Make planning a holiday easy – how to engage with customers when they need you

We are back with our second travel installment – the ‘planning’ stage! Your customers have been busy researching and gathering all of their travel inspiration, and have decided on the type of holiday they are looking for, narrowed down by location. It’s now time for your customers to transform their dreams into actionable plans.

So what exactly is the ‘planning’ stage?

Following on from the ‘dream’ stage’ of the travel customer’s journey, the key focus within the ‘planning’ stage is research. This usually takes place between Christmas and New Year – a period where consumers are happy to devote large amounts of time towards looking at flights, accommodation, and activities. Securing the best price and quality to match their ‘dream’ trip expectations is a priority.

As the consumer researches and seeks out the best deal, hoping to be confident in their decision prior to booking, they encounter several digital touch points throughout the planning stage.

A study from Google showcased that one customer achieved 850 touch points and performed 166 various searches in total before booking their trip. While no two travel customers will behave exactly the same during the planning stage, on average, millennials (consumers aged 25-34) appear to be more spontaneous, with over 50% deciding and booking their next trip in just under three months (British Multigenerational Travel Trends report)

With such a large volume of potential leads to convert, the biggest challenge and opportunity travel brands face within the planning stage is how they can become a valuable part of the planning stage to influence and persuade potential customers.

In order for travel brands to succeed, they must truly understand who their potential customers are and what their expectations are.

How to engage with potential customers so they convert

With so much choice and information readily available to travel customers online, it can quickly become overwhelming as to which brands are worthy of their time, and inevitably their booking. Ensure you stand out from the crowd with strong, engaging content pieces, providing customers with everything they need to know.

On average, a traveller will visit over 20 different travel websites before making a booking. So, how can you adapt your digital strategy to make your presence known?

Have you used any of the following platforms to research and book your own trip? 

  • Online Travel Agents (OTAs)
  • Search engines
  • Hotel Websites
  • Social Media
  • Blog content
  • Trip Advisor

Search engines, travel reviews and Online Travel Agents (OTAs) are renowned as the leading planning resources

Search engines

The most common search queries that travel customers enter during the planning stage are as follows:

  • Flights
  • Accommodation
  • Maps
  • Search
  • Events and activities
  • Restaurants
  • Transportation

The specific keywords and phrases used alongside these search categories include:  

  • How to find cheap ‘x’
  • Cheap flights/accommodation
  • Things to do in (destination)
  • Best places to stay/go in (destination)
  • Holiday planner/travel itinerary

These search queries emphasise that travel consumers highly value a good quality service at a reasonable price. Optimising your website to perform well for organic search, including appearing for local listings, is highly valuable. Having keyword-focused content readily available for search engines to crawl, puts your business in a better position to access these potential customers at this stage of the journey. If your business provides valuable content which addresses the customers search query, this is their way in to start engaging with them and raising awareness of your services.

Travel reviews

 Beyond the price of the holiday, the activities and cultural experiences provided, travel customers can be influenced by other people’s opinions and experiences – these often become a traveller’s first port of call before converting to the booking stage.

So how can you use customer reviews to your advantage?

Show potential travellers what people similar to them enjoy and would recommend. Receiving a good overall rating for a service should be used to its advantage, with 77% of travel customers reading reviews before booking a hotel. 

Reviews can be highly influential, providing indirect experience and enabling customers to ‘try before they buy’, through the eyes of someone else. Reviews are also deemed far more credible than direct marketing messages, presenting a real opportunity for you to get your customers to buy into your brand.

How can you make the most of reviews and get people involved?

  • Always showcase reviews or TripAdvisor API content on your website
  • Ensure the review system is simple to use, only asking existing customers to provide their name, email address, a rating and review

Online Travel Agents

Travel customers are hot on comparing deals in order to seek out great value for money trips that won’t compromise their dream experience. In most cases, OTAs like Trivago and hotels.com initiate the first point of contact between brand and consumer within the ‘planning’ stage, since ultimately this is where the research begins.

So why are travel consumers swayed to buy into OTAs over hotel specific websites?

OTAs provide a valuable, comparative online shopping experience, through:

  • In-depth, relevant content
  • Customer reviews
  • Personalised offers and recommendations
  • First time buyer offers

The omni-channel experience

Mobile use is becoming increasingly prevalent, and it’s not surprising that this device proves popular throughout the travel customer journey too.

With 70% of customers using their smartphones in the ‘planning’ stage, travel brands should be encouraged to iron out any contributing factors towards poor mobile experience, such as a site taking too long to load, or an over-complicated user journey. Interestingly, however, with 94% of travellers switching between mobile and desktop as they transition between the ‘planning’ and ‘booking’ stages, a seamless omni-channel experience is key.

This can be achieved with:

  • A responsive design – adjusting the layout and content to adhere to the viewing screen (whether mobile or desktop)
  • A simplistic, yet effective, website – users prefer uncluttered content, so easy navigation and clear calls to action are key
  • Speed – consumers are more likely to abandon a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load
  • Mobile-friendly booking system – aim for one that’s simple, accessible on all pages and easily completed within 2-3 steps

Whilst Google has reported that, in general, more people are using their mobile devices, interestingly, mobile sessions have decreased by 5%. An explanation for this could be that predominantly we use our mobile devices on-the-go; searching for quick fixes to our immediate needs. This fast-paced, impatient behaviour means brands need to ensure they are reactive and capable of making positive impressions in the first instance.

Mobile-First Indexing

There is no better time than now to ensure your mobile experience is positive, since sites are migrating to mobile-first indexing, meaning Google will use the mobile versions of websites for indexing and ranking. A site will only be moved over to mobile-first indexing if their content is synonymous across desktop and mobile, therefore travel brands with mobile-friendly content are likely to perform better in mobile search results.

With Google taking mobile websites more seriously, arguably, so should travel brands. But how?

We suggest following these steps when it comes to content:

  • Be engaging and thoughtful – the shift to mobile-first indexing shouldn’t affect the quality and length of content
  • Implement expandable functionality – a tool that can aid user experience and mobile friendliness. Expandable content prevents the user having to scroll through endless amounts of text that may not be of interest to them
  • Optimise your metadata – ensure all titles and meta descriptions are displayed consistently across devices. Both are vital communication tools between your users and search engines
  • Consistency of structured data (schema markup) – this helps Google identify what the website contains
  • Incorporate XML and media sitemaps – these notify Google when updates have been made to your website, leading to much faster indexing. Media sitemaps function in a similar way, except they go beyond text and notify Google of image and video changes accordingly

Personalisation

Travel brands should consider going beyond segmentation and moving into the realm of personalisation.

With 67% of travel consumers expressing their interest in tailored, unique experiences, effective personalisation strategies can be worthwhile to consider. However, access to accurate customer data is crucial. Solid customer data can be obtained by:

  1. Directly asking customers through surveys, competitions, forms, over the phone and in person
  2. Indirectly tracking customers through their transaction histories, activity on your website, ‘favourite’/ ‘save’ / ‘rating’ systems, behaviour on social media
  3. Retaining data from third-party companies

In order for travel brands to succeed with personalisation, they need to understand what stage of the travel journey their customer is at. Our first instalment delves into the ‘dream’ stage, and you can read all about it herePersonalisation strategies can prove challenging, going beyond addressing the name of your consumer, with only 44% of customers believing that they are executed successfully by travel brands. With this in mind, you’ll need to carefully consider the various touch points that are available to directly address your audience.

There is plenty of work that can be done:

  • Tailored Content – Avoid churning content out to your customers; one size does not fit all. Bespoke landing pages can be an effective way to combat this challenge, providing a competitive edge, connecting you to your audience directly and increasing the chance of conversions.  Bespoke landing pages can be segmented by device, stage of customer journey and overall messaging
  • Personalised Calls to Action – A recent study found a 42% higher view to submission rate using a bespoke approach rather than general calls to action. Evidently, the more personalised calls to action are, the more likely the user is to convert, because you are directly fulfilling their needs

Here at Clicky, we strive to heighten the use of personalisation to provide a more tailored online digital experience. Our client, Sykes Cottages, approached us with the challenge of engaging first time visitors who were in the early stages of planning their holidays, but who weren’t necessarily ready to book. We transformed Sykes’ annual traditional printed brochure into an online interactive tool, inbuilt with customisable features enabling users to specify their preferences, in turn allowing Sykes to suggest a holiday cottage that’s perfectly suited to their needs. Produced with a unique URL, Sykes’ digital brochure can be easily downloaded and shared with friends and family. Ultimately, we delivered a tailored approach which heightens the customer’s experience as an individual.

Google Hotel Ads – a way of combating OTAs

Let’s face it, most prospective travellers begin their planning on Google. But how can you stand out from the search results crowd? Google Hotel Ads is a meta-search platform that allows independent travel businesses to compete against the big OTA giants. Positioned on the first page of Google (below paid advertisements yet above organic search results) they can be a great way to elevate your brand visibility for generic and specific search queries.

So how do Google Hotel Ads work?

  1. You’ll need to provide Google with uptodate information on pricing, availability and room types – hotel ads that match the search query submitted will then be displayed
  2. From this point, planning travellers have the opportunity to refine their search further by checking date availability, hotel star ratings and price range
  3. Once results are filtered further, hotels are listed and showcased on a map
  4. Upon selecting their preferred option, the customer is presented with a Hotel Details Card, which states the hotel name, contact information, directions, customer reviews, a price comparison between different booking options, as well as a direct link to the official website in order to complete their booking

The main aim for Google Hotel Ads is to drive individuals to the official brand website rather than to OTAs like Booking.com, and therefore present a great opportunity for your business, by:

  • Increasing direct traffic; once a user clicks on your ad they are taken to your booking system
  • Allowing you to interact with your customers directly through ongoing and future marketing strategies, since all collected data is owned by you rather than a third party company
  • Increasing revenue; by the time the customer reaches your site, they are more heavily invested and therefore a higher quality lead

We hope this blog has provided you with some useful tips on how to capture the attention of travel customers in the ‘planning’ stage of their online journey. A key takeaway to remember is that 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from companies if they are recognised, remembered and receive relevant recommendations based on their purchase history – (Accenture LLP). So make sure you stand out from your competition!

Our final blog instalment in this travel series will discuss the ultimate phase of the customer journey – the ‘booking’ stage. Watch this space!

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Written by Sascha Richards

Marketing and Research Assistant