Local Specials to E-Mail Database Help Reservations Service Defy Travel Decline

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Despite a devastating September, fourth-quarter earnings at travel reservations service SaveCash.com were 76 percent higher than for the same period in 2000 thanks to an Internet marketing campaign targeting travelers who are driving to vacation destinations rather than flying.


"During September, we took the time to examine how we could be in front of the people who are traveling," said Matthew DeLine, president/CEO of SaveCash.com, San Diego. "What we found is that locals have decided to postpone their cross-country and international vacations and opt in favor of closer-to-home trips."


Traditionally, about 70 percent of the company's sales are to residents within driving distance of the three regions it serves - San Diego, Phoenix and Palm Springs, CA. DeLine said the company began sending local customers e-mail messages targeting nearby properties. SaveCash.com has 60,000 names in its e-mail marketing database.


"We had a feeling that international travel was going to die, so we figured the local people postponing the trips to Europe, Asia or Australia would still spend money on a resort," he said. "So we began looking at our database of customers in Southern California and the Western region of the U.S., and if they purchased a reservation in a three-star property before, we offered them a four-star property. And, if they had bought a four-star property, we pushed a five-star property."


DeLine also dissected the database to see what specific types of travel that customers were interested in, such as surfing, and then sent specialized e-mail messages to them.


"Surfers like to travel and seek out new surf sites, but right now, they may be scared to go to Fiji or Asia," he said. "So we sent these folks e-mail messages about San Diego, and how [the Encinitas area] is voted one of the top 10 surf sites in the world."


DeLine also created a specific Web site for surfers. The site, www.surf.savecash.com, offers surf break information in San Diego and highlights hotels in the area. SaveCash.com also bought banner advertising on surfer Web sites to promote the effort, he said.


DeLine said his company used an inhouse database marketing system to target travelers based on their preferences.


"When a customer books a reservation with us, either on the phone or through the Web site, we ask them specific questions, such as why they are coming to San Diego and what they will be doing here," he said.


SaveCash.com also has intensified its Internet marketing programs.


"We used to e-mail-market to our customers once a month prior to Sept. 11," DeLine said. "Now we e-mail them once a week as a result of all the specials we are running."


The strategy continues to pay off as earnings in January are up 49 percent over last January.


DeLine said SaveCash.com is continuing with an aggressive first-quarter marketing campaign focusing on local travelers. The company also hired a regional director of sales for Palm Springs to handle a surge in business to the area.


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