“Go Human. Book Human,” say the ads running this week in New York and Los Angeles, on Instagram, Facebook, Google and YouTube. “If machines can’t dream, how will they plan your dream vacation?”
“Don’t let an algorithm plan your vacation,” say others. And for the business traveler or family caught in a Covid spike, “0% of bots understand the pressure of making the last flight out.”
They’re all part of Internova Travel Group’s first-ever consumer advertising campaign, aimed not—as is usually the case—at its existing customers, but instead at the broad swath of consumers who do not use a travel advisor at all. The goal is “to make people fall in love with the idea of booking travel with people.”
Phase one of the campaign comprises 12 weeks of catchy advertising and multimedia campaigns aimed at consumers aged 35-64 in the top 25 zip codes in the New York and Los Angeles markets—with a link to a new splashy website, BookHuman.travel, where an Internova travel advisor is ready to take their call.
For now, the site offers bios and links to only 33 travel advisors, chosen from among the 62,000 in 6,000 locations who are part of the ever-growing Internova family, which today includes Travel Leaders Group, Nexion Travel Group, Tzell, Protravel, Global Travel Collection and Altour.
“We’ll test, learn, and adapt,” and then expand the program into new cities, sign up more advisors and also look at corporate travelers, chief marketing officer Brent Rivard told the travel press on a Zoom press conference on Tuesday.
Indeed, while declining to cite the exact budget for the ad campaign, Internova CEO J.D. O’Hara said he is prepared to keep expanding the program “as long it delivers a positive ROI.”
And while this is an Internova campaign, the hope is that it will benefit the industry as a whole and bring all travel advisors the recognition they deserve, as professionals helping travelers navigate what Rivard called “an incredibly fragmented world.”
“This is kind of the tip of the iceberg,” O’Hara said, “the top of the funnel.”
The Value of the Travel Advisor
“There’s no question our company has done an incredible job marketing to existing clients. However, the traditional travel advisor segment has focused less on marketing to the consumer who has not used a travel advisor in the past,” O’Hara said at the press conference. “There’s a general misconception that we’ve been replaced by technology, or that we are more expensive. But a machine will never replace what we humans can do. Trust is more important now than ever. So I asked the team to put together a modern and relevant campaign” on the value of using a travel advisor.
The website “is set up to bring back the humanity, and let you chat with a real human being,” he said.
Through the pandemic, “travel advisors were sitting on the phone for hours, working 24/7 and most of the time not getting paid—but they never failed to focus with love and attention and care on their customers,” noted Global Travel Collection president Angie Licea. “So when we started working on this campaign, I was immediately excited and engaged. JD challenged us to come up with something unique… and frankly I believe we’re investing in the entire industry, for all travel advisors. We’re helping tell the advisors’ story. Why would you not use an advisor? The cost of not using one is too great. So I’m all in.”
The original group was chosen to cover a broad range of geographies and specialties, but there’s already a waitlist of advisors anxious to be included. As traffic builds, “if all 1,300 [GTC travel advisors] want to be in, and we have the demand, they are all welcome,” she said. “The infrastructure we have set can address the ebbs and flows quickly,” and training and adding new advisors will take just a week or two.
Chatting with me after the conference, Rivard noted that the program also will include digital out-of-home targeting, allowing Internova to send text messages to a group of consumers chatting outside a hotel, restaurant or museum, for example, much as billboards target cars passing through Times Square.
His favorite tagline, he said, is “If machines can’t dream, how will they plan your dream vacation?” because “it’s provocative. It captures the strength of a human being, while taking a shot at artificial intelligence.”
Even before launching, the campaign had already convinced one consumer of the value that travel advisors provide. “What I’ve learned coming into the travel world from the marketing world,” Rivard said, “is, how are we not all exclusively using travel advisors to plan our vacations?”
Travel advisors, meanwhile, applauded Internova for its initiative. “This is a really sensitive time in travel and I think a consumer ad campaign saying ‘we can help you better than a computer’ is not only right time-wise, but is needed to help people feel good about traveling again,” said Sande Bloom at Amare Travel, a Nexion agency.
“I think it will attract millennials and others used to doing it themselves,” said Pamela Bromberg-Appleby at Protravel Beverly Hills.
“It’s great to see a big company putting this out there on behalf of all ‘real live travel agents,’” said Kim Kellar at Cohasset Travel in Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Rivard promised, “suffice it to say we’ve set this up to be a really good Step-One in two markets, and then we’ll be optimizing our investment as we go. We hope to become the Nike of the travel industry and keep investing.”
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.
As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.