Blue Ocean Network.com – September 25, 2014) — Travelers are consulting more online sales channels and using more devices in planning their trips than ever, but travel marketers are falling behind when it comes to understanding and tapping into consumers’ shopping and booking behavior patterns.
“Connecting With Today’s Online Leisure Travel Shopper.”
Those were among the findings and implications of new PhoCusWright research presented in a recent webinar called, “Connecting With Today’s Online Leisure Travel Shopper.”
Among key points covered in the webinar were:
• significant differences in travelers’ planning patterns depending on their age and income
• the continued dominance of personal computers, even as mobile use is exploding
• a failure of travel marketers to understand customers’ online “journeys” from shopping to booking.
Sweet spot for agents
For traditional travel agents, the webinar identified a ripe market – a continuing opportunity for travel sellers to serve affluent travelers who are looking for more complex and expensive trips and who want offline planning help.
Affluent travelers “are probably more tech-savvy and active on mobile” than less-affluent travelers, but “at a certain point of spending, things start to go the opposite way,” said Marcello Gasdia, senior analyst, consumer research, for PhoCusWright.
“At around $4,000 or $4,500, they will start to drag offline and begin to use traditional agents. The more expensive and more complex the purchase – like a family trip that requires air, hotel and car – you start to see a decrease in online booking. This is the sweet spot for travel agents.”
Multichannel . . .
In looking at the shopping and booking behaviors of leisure travelers overall, PhoCusWright earmarked nine options for online travel planning, including: OTAs, branded supplier sites, metasearch sites, social media, general search engines and others.
Travelers use, on average, no fewer than six and a half of these shopping channels when planning a leisure trip.
Of all the sales channels, OTAs continue to dominate in the U.S., with general search engines like Google and Yahoo in second place. Those are followed by supplier websites, review sites like TripAdvisor, then metasearch engines like Kayak, destination websites and social media.
. . . and multi-device
Increasingly, travelers use a combination of devices– including smartphone, tablet and PC – to research and book travel.
The overwhelming majority of travelers still use their PCs when planning a vacation. According to PhoCusWright, only 5% of travelers did not use a PC in the vacation-planning process.
“While that PC status is impressive at first glance, it becomes less so you when you look at how different age groups are using mobile,” Gasdia said.
Among travelers between the ages of 25 and 44, “mobile activity is off the charts,” Gasdia said. “More than half use smartphones to shop for leisure travel with tablet usage approaching half.”
For older travelers, tablets are more popular than smartphones.“Not surprisingly, millennials visited the most sites and used the most devices,” Gasdia said.
When phone and tablet use are combined, a total of 41% of travelers are using mobile to plan their vacations. “And there is a good deal of overlap among those who use both,” Gasdia said.
Gasdia said travel marketers are not keeping up with changing consumer behaviors. They also are failing to follow travelers’ patterns of behavior as they move through the various touch points using their many different devices.
“We are using outdated attribution models, like simply surveying the last click to a booking without paying attention to the path to that booking,” Gasdia said.
Travel sellers need to look deeper into the data to gain an understanding of the process travelers follow in all phases of the booking process, Gasdia suggested.
“The important thing for marketers is to have data about who is using what device for what purposes – and where they visit on their way to an actual booking.”
Challenges for marketers
A survey of travel marketers showed that their top challenge was allocating budget across channels and devices, followed by tracking attribution to advertising.
“Just a small percentage of marketers look at the traveler’s entire online journey,” said Michael Wilson, senior director, product management for the data-consulting firm Webtrends, which sponsored the webinar.
“They spend a lot of money getting people to their site but not on what they do before they get to the site.
“You need a cross-sectional view of these people,” he added.. Even after the consumer leaves a travel site, the journey might not be over. At that point, marketers might use email marketing to get them to re-engage.
By Harvey Chipkin, Travel Market Report