I've just returned from New York, where I attended TravelCom, an industry conference highlighting the future of online travel marketing. I struggle a little, though, to use the word 'marketing', as it may not really capture the essence of what the industry is doing online to support people throughout the travelling experience.

Travel marketers are shifting more and more of the travel experience online. From research and planning, to the event itself and the return home, they're putting tools, information and entertainment into the traveller's hands, so that they control their travel with unprecedented precision.

At my company, we're now referring to this bundled experience as 'captivation marketing', to stress the shift from traditional advertising to the creation of customer-controlled, highly useful and even entertaining tools that are provided on-demand for the customer.

Take Disney, for example: through its online environments, kids can explore virtual worlds that introduce them to its theme parks. The experience essentially familiarises the children with the park, so that once they arrive at the site, they've already planned what they want to do. Furthermore, they can even have a realtime experience with animated characters in the movies: a meaningful dialogue based around what they're thinking and feeling - now that's captivating.

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