Opportunities Along the Online Travel Shopper’s Path to Purchase

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booking tripThe travel planner’s path to purchase is a journey onto itself. It’s not as exciting, perhaps, as the trip they’re about to take, but it’s nevertheless filled with hope and anticipation. Travel suppliers who understand the steps their customers take through the decision-making and buying processes are able provide the right content at the right time to boost sales.

Successfully converting shoppers to bookers online takes knowledge of customers’ path to purchase and a healthy dose of relationship management and savvy use of marketing technology. Let’s take a journey though the travel planner’s path to purchase using industry insights as our guide:

Stage 1: Researching

Travelers tend to jump into vacation planning with an open mind or at least a handful of ideas they intend to narrow down as they explore their options. So what do they do? They get online, search around, seek advice from social connections and wait for something that suits their fancy.

  • Google has defined 4 Mobile Moments Changing the Consumer Journey. The first is “I-want-to-get-away” and it’s when people start thinking about the next vacation. At this stage they’re asking Google questions about where to go and what to do.
  • Research compiled by Internet Marketing Inc. shows that 52% of Facebook users dream about vacations while on Facebook (even if they don’t have one planned) and 52% said their friends’ photos inspired their own travel plans. 51% said Twitter content influenced consideration of a travel brand.
  • Expedia’s The Path to Purchase for American, British and Canadian Travelers shows that across markets, the tools most used at the beginning of trip planning are search engines and family and friends. And what’s more, Expedia found that online advertising has its largest potential for impact during these initial stages of travel booking. As travelers get further along, they’ve seen so many ads they begin to tune them out.

Stage 2: Planning

In this stage, travelers have a good idea where they’re going and when. They’ve painted broad strokes on the canvas, but need to start filling in the blanks by selecting places to stay, airlines to fly, trains to ride, attractions to visit, etc. This means they do more targeted searching and research, start reading customer reviews, and consider pricing.

  • Google calls this stage “time-to-make-a-plan”. When the shopper gets down to the business of figuring out all the logistical details. Search trends show them finding out how long it takes to get from place to place, how much it could cost and best travel times.
  • The Expedia research shows influence shifting away from family and friends as travel planners focus on OTAs, Airline and Hotel websites.
  • A Sojern study of US and European hotel search and booking trends brings a couple of useful trends to light: 1) consumers’ path to purchase, from first search to final booking, is lengthening and 2) booking lead times, are getting shorter.
  • In the US…
  • 75% of travelers have 30 or more days (52% at 60 or more days) between search and stay.
  • 60% of travelers have 30 or more days (42% at 60 or more days) between booking and stay.
  • They spend nearly 25% more time on their hotel path to purchase than with their flight path to purchase
  • Last minute shoppers (initiating search 7 or fewer days before trip) represented 5% of searches and 13% of all hotel bookings
  • In the US…
  • In Europe…
  • 79% of travelers have 30 or more days (62% at 60 or more days) between search and stay.
  • 66% of travelers have 30 or more days (42% at 60 or more days) between booking and stay.
  • Last minute shoppers (initiating search 7 or fewer days before trip) represented 5% of searches and 11% of all hotel bookings

Don’t miss 3 Ways Travel Suppliers Can Use Travel Reviews.

Stage 3: Book – Let’s Go!

In the final stages of trip planning, consumers are willing to part with their earnings and book accommodations and flights. This is the time when—if they haven’t already—suppliers need to launch their best sales efforts with highly targeted and personal offers presented across digital media.

  • Expedia says that online travel bookers increasingly engage with travel content throughout the weeks preceding a booking event. Translation: conversion time is near, so make those offers can’t-miss.
  • Travel industry marketing and sales software solution provider, Navis, suggests that during the booking stage, searching will likely include individual property websites, metasearch engines, and a selection of online travel agencies, as travelers are reviewing the fine print of rates, rooms, and booking policies.
  • Google’s piece on mobile in the customer journey give an example of a traveler who had 419 digital moments researching her trip over 2 months: 5 videos, 380 web page visits, 34 searches…and 87% of them happened on a smartphone. The message here is clear: mobile technology needs to be part of a travel company’s strategy to win business.

Take a deeper dive into Expedia’s research in Appreciating the Nuances in Travel Trends.

Suppliers, Don’t Stop There

Take it from Google, whose phase 4 of the customer journey includes post-booking “can’t-wait-to-explore moments,” when travelers are ready to get out there and explore their vacation destination. They encourage brands to keep the customer relationship strong, helping to shape the customer experience so it’s “seamless and amazing.”

Suppliers can also take the post-booking opportunity to help customers customize their trip (offering a choice of hotel or air amenities, for example), take advantage of special up- or cross-selling offers, and write trip reviews boasting about their wonderful experiences.

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