Highly challenging, quickly changing and extremely competitive, travel is one of the most exciting verticals when it comes to digital marketing worldwide, and Russia is no exception. Global players and local brands are working hard to deliver the best value to rapidly growing Russian travel community.
I am very happy to present the interview with of one of the most well-known companies in the travel industry Skyscanner. I had a chance to speak to the Russian Marketing Manager Ilarion Kopaleyshvili about online travel market in Russia, its potential, opportunities and future trends.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role. What brought you to Scotland and to Skyscanner?
After working for mobile providers in Russia, I was really keen to get some more international experience. I came across an opportunity to join the Skyscanner team to manage the Marketing for Russia and it seemed like a great opportunity.
While I am based most of the time in the Edinburgh office in Scotland, it’s an incredibly international business, with over 35 different nationalities and, obviously I travel back to Russia regularly as part of my role.
It is an exciting time to join a fast growing company and Russia is a very important market for us at Skyscanner.
What (if any) are the main differences between Russia and your home market UK in terms of approach to digital marketing?
We’re very much a global company with 80% of our visitors coming from outside the UK so we don’t take a UK approach to marketing that we then try to fit to each other market.
Looking at the Russian travel market in comparison to each of our other global markets, there are clearly unique features that are important to consider.
There’s a commonly-held belief that digital marketing is not as advanced in Russia as it is in other countries but that’s not correct. The industry is relatively new to Russia, but it is very advanced and sometimes is bolder than in markets where digital marketing as a concept has been around for a while. Having said that, there’s a limited selection of automation tools (keyword research, PPC bidding to ROI, etc.) that are available for Russia and it happens more often in Russia than in the UK that marketers don’t form their KPIs around consumer needs, but rather focus on their traffic and revenue targets.
Also, while some players have already grasped the importance of rich content and sustainable development, many companies still heavily rely on link-building. We are certain that in the next few years we will also see a big improvement in all of these things and it’s clear that key players are striving to make the market more civilised.
What would you say are the main challenges for the travel industry in Russia?
80% of Russians have never travelled abroad and only 17% have a valid foreign passport so this in itself is something of a challenge as independent travel levels are much lower than they are across the rest of Europe. There is also a perception that flights are complicated to book. But things are changing and we’re seeing a significant increase year on year in the number of visitors to our site in Russia from travellers looking to plan and book their own travel. The destinations chosen also suggest that Russia’s independent travellers are quite adventurous. So while independent travel booking is at a fairly low level just now, there is significant potential for growth.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in Russian SEO for travel sites and in generals for the next three years?
Although link-building is still a dominant practice in the online travel industry in Russia, it is becoming more and more obvious that this practise isn’t sustainable with constantly repeating algorithm changes in Google and Yandex. For travel search sites it is especially important to build consumer trust and build a product around the consumer demand rather than expect consumers to get accustomed to it. In the near future, many current techniques are going to be replaced with new ones: high quality user engagement, content marketing, more intelligent CRM and of course usability and conversion rate optimizations. In Skyscanner we believe that long-term relations with our customers based on genuinely interesting and useful content is a key to win their trust.
What do you see as the biggest potential for Skyscanner in Russia?
As highlighted before, the fact that the vast majority of Russians haven’t travelled abroad and the fact that the concept of independent travel is relatively new, comparatively speaking with Western Europe, offers huge potential. Russia is a key market for Skyscanner and we are working hard to ensure we’re continually developing new tools both for web and mobile users, to help them make their travel booking as easy as possible.
How is mobile changing the travel industry, both worldwide and in Russia?
For any travel company, in Russia, or anywhere else in the world, it is clear that mobile needs to be at the very heart of their strategy, and this is true for Skyscanner. At Skyscanner we are finding that several Asian markets are leading the way when it comes to consumer mobile use as people become more and more confident in paying for big ticket items such as a flight on their mobile phone. In Russia we are finding that travellers are starting to use mobile devices more and more, while it is starting from a low level. For instance, we saw a 123% growth last year in the number of visitors to Skyscanner via mobile devices either through our app or mobile optimised website.
What is the role of social media in today’s travel business in Russia?
In Russia there are not that many frequent travellers just yet, but that doesn’t mean that people are less interested in travelling. Travel is much more than just one purchase as people spend a great deal of time searching for inspiration on where to travel and when. People gain inspiration from blogs and social media, including Russia-specific platforms like VK and extensive number of travel blogs in Livejournal. At Skyscanner we engage with users across majority of social media channels to help inspire them and be a greater part of their travel decision.
What would be your advice to a company planning to enter the Russian travel market?
This is a big question! The approach we have taken at Skyscanner is to think Russian from the start rather than expecting to be able to translate a site and marketing plans exactly from any other country. There are many unique aspects about the Russian market and you can’t deal with them without deep understanding of Russian culture, mentality and current situation. A dedicated team of native people with a true understanding of the market, is crucial to being a success in Russia.