When researching a trip, consumers first look for information and compare prices — and that’s where robust content can help a company stand out, Expedia’s Wendy Olson Killion said at the Phocuswright conference last month.
It’s especially important with the Millennial market, which responds well to high-quality video and images. Expedia works with destination-marketing organizations to create original material and to help brands stand out; its video showcasing Bermuda’s activities, for example, is designed to shift the perception that the island’s attractions are geared to an older crowd.
“Travel is complicated to book,” despite the wealth of information out there, and “consumers have so many choices,” noted Killion, who is director of product management and product marketing for the Expedia unit.
No matter how they end up booking a trip, consumers are spending more time visiting websites to plan their getaways — 38, on average — according to a new Traveler Attribution Study conducted by Expedia Media Solutions.
The report, unveiled at the annual Phocuswright Conference showcasing travel innovation, is based on millions of clickstream data points, starting a full 45 days prior to the actual booking date.
The data show that in the week right before making a booking, travelers more than doubled the time they spent surfing the internet. This could be a selling point for travel agents, particularly those who specialize in destinations or niches, like adventure travel, that are more complex than a simple point-to-point. That’s where agents can save clients real time and aggravation.
The research also looked at how the plethora of travel sites available — meta search engines, OTAs, and supplier sites — work together to drive consumer choice. It confirmed that many people browse OTAs even if they ultimately end up booking with a supplier or another booking source, such as an agency or TMC.
Google Travel talks of ‘travel snacking’
Meanwhile, in another presentation at the Phocuswright confab, Oliver Heckmann, Google Travel’s vice president of product and engineering for Travel and Shopping, noted that YouTube is an underappreciated resource for travel sellers. There are literally millions of travel videos on the site, but relatively few are specifically branded in a way to drive consumers to a specific agency or supplier.
Of course, Google is also working on driving more consumers to its own site, rolling out a new app that presents an array of options for deal-seekers who aren’t locked into specific dates.
“Travel planning is more than just searching for a flight and a hotel; it’s a long process,” Heckmann said, using the term “travel snacking” to describe the way consumers dip into various websites as they move to the final purchase. “Our goal is to make it easier.”
However, as sites like Google and Trip Advisor add booking capability, the question is whether they can provide the level of customer service that many travelers demand, especially if things go wrong at some point during the booking process or the trip itself.
All of which adds up to a powerful argument for the role of the traditional travel agent.