel, it is the only sensible answer if you want to approach the topic of digital advertising for luxury travel & hospitality seriously and in a sustainable way. Why is digital advertising so hard? What channels are available in 2022 and what are the basic targeting options they offer to attract affluent travelers as part of an ongoing media mix? Let’s find out!
Prerequisites for effective digital advertising
Just switching on some ad and crossing your fingers that millionaires and other wealthy individuals will patronize you after seeing your message for the first time is a bit naïve, don’t you think? It won’t work, trust us. For digital advertising to be effective at influencing HNWIs purchase decisions several things MUST be in place before you start. First, you got to have a well designed website or landing page you can drive your ad-traffic to. That means smart luxury copywriting, the right aesthetics in terms of branding, easy to navigate UX/UI, mobile responsiveness, and fast loading speeds are non-negotiable. Then, your actual ads should look and feel luxurious on their own, which again means investing in ad-copy, editorial level photography, graphic design, video production and potentially HTML5 animations instead of just boring static images. On a tactical level you should at least have simple luxury personas built out that model what your ideal affluent traveler or guest likes, dislikes, wants, needs, and how he or she consumes information online. This will help you tremendously with selecting channels, formats as well as with your budget allocation.
Last but not least, the strategic approach itself needs to be right, every ad-campaign you run should fit into your larger set of marketing objectives for the year, which often means that you need to do multiple ad-campaigns parallel with different goals layered over each other in a funnel-type structure (this is where realistic annual advertising budgets become so crucial). For example, your first top-of-the-funnel brand awareness campaign should be optimized for reach and impressions and should focus on getting your destination, property or F&B video in front of the right audience as often and as cost-effective as possible. Your middle-of-the-funnel consideration campaign should be optimized for a lot of high-value clicks, social media engagement and list opt-ins (while capitalizing on the brand awareness you are building on the top).
Last but not least, you eventually have to start running a bottom-of-the-funnel conversion campaign too which should be optimized for bookings, lead generation, and sales (you start generating revenue at the bottom not the top, remember that). This last campaign is often a retargeting one in nature and capitalizes on all the work you have done in your funnel until that point. Sounds complicated? Sounds like a lot of work? It is. But by accepting that digital advertising for luxury travel and hospitality is not child’s play you have taken the first step towards taking control of at least some of your bottom line. Wouldn’t you want to wrestle control from all the b2b travel networks, OTAs, PR companies and affiliate partners that chip into your profit margin? If yes, then you are at the right place. Let’s look at some channel and targeting options next.
The Google Ads platform gives you access to Google search ads, Google Shopping Ads, the Google Display Network (GDN) as well as YouTube Ads. To attract affluent travelers we would recommend search ads and YouTube ads for the most part. Maybe display (GDN) ads if you have a big list for retargeting ready to go, but these ads can be very wasteful and untargeted if you don’t manually filter the list of publishers in the platform, so be careful! Stay away from Google Shopping, the format is mostly useful for e-commerce retailers that sell cheap or non-branded products. Search ads can be targeted in the US, for example, by income bracket which is where we would start most of the time.
A combination of income targeting and well-known affluent post-codes works usually well here. YouTube offers, apart from income and geotargeting, also the option to look for affinity and in-market audiences which has categories like luxury products or luxury travel. Depending on your budget we would recommend starting with high-intent and branded search keyword campaigns while using YouTube mostly for top-of-the-funnel brand awareness video campaigns. YouTube has been introducing more consideration oriented formats like YouTube Action in the last couple months so feel free to experiment here if you want cheap, affluent clicks to your website.
Bing has mostly the same options as Google Search and Google Display just with a different level of reach and targeting. If you have a large search budget we would recommend including Bing to get some additional mojo for your high-intent or branded search keyword campaigns. In most cases we wouldn’t recommend it as a primary traffic or awareness driver unless you specifically know that your particular type of affluent traveler prefers using Bing or Yahoo for research.
Yandex is the most commonly used search engine in the Russian speaking world so make sure to place at least some search ads here to reach affluent Russian travelers if you have Russian speaking staff and localized Russian web-content. The targeting options are similar but different in some aspects from Google & Bing, so it is best to work with experts that have native or at least fluent Russian and now the Russian mindset for optimal results (We at Jadewolf have specialists for that, for example). Targeting wise go for main cities and wealthy districts in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg and potentially include popular holiday destinations like Lake Baikal or Sochi as well. Best start with high-intent and branded keywords, and then expand to consideration and awareness search queries.
Same as with Yandex but this time we are getting search engine and display ads in front of affluent Chinese travelers with Baidu. The big caveat here apart from needing Chinese speakers (native or fluent) that understand the particular Chinese mindset. Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Ancestor Worship, Numerology, Color Theory, Feng Shui, Communism, Socialism and Sino-Capitalism all factor in here. At Jadewolf, we try to have a basic grasp on these things to avoid scandals like Dolce & Gabbana’s horrible tv spot in 2019, for example. You will also need an official business registration in Mainland China or work through a legal middleman entity to get access to any kind of advertising platform in China. The good news is that once you do get access the targeting options by income, search intent and geography are pretty vast. Too vast to get into them in detail here, to be honest.
Data protection policies after all are not as common in the PRC as they are in the west. We would obviously recommend solid localization, avoiding technologies (Google, Facebook, etc.) that are banned in China and the use of strong Chinese webservers. Tactics wise high-intent and branded keywords will work again, while targeting wealthy districts in tier 1 Chinese cities like Hong Kong & Macau (use complex Chinese characters) as well as Shanghai and Beijing is recommend for starters. Once you are successful in driving results from these locations you can start going for tier 2 and tier 3 cities like Shenzhen, Guangdong, Nanjing, Xi-An, Chengdu and Chongqing.
Youku and Tudou used to be the two biggest video streaming platforms in Mainland China before they merged in 2012. They offer a similar portfolio of brand awareness and traffic driving video formats with targeting options roughly comparable to YouTube. If you want to get your videos seen and maybe drive some qualified traffic to your Chinese speaking landing page, this is a great platform to do so. Considerations around affinity and geo-targeting, censorship (no Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang or other sensitive topics please), legal platform access and funnel-step KPI optimization apply here as well.
The Meta (Facebook) Ads Suite gives you access to running ads on Facebook, Instagram and their expanded audience network. In the future you will probably be able to access the Metaverse through their integrations with Oculus Rift and other VR/AR devices. Facebook and Instagram are great because you can reach affluent older demographics (Gen X and boomers) on Facebook itself and millennials on Instagram respectively. We would recommend video or animated ads in a variety of formats (carousels, stories, in-stream… you need to experiment basically what works best for your brand) combined with strong luxury copy and fitting call-to-action buttons.
You can basically run all three funnel steps on Facebook since they have campaign types and formats for all of them which makes it a great platform for luxury travel and hospitality marketing in general. We would usually recommend starting with video campaigns for reach and awareness, traffic campaigns for consideration and conversion campaigns for retargeting and sales. Targeting wise Facebook offers, like Google, income targeting for the USA as well as geo-targeting (affluent post codes for the win) combined with a big variety of inferred and explicit luxury, hotel and travel related interests. You can, in most cases, model a persona relatively easily that has a high household income, lives in a wealthy neighborhood, fits your target demographic and has an interest in magazines, events, activities and styles of travel that exactly fit your brand. It comes at no surprise that this platform is so popular with digital marketers around the world.
WeChat or Weixin (微信) is a powerhouse app when it comes to doing business or reaching consumers in China in general. Not only is it the most widely adopted and used app in China’s mobile first society, but you can also do everything with it ranging from chat, voice, push notifications, videocalls, e-commerce, payments to additional app integrations like food delivery, cab services and so on. It literally integrates with everything! It also hosts options for setting up an official company, mini-site or brand page which offer a lot of interactivity based on the type of account that you have (including live communication with your sales or front of house team).
If you have a legal entity setup in China or work through a middleman agency (like us) you can apply for advertising access within the WeChat advertising network as well (minimums start at $10 000 USD per campaign). Their advertising suite offers a variety of demographic, geographic and interest based targeting functions and creative formats (including the so called moments and video) that can be used to target Chinese HNWIs all over Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and the rest of Asia. If you are looking to improve your footprint with Chinese affluent travelers, WeChat IS A MUST!
Why would we list LinkedIn in a guide on digital advertising for luxury travel and hospitality? One answer: MICE leads! Yes that is right, we wouldn’t recommend running LinkedIn advertising campaigns for regular b2c luxury travel lead generation or hotel direct bookings, but with targeted campaigns aimed at decision makers (event managers, HR, etc.) at big companies that organize shareholder meetings, corporate events and more you can end up winning big time!
You would be surprised how successful this approach can be instead of just relying on your sales reps to all the traditional outbound for you. Similar to Facebook or Twitter LinkedIn is constantly expanding its portfolio of options and targeting when it comes to companies, job titles and geography. While being more expensive on average when it comes to CPC and CPM due to its B2B focus, it still can a valuable tool that can combat the attrition resulting from increased remote working policies.
TikTok or its Chinese version Douyin (抖音) are in our opinion not yet mature enough to reach HNWIs consistently since the majority of users are still on the younger side when it comes to their demographics (Gen Z and younger). The targeting options offer not much at the moment in terms of targeting affluency and the most popular content tends to be on the short, high-energy and fun side instead of emotional rich, storytelling heavy luxury advertising formats. Brave advertisers that build a following here will potentially reap the benefits in 5 years when audiences are more mature but we wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except the most future-forward thinking clients with big pockets.
Except being a hotbed for political controversy these days, Twitter (brand safety concerned advertisers beware!) still offers a nice set of geographic targeting options combined with popular hashtags, interests, and retargeting. Using tactics like affluent postcodes, popular luxury travel and destination hashtags, uploading your email list for retargeting and aiming your ads at the followers of popular B2C luxury travel magazines (or at your competitors pages) can work wonders in terms of cheap brand awareness and reach. In terms of quality traffic it can vary but we wouldn’t advise against including Twitter in your media mix if you want to diversify your advertising efforts.
Weibo (微博) is China’s very own (heavily censored) version of Twitter. That is at least what you will read on the English speaking web if you research this platform. But as so often this would be an oversimplification. It is true that Weibo indeed offers a lot of similar features and targeting options but the type of content and accounts that are popular couldn’t be anymore different. Just copying your Twitter advertising strategy one to one here won’t work very well to be honest. Targeting tier 1 cities and districts in China is advisable and you should also look for luxury travel and hospitality influencers that are very popular in China and either collaborate with them directly or retarget their followers with your ads and content. As usual, stay away from topics and statements related to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and the communist party if you don’t want to get banned.
Here it gets tricky because when partnering with luxury travel B2C publishers for direct media you will have to buy your ads through a human sales rep instead of self-service booking them through an interface (which a lot of digital marketers prefer these days). Media sales rep come in all shapes, sizes and degrees of morality so you have to try out different publications (or work with someone that knows what they are good at – like us) while slowly tipping your toe in the water to see which of their offerings work for you and which don’t. Our first recommendation would be to stay away from print offerings and focus on digital which is more measurable anyway. In terms of formats for top of the funnel brand campaigns we would recommend advertorials, promoted video, webinars (yes you can also use webinars for B2C luxury travel) and site takeovers.
For driving traffic in the middle of the funnel digital banners (yes people still click on them, despite the spread of ad-blockers), newsletter insertions, promoted social media boosts and audience amplification (retargeting and programmatic offerings) tend to work well. Be careful here though, a publisher is only as good as its audience. A good print audience doesn’t necessarily translate to digital in a lot of cases. For bottom of the funnel conversions focusing on newsletter take overs, dedicated email blasts and content hubs with lead magnets can work well too (if you primed their audience with other campaigns first).
Going for a full-funnel package is always great if you can afford it. Couple good names to start with are Robb Report, Departures, Elite Traveler or How To Spend It (Financial Times) just to name a few. There are, of course, tons of additional tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 level publishers out there including all the independent bloggers. It can also pay off to create somewhat of a master list here and sort it by quality of audience, geographic focus, price point and so on. Looking at adjacent things like finance and manager magazines, golf, cricket, horse racing and fine dining can also be very effective when promoting luxury travel and hospitality offers.
Every major social media platform be it in the West or China these days has (luxury) travel influencers. Influencers build up their audience often for years via consistent content production, community management, organic reach, paid promotion and complete mastery of the common platform algorithms (the so called platform “meta”). They do deserve some compensation and respect for going through all that trouble in our opinion. Building an audience as a single person or small team is hard, so don’t treat them like media sales reps or pure order takers first of all. Some of them you can reach out to directly via their contact info listed on their profiles, others will be represented by public relations or influencer talent agencies.
They will usually will work with you if you are a decent person, pay their travel expenses, host them and pay them a fee on top of that. Their rates are usually based on the quality and level of reach they can offer to you. You can expect to pay at least an average CPM of $100-$300 USD per 1000 impressions. This, of course, can vary widely and can go up or down based on the affluency of their audience. Before starting outreach be sure to vet them appropriately first, which usually means using social media analysis tools like Social Blade to see if their following is real and engaged (buying fake followers and fake engagement is all too common these days). Manually following them for a while and looking at their comment section and what kind of profiles interact with is also a good idea to see if a potential campaign is worth the effort. Last but not least try to be open-minded with your creative brief, influencers know what their audiences like and trying to enforce every brand policy in your book might destroy a great opportunity for doing something creative and cool with them.
Programmatic media buying is the domain of large luxury travel or hospitality advertisers exclusively. Explaining the programmatic eco-system in detail would take a while (we might do it in a future blogpost though) but in essence imagine the digital world as a huge marketplace where publishers offer affluent audiences and data worldwide to the highest bidder in real-time (an auction house for ads essentially). Via specific platforms (so called DSPs) advertisers can then participate in those auctions and upload their creatives, targeting and tracking pixels straight to the digital marketplace. Some common platforms everybody should know are TradeDesk, Google Enterprise Marketing and Xandr.
The minimums here start at $30 000 – $100 000+ per month so most brands will have to go through agencies and middlemen if they want to engage. Due to the versatile nature of programmatic you can run brand, traffic and conversion campaigns with your DSP on mobile and desktop inventories, so sky is the limit really! Some things to watch out for are ad-fraud (which is still very common in the programmatic world), low quality mobile traffic generated by gaming and erotic apps and the overall quality of your retargeting data in general. For that reason some brands opt for using 3rd party inventory verification technology (usually done through pixels and whitelists) and data management platforms (DMPs) to enhance and complete their datasets. Sounds technical, complicated and expensive? Yes it is. Programmatic, TV and direct media are where the big media agencies of the world make most of their money but don’t worry, you can also work with small specialized players (like us) if you need help and prefer a more intimate level of service.
Audio marketing is mostly a brand marketing tool at the moment, with platforms like Spotify and Decibel offering short 15-30s pre-roll or mid-roll formats for advertisers with very generalist targeting settings like geography, age, gender etc.. Similar to TikTok we would recommend skipping this unless you want to geo-target your campaign to locations like St. Kitts, Monaco, Cannes, Luxemburg, Dubai, Macao or Gstaad. With audio AI assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Echo becoming more mainstream in our daily lives there might be some opportunity here in the future but it is still a bit too early for that to recommend it without reservations.
While the Metaverse is all the hype right now (sadly most marketers love hype and suffer heavily from shiny object syndrome) it is still in its early stages as an advertising ecosystem. The most common and popular VR headsets at the moment (2022) are the Oculus Rift, Valve Index, Sony VR, HP Reverb and HTC Vive. If you never heard of these then chances are your affluent customers haven’t either. The metaverse right now is still more of a concept and development project than a unified standard or actual marketplace. Same goes for AR applications with smart devices, most of them are still art projects, gimmicks and guerilla marketing stunts for retail focused brands.
That doesn’t mean we are not watching the space, but unless you want to develop some expensive proof of concept brand experience or 3D showroom to send to distinct VIPs or hospitality investors we would argue that you should stay away for now. VR/AR Mass adoption is still couple years away from being commonplace. The VR and smart devices need to get smaller, more developer and advertiser friendly and comfortable before the metaverse REALLY can become a game-changer for the travel and hospitality industry. It should be on your watch list though similar to things like 5G mobile networks, the internet of things, web 3.0, the blockchain, crypto, NFTs and AI. Don’t get sucked into the hype though and spend money on vanity projects!
So here it is. Our ultimate luxury travel and hospitality advertising guide. I’m sure you were able to find some channels and tactics you didn’t thought about before that you can use in your business today. The world of digital advertising is colorful and offers ample opportunity to reach affluent travelers from all age groups and backgrounds. If you need a partner to help you navigate this space for your next campaign then we are here for you of course.