The study "The Traveler's Road to Decision," released by Google and OTX in 2009, provides valuable insight into online travel research and purchasing trends. Every area of travel was included in the study, including hotels, flights, business, leisure and more, with over 5,000 consumers, who traveled at least once during a six-month period, surveyed.
The research indicates that consumers plan on traveling just as much in 2010, as in 2008 and 2009. However, they're still frugal with their travel plans, a trend that is carrying over. In 2010, consumers are more careful than ever with their money and likely to wait longer for better deals, which is why booking time has become increasingly closer to real travel dates. This is why it's so important to closely monitor your competitions' rates, and use e-mail marketing to promote VIP rate codes on great deals as early booking incentives.
Researching Earlier and Booking Later
Because the booking window has expanded out to just days before consumers' actual travel, campaigns are delayed in producing results, which can be discouraging for hotel marketers. For the last few years now, the research to booking window has expanded, but the booking to travel timeframe has significantly decreased. While travelers are often holding out until the last minute for the best deals, thanks largely in part to the poor economy, Google's tools indicate that it doesn't mean hotel Internet marketing efforts are failing. Another study by Google supports this finding by showing that average research to booking time runs as far out as 18 weeks out, especially with leisure travelers.
Also impacted by the struggling economy, business travelers are more likely to search for cost-effective packages and more interested in joining rewards programs (roughly 80 percent are members of at least one rewards program). Where search marketers are dropping the ball, is by not providing the details of their rewards programs. Rather than just offering great promotions here and there, hotels need to communicate specific benefits about how their rewards programs help business travelers.
Using Search Engines and Reviews
Travelers conduct their travel research via the Internet more than any other source. Logically, these consumers are checking reviews before making reservations. According to the Google and OTX study, 41% make leisure travel plans and 50% make business travel plans according to the reviews they read. Taking it one step further, more consumers are now submitting their own reviews to share with others.
The study also found that slightly more travelers use general search engines, instead of travel search sites or online travel agencies, when planning trips. 64% of consumers surveyed use search engines for personal travel and 56% for business travel. The travel sites also fared well, but don't have quite the traffic, with 52% using them for personal travel and 55% for business travel. Talking hotel specifics, 81% of business travelers depend on the search engines, compared to 67% of leisure travelers. Does your Website speak to the needs of business travelers? Does it emphasize the amenities and local attractions that leisure travelers seek?
Increasing Impact of Videos
With the YouTube phenomenon bringing forward online videos, so come travel videos and their significant influence on consumers' travel decisions. As visual creatures, videos enable us to see the property, its amenities, surroundings, etc. Overall, people tend to give videos made by fellow travelers (rather than those created by the hotels) more credibility, relying on them to be more objective. According to the study, YouTube is the most used site for travel videos, with 81% looking there for business travel and 79% for personal travel. Yahoo was second with business at 44% and personal at 32%. At every step of travel research, consumers are turning to online videos to help them make decisions. When considering a trip, 63% watch videos for personal travel and 66% for business travel. And as much as consumers are creating reviews, they're also starting to upload their own travel videos - personal at 6% and business at 16%. A picture is worth a thousand words, and online hotel videos can help your property capture more guests.
Today, learning more about consumers' travel planning behavior is vital. With the trends of search engines, reviews and videos, your guests have more influence over the future success of your property than ever - all the more reason to keep them happy. Past guests will get the word out, and search will enable shoppers to find these reviews and videos. One key point here is making sure your Website's search marketing is top notch, so that guests can do as much research as possible on your site. Another key point, and one that we've all heard before but now rings more true than ever - never underestimate the power of a satisfied guest.