Experience, Not Price, Drives Early Travel Plans

This article is part of our August series about travel and hospitality. Click here for more.

What traveler doesn’t love a good deal, but the travel experience itself matters more early in the decision-making process, according to new global research by Expedia Media Solutions. What’s more, 65% of consumers are influenced by content published by brands and destinations when they are making travel plans.

For “Multi-National Travel Trends in the Tourism Industry,” Expedia polled 8,006 consumers in eight countries around the world—the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Japan, China, France, and Germany—about their use of online travel agents, social media, and other channels when making travel plans.

Influences vary by country, the survey found, but more than half of the travelers polled around the world were initially undecided about their vacation destinations and went online looking for ideas and help planning their trips. The Chinese tend to be more certain of their destinations due to the country’s travel restrictions than travelers in countries with more relaxed visa regulations, but the majority began with either no idea where to go or they were trying to decide between two or more destinations.

“They are looking for inspiration, they’re looking for where to go ... they have either no clue or are looking and exchanging different destinations in their minds,” said Andrew van der Feltz, senior director, EMEA & APAC, for Expedia Media Solutions. But while consumers might not know where to go, few were complete blank slates, he added, noting that more than 90% of consumers said they know what they want to do during their vacations.

“They know to a great extent. ... They just don’t know where to do it,” van der Feltz told CMO.com. “From a destination perspective or carrier perspective, this is a huge opportunity to reach them and inspire them.”

While striking content won high marks in the survey, deals and promotions are still important to the selection process, according to the survey’s findings. More than 60% of travelers said their budgets were a key factor, and they look for deals before making a decision. The study found loyalty programs are less influential with consumers than deals and recommendations.

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Standout Experience
But digging deeper into the data, van der Feltz noted that deals come into play later in the consumer journey. When asked to prioritize all factors, experiences played a higher role in the decision-making process, and then deals became a factor once travel planning had begun.

“Deals are important, but they have their place,” van der Feltz said. “If you’re higher up in the funnel, experiences that you’re going to be doing played a more significant role.”  

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Early messages should tap emotions, showing consumers what they will experience—activities they would like to do and the scenery—and then bring in the rational point where prices and promotions come in to close the sale.

“To bring in the retail aspect of it is important ... it’s just making sure that it’s served at the right time,” van der Feltz said. “You lead with a message of the experience and what you get from this destination and then bring the deal lower down the funnel.”  

Social media also plays a significant role in travel decisions, but its effect varies widely by country and by generation, he added. Chinese travelers are the most likely to be influenced by social media, with only 8% saying social content doesn’t influence their decisions, while 60% of Japanese travelers said they’re not swayed by social media. More than half the travelers from the U.S., Australia, the U.K., and Canada said social content featuring deals and promotions influenced their decisions.

The research also broke down nationalities by age groups and found different age groups cite different influencers on social media. Younger travelers said they rely more on recommendations from peers in social media, while older age groups said they pay more attention to reviews during the travel-planning process. Once the trip begins, all groups lean into social media and mobile, sharing their experiences on the go.

Traveling Across Channels
At a time when marketers are increasingly trending away from desktop computers and toward the mobile screen, travel remains an omnichannel experience. Expedia’s research found the desktop is still where much early travel research takes place. The survey found a majority of travelers—anywhere from 72% of Chinese to 86% of Canadians—used desktops and laptops to research where to travel on vacation, and a majority ranging from 57% of Chinese to 90% of Canadians booked their travel on desktop or laptop.

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A number of practical factors help the desktop’s popularity at a time when many platforms are evolving into mobile-first or even mobile-only design. The larger desktop screen lends itself better to visual content, and planning is generally done in the home by the whole household.

Chinese and Japanese respondents were more likely to use their mobile phones across all stages of the travel journey, but once travel begins, the mobile phone is the main channel for travelers of all nationalities. French and Australian respondents were least likely to use their phones during trips, at 61% and 62%, respectively, while Chinese and Japanese respondents used them the most, at 78% and 75%, respectively.

“There is no one device to fix it all for marketeers. Being on mobile devices remains fundamental,” van der Feltz said, but added that an omnichannel approach is necessary. “When you look at it broadly, you have to use all the devices.”

A key takeaway of the study is that travel marketers need to tailor content, both by generation and by market, and make it work on all platforms to keep up with consumers. Even the Chinese market, which is restrained by travel regulations, is increasingly opening up fast, van der Feltz said.

One way to keep up with those operational needs is by forming partnerships, van der Feltz added. Creating partnerships saves valuable marketing dollars and adds insights, he said.

“Can you be everywhere?” van der Feltz asked. “That’s very difficult in a world where budgets are decreasing, if not fixed.” 

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