By Mark Abramowitz, VP Marketing, SiteMinder
It’s official. Travellers are now more influenced by each other, as opposed to information presented to them by travel companies.
And it’s just one of the many changes hotel and travel businesses face as guests find fresh ways to research and evaluate their options before they book their next trip.
A new Deloitte report, titled ‘Engaging the Empowered Holidaymaker’, found that the messages distributed by travel companies are playing a less influential role, as consumers become creators of their own content via review sites and social media.
Deloitte’s research surveyed 40,000 UK-based travellers and found that 42% rely on the opinions of others online, while just 31% said they use travel company websites for their holiday research.
With nine out of 10 holidaymakers saying they carried out research before booking their last holiday, it’s a real change from the days of travellers being primarily influenced through travel agency staff, or recommendations exclusively from friends and family.
Today’s digitally-led travel decisions have changed the booking journey from a linear path to a complete cycle – where a guest’s visit no longer ends with the experience of the product.
There are opportunities to influence other travellers both before, during and after their holiday. Each consumer’s experience feeds into another consumer’s decision-making process – and more often than not, they’re complete strangers. Deloitte’s research reveals that a third of holidaymakers have posted a travel-related review online, and 16% have posted or discussed holiday experiences on social media.
Booking a trip is evolving into a metrics-driven process as travellers assess a combination of star ratings, consumer review scores, and price. A third of those surveyed by Deloitte say they use two or more devices to conduct their holiday research, demonstrating a longer path to purchase for hotel bookings, and the potential risk of travel products becoming commoditised.
Dealing with the deal-hunters
Travel comparison sites have been instrumental in empowering consumers, and usage in the UK is high. Websites such as Trivago and Skyscanner are experiencing rapid growth (68% and 42% year-on-year respectively), and a study by Momondo forecasts the comparison sites market to grow more than 40% by 2017.
Even huge industry players are evolving their online presence as they respond to the travel industry power shift. TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site with 225 million reviews, has introduced a unique function called TripConnect Cost-Per-Click giving hotels the opportunity to cost effectively generate bookings. Travellers can now quickly compare pricing and availability directly within TripAdvisor. Using a Cost-Per-Click (CPC) model, accommodation owners can compete for direct bookings and drive visitors directly to their own hotel’s booking page with no commission payable.
It’s just another example of how businesses are adapting to the changing consumer mindset. Deloitte research also suggests the GFC is largely responsible for creating ‘the deal hunters’. The desire to find the best deal has become habit for today’s traveller, with 56% of survey respondents confirming that price is the main factor when making a booking.
Technological innovations will undoubtedly contribute to the growth of these price comparison websites. In March 2015, Google signed an agreement with Routehappy to display information on legroom, the availability of inflight Wi-Fi, power sockets, and video streaming within its Google Flights search tool. It’s this incredible attention to detail that gives guests even greater power as they make their booking choice.
The good news for hoteliers is that guests are not necessarily always looking for the lowest price, instead opting to use these available metrics as a tool to assess value for money. Deloitte’s survey reveals that a guest’s previous experience (47%), as well as the hotel’s reputation (38%), are listed as the next most important factors when choosing to book with a particular company.
Just 18% of travellers said they make a booking based on a promotion or special offer. This noteworthy statistic suggests that hotels could see more return on investment through managing online conversations that focus on brand reputation to build trust and deeper relationships.
Deloitte’s report supports this by urging hoteliers to create a recommendation culture: “Consumers have been empowered by review sites and social media, but businesses can also benefit by encouraging consumers to act as their brand evangelists. Holidaymakers who interact with travel brands on social media are significantly more likely to post reviews and experiences online. As a result, travel businesses can encourage social advocacy by increasing their own presence and activity on social media.”
While separate research from ASTA as part of the recent ‘2015 Traveler Decision Making Study’ in their 2015 Travel Insurance Index shows that there is still very much a role for travel agents in today’s industry, there appears to be no stopping the consumer’s power and influence. It’s now a question of hotels becoming fully engaged with the complete cycle of a guest’s journey.