A Cookieless World is Coming – by Sojern’s Chris Gregory-Pasha

Sojern's senior sales director - EMEA, Chris Gregory-Pasha, writes about the importance of first-party data collection and activation 

Sojern Chris Gregory-Pasha, Senior Sales Director, MEA

In 2020, Google announced that the company was phasing out the use of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser within two years, sending shockwaves through the travel industry. This looming deadline–and associated data collection challenges–has since become a moving target. Google recently again pressed pause, pushing the phase-out to the second half of 2024. While many travel marketers are breathing a sigh of relief, the reality still remains: A cookieless world is coming, it will disrupt the entire industry, and marketers must use this time wisely to prepare. 

By adjusting data collection strategies around the three pillars of data, marketers can still effectively target travellers. When those sources of data are combined, marketers can use addressable and contextual targeting to build connected, multichannel campaigns that generate cookieless bookings. Here’s how: 

Hashed emails

Travellers log in to websites using their email addresses, giving marketers a great avenue to collect rich information. Email addresses can then be hashed, or semi-anonymized into an unrecognizable string of characters that can identify and target travellers online without using third-party cookies. Once travellers log in on a brand’s website or complete a booking, marketers have access to their email addresses. They can then target those travellers as they visit other websites by using their hashed email. Not only are hashed emails more accurate for targeting, but they also align with travellers’ desire for privacy, consent, and control. 

Marketers can incentivise travellers to provide their email addresses through loyalty programs, promotions and more. Once they connect with a traveller in an authenticated place, marketers can then use hashed emails to connect online and offline information across devices and deliver a personalised experience.

First-party cookie IDs

In a cookieless world, marketers must prioritize collecting first-party data. Unlike third-party cookies, first-party data isn’t anonymous. Travel marketers store and manage first-party cookie IDs for customers who visit the brand website. First-party cookies collect data about the traveller, including language settings, and other information, to give them a personalised website experience. They’re powerful tools that help marketers understand more about the traveller and their behaviour so they can create a campaign with messaging that resonates and inspires them to book. 

First-party cookies are unique and can be shared with marketing partners. Partners can match the traveller ID with the person’s hashed email, which allows marketers to retarget travellers who have visited the site.

Historical booking data 

The third key dataset marketers need in a cookieless world is historical booking data. Historical booking data is collected and stored in CRM or other systems, allowing marketers to look at past stays, amenities booked, and offline interactions, such as calls to a desk agent or call centre, or any walk-in interactions. Marketers can use this information to segment their contacts list and send targeted promotions to groups of travellers. Some CRM systems even allow marketers to perform advanced segmentation, such as cancellation percentage, spend, stay frequency, and more. Using historical booking data to send personalised communications increases conversions, builds brand loyalty, and reduces the number of travellers who unsubscribe from marketing emails. 

Historical booking data is also valuable when working with marketing partners. When coupled with hashed emails and first-party cookie information, partners can help travel marketers build more detailed traveller profiles to enable more effective targeting.

Create connected campaigns

The first step to deploying a successful multichannel campaign in a cookieless world is ensuring the right addressable and contextual targeting tactics are in place. Connecting hashed emails, first-party cookie IDs, and historical booking data is what will allow marketers to continue addressable targeting once third-party cookies are gone. Addressable targeting is targeting people who are in the brand’s audience. They may still be anonymous users, but marketers know something about them, such as retargeting a traveller who has visited a hotel spa by offering them preferential room rates or a desirable room package including spa treatments. 

Once marketers dial in their addressable advertising strategies, they can expand to contextual targeting across channels. Contextual targeting uses the category or keywords of the web page the potential traveller is visiting to serve ads that are relevant to the site’s content. If a potential traveller is searching for activities in Dubai, marketers can use this information to serve ads that are relevant to their trip, such as a hotel stay. 

A cookieless world is right around the corner. While the demise of the third-party cookie is a shift, it’s also an opportunity for the travel industry to rethink data strategies. By using the three pillars of data, marketers can connect the online and offline worlds to deliver relevant, timely multichannel campaigns that inspire travellers to book.