Travelers will seek out an average of 17 different sources for inspiration, advice, and price- and feature-shopping on their path to purchasing a vacation.
However, only about one in ten consumers typically will consult a travel agent during that process, according to MMGY Global’s 2018 Portrait of American Travelers (POAT) annual survey. With sources for inspiration, price-shopping and booking so plentiful, agents can be challenged to understand how to increase being a part of this process, and enhancing their chances for earning a sale.
“To many, the convenience of searching online outweighs the expertise agents possess,” said Steve Cohen, senior vice president, Insights and Research, MMGY Global. “The opportunity is to carve out that niche of travelers who want/need that expertise and demonstrate to them that it exists within the agent community. That would be a big step in increasing travel engagement with agents.”
Given the availability of information on the internet, and their comfort searching and booking online, Millennials used the most sources (18.4), according to MMGY Global’s research. Baby Boomers used the second-most number of sources (16.5), followed by Gen Xers (16.3). Matures used only 11.8 sources on average.
Reflecting a rise in travel information overload, MMGY Global’s survey results show that the average number of sources that travelers access on the path to purchase has been dropping the last few years – from 26.6 in 2016, to 16.9 in the 2018 MMGY survey. The “ideas and inspiration” and “advice and ratings” stages both saw the number of sources accessed decline by about 40 percent.
Ideas and inspiration
According to MMGY, travelers seek out 5.8 sources to gather vacation ideas and inspire their choices, with friends and family (offline) being the number one source — cited by 40 percent of respondents. Digital resources make up the bulk of the next-most-popular tier of sources, including search engines, travel review websites and online visitor guides. About one in three consumers site these sources.
Travel agents are the source of ideas and inspiration for only 9 percent of consumers, according to the MMGY survey, below rental car promotions. This is why agents need to invest in overall brand awareness, Cohen said.
“We believe that travelers, by-and-large, are unaware of travel agent brands. So, while they want to build a relationship with an agent, there isn't a brand out there they know well enough to trust,” said Cohen.
While Millennials may use the most overall sources when deciding where to vacation, Baby Boomers look furthest afield for inspiration, going to 6.2 sources. Millennials seek out 5.9 sources, while Gen Xers use 5.5, and Matures use only 4.2 sources to inspire them.
Baby Boomers were also slightly more likely to choose traditional travel agents as a source for ideas and inspiration at 10 percent, versus 9 percent for Millennials, and 8 percent for both Xers and Matures.
Advice and ratings
Once consumers have a notion about where they want to travel to and what they want to do, they start to seek out advice from third parties, to better understand their options and how other travelers rate those suppliers, destinations and experiences. According to MMGY, consumers work with only 3.8 sources in this phase.
Travel review sites, friends and family (offline) and search engines were chosen by 34 percent, 33 percent and 31 percent of consumers respectively in the MMGY Global study. Traditional travel agents were cited as a source for advice and rankings by 11 percent of consumers
Millennials were second most-likely to tap a travel agent at this phase, with 14 percent of respondents in this age group saying they do. Matures used traditional travel agents the most for advice and ratings at 16 percent, with Baby Boomers third at 10 percent, and Xers at 9 percent.
“Over the past few years, Millennials have consistently been the generation with the highest percentages of reaching out to agents at various stages, and the group who is most likely to say that they will use agents in the future,” Cohen said.
“Part of that is due to the fact that they really want someone they can trust. Part of it is that they want to make sure they are getting the ‘best’ deal. And part is because they believe finding the ‘best’ deal on their own is far too time-consuming.”
Cohen believes that older clients may be booking a lot of the same trips, so they need less advice and ratings. For agents, staying close to these clients and moving them through price and feature comparisons will help secure bookings when a client is ready to purchase.
Comparing features and pricing
Travel agents scored highest in this phase of the path to purchase, with 12 percent of consumers saying they sought out traditional travel agents to help them compare product features and pricing.
Still, this was significantly lower than a variety of other sources. “Search engine results” was the number one source in this phase (at 45 percent), followed by online travel agents (35 percent), and hotel/airline promotions (30 percent).
When seeking to compare prices and features, Baby Boomers use traditional travel agents the most, as 14 percent of the MMGY survey’s respondents cited them. Gen Xers were second at 12 percent, while Millennials use traditional travel agents 11 percent of the time, and Matures use them for this purpose only 8 percent of the time.
Inspired and prepared with all of the information they need to make a decision, consumers narrow the average number of places they will purchase travel from to 2.8 sources. Some 29 percent of MMGY survey respondents book through OTAs, 28 percent through “travel service provider” websites, and 25 percent use search engine results. Traditional travel agents are used by 10 percent of consumers.
The age group most likely to use a traditional travel agent to make their booking are Baby Boomers at 14 percent. Matures were the second-most-likely at 10 percent, followed by Millennials and Gen Xers at 9 percent.
Cohen believes that: “Millennials may be showrooming — similar to shopping at a retail store to compare features and pricing, and then purchasing online where they can find the item less expensively. Another hypothesis is that they want to make sure the agent has found them the ‘best’ deal. And if they can find it less expensively, they're buying it.”