Named "best luxury tour operator" by readers in The Times and Sunday Times Travel Awards, Kuoni is the premium provider still leveraging agents and bespoke trips in a world of self-book packages.
So, how is the company communicating its offering?
In this interview, Dean Harvey, marketing director, Kuoni, tells me which channels are working, why he ditched his media agency and how the cost-of-living crisis may impact his business.
1. Trust and value amid turbulence
TS: What is Kuoni's strategy and how has it changed since COVID?
DH: "There was a natural shift towards … digital marketing (which) allows you that controllability. It allowed us to pause campaigns if the demand wasn't there or the red light had happened and we weren't allowed to travel. …
"Trust plays a big part in our strategy moving forwards. We've been around since 1906 … We've actually incorporated the word ‘trust’ into all of our marketing.
"Another key part of that strategy is delivering value, especially so in the current climate. … That might be a hot air balloon flight over the safari reserve to knowing which is that best room to book in a particular Indian Ocean resort."
2. Radio revs-up brands
TS: Which channels are delivering best performance?
DH: "For retention and loyalty, our owned channels represent the best value. That's our website, our email, CRM programme and social media. Over the years, we've invested heavily in our SEO strategy … we were able to reduce our reliance on pay-per-click.
"But, for acquisition and brand building, we've seen a big increased impact through the use of radio. Commercial radio is getting record listeners and also an increased share of listener time. … I predict a much heavier investment in radio for us in 2023.
"If you're going to go and fish, then fish where the fish are. That alignment with the content, both news and entertainment, that you guys provide is really aligned with our own customer base. Our customers are looking to trusted publishers, and it makes sense that we feature our editorial and our advertising around that brand as well."
3. Beyond brochures
TS: Brochures for you have always been a key part of the proposition. As we move toward a more digital future, how do you see the future of the brochure?
DH: "With the corporate responsibility around sustainability, brochures is a potentially contentious issue. … We've still got 27 stores and some of those stores are in John Lewis stores, so brochures still play a big part of that retail experience.
"However, … for our direct audience, we built a tool that allows that direct audience just to build their own bespoke brochure. … So there's a real reduction in the amount of paper that we've used in our brochure process.
"The data that you are getting around the pages that people are visiting on your website ... whether that's the brochures that they've downloaded or the content they've accessed, then we can make sure that we've got the correct follow up. If someone's just ordered the Maldives brochure, then we follow up with some useful and engaging content."
4. A new digital foundation
TS: With more people booking online, do you have plans for your CRM system and website?
DH: "We have taken this time out to enter into a new project to overhaul our main website - some of the back office systems were so outdated and technology moves fast. Watch this space. We are in the middle of a new website project at the moment, and a new site should be live by spring.
"What we also did was we took the opportunity to review our CRM platforms as well. I am happy to say we've just migrated over to Microsoft Dynamics. What that does is it gives us more control and flexibility over the use of our data. It's all part of getting the message to the right person at the right time.
"It was time for a new CRM system. Metaphorically, we've just got in front of the new car now, we're just working out the controls. I'm looking forward to the extra value that that's going to be able to deliver for us."
5. Working closely with publishers
TS: How do you use media agencies and how are they configured to meet your needs?
DH: "Pre-pandemic, we had a big, well-known London media house. But one of the outputs during the pandemic - for many companies, not just ours - we had to massively reduce our media spend.
"We've got three campaign periods, or ‘peaks’ as it's known in the travel industry ... With only three main marketing bursts, we feel that we haven't had the need for a media specific agency. So we've been using our creative agency to place radio, DM, outdoor ads and press, and then our digital agency we use to place all digital media.
"So we no longer work with that traditional media house, but we feel confident that we're still achieving value, because we've got long-standing relationships with the lots of the media channels that we choose, including yourselves."
6. Cost-of-living outlook
TS: As we approach January 2023, this is the third year in a row it has been hit by external factors. How are you seeing the cost-of-living crisis impacting your customers?
DH: "It’s going to be a tough one to call. There are some in our industry that are even wondering if there will be any ‘peaks’ in the traditional sense.
"Coming out of COVID, there's a section of our traditional audience that have still yet to feel confident to travel. Even those that have travelled, we've seen they have stayed much closer to home this year. … The bookings that we've got in already for 2023, we are seeing some of that base returning to long-haul, more adventurous holidays.
"I think our audience will be slightly more resilient to that cost-of-living crisis. … One of the things we've definitely noticed is that people have got higher expectations of their holiday for next year. … They definitely want more value out of their holiday. … I think the number of holidays will reduce, but the last one to go will be that big holiday."
This one is for the #Kuoni team who have been consistently superb, despite all of the challenges of the last few years.
The readers of the Times and Sunday Times know who to trust when international travel is more unpredictable than ever.#TrustKuoni #ProudToPartOfThisTeam pic.twitter.com/K1JNOCw7W6
— Derek Jones (@Degsy_DJ) July 4, 2022