I remember when this question first started popping up. It was almost 8 years ago while I was working on an online travel pilot project. Since then things evolved. Although finding the best price-quality ratio is still the most important factor for the majority of travelers, the coordinates changed significantly.

No two travelers are alike. Each path to purchase is unique and far from following a straight, simple line. It’s a mix of touchpoints with various twists and turns. Today’s customers are more curious and demanding. Being exposed to a multitude of channels and information, they are willing to devote a lot of time to conduct independent research before making a booking. According to a Google survey, 55% of travelers agree that they have to check too many sources of travel information before making a decision. From the Expedia study stating that a traveler would browse up to 38 websites before buying, other reports found the average number to be 6,5. The truth is that even for the same traveler this “average” varies with every new trip.

 

Where does it start?

The planning phase for the majority of travelers is expected to begin with a Google Search. If we were to look at the trends in searches for the past ten years, the shift in behavior is obvious.

For example, the searches on the broad “travel” topic globally show a decrease in interest on web search

Meanwhile YouTube and Image search trends for the same topic paint a different picture, proving in fact the rising consumer interest for visual content.

Cisco predicted that by 2021 78% of all mobile traffic will be video and in 2018 an estimated 84% of communications will be visual.

Research doesn’t end with Google Search or even starts with it a lot of times. It goes further with review websites, social media channels, friends & family recommendations. Occasionally the travel impulse comes from an inspiring video, a friend recent experience, a blog article or an ad. User-generated content is becoming incredibly influential when it comes to what Millennials buy – 84% of them and Generation Z say their friends’ posts on Facebook influenced them to change their travel plans. On Instagram close to 1 million unique users search weekly for travel related hashtags globally looking for inspiration, motivation, new travel brands or travel communities. The research process has now become a part of the travel experience itself.

And they are relying more and more on mobile for the travel research. A Google study confirmed that 70% of travelers have done travel research on their smartphone, while Booking.com stated that 1 in 2 traveler journey start on mobile.

 

How does a traveler path to purchase might look like?

Different for each traveler, that’s for sure. The more I analyzed the data for the travel projects I was involved in and talked with clients, I realized that the typical, average traveler profile is a myth. Up to a point you can identify common variables, but beyond that lies the personality, the needs and wants of each person. And the smallest detail can incline the balance towards conversion or not.

Just imagine the traveler profiling process. You start with the segmentation based on the main reason for traveling: business, leisure, volunteer etc. Then you take a step further and filter the traveler considering the socio-demographic layer and purchasing history. To gain even more perspective you will also add to the equation the traveler typology and preferences, the social footprint and online behavior. No wonder that one size fits all approach doesn’t produce the desired results.

Google partnered with Luth Research to analyze the digital activity of its opt-in panel participants to provide a snapshot of what a real traveler’s time-to-make-a-plan moments actually looked like. One of the participants is a single mother of three who travels for both business and pleasure. In a five-month period, she planned business trips to Amarillo and Kerrville, Texas, while also exploring vacation destinations in San Antonio, Whistler, and Puerto Rico.

This is how her travel journey looks like over the course of 5 months

In a similar report, Sojern presents 8 traveler profiles and their booking journeys. One of the travelers is planning a couple getaway to go skiing. He is a frequent traveler both business and leisure. During a 4 months period he had over 255 digital touchpoints to conclude the booking and as soon as he returned home he was looking for new flights to go back. In his case the trigger happened while looking for flights for a business trip, not knowing the exact ski destination, but having a preference for a brand ski resort. There is also the efficient planner. A mom of two booked a Caribbean cruise for her family in a 4 months’ timeframe across 60 touchpoints. After finalizing the bookings for cruise and flight, she goes shopping for vacation supplies and 3 days before departure books a hotel.

From comScore study into 2 million travelers research and booking behavior we learn that a hotel purchaser takes 89 days to book while visiting 34 sites. He reached 182 touchpoints.

 

Why is this relevant?

To make you aware of the uniqueness of each traveler path to purchase so you can develop omni-channel strategies that communicates with them as individuals before, during and after the trip. Focusing only on the averages or basic common traits won’t bring the expected results. Start with data. Get to know your customers, gather insights on how they find your brand, how they interact with you, what they like and dislike about that interaction, why they book or fail to purchase. Build based on those insights. Reach your customers and potential ones in an authentic manner relying on your unique attributes and come up with interactive campaigns so you can develop a relationship with them. Last but not least, remember that there is also a lot of potential beyond the booking, enough room for ancillaries to take the spotlight.