By Meghan Keough, Senior Director of Business Development, Expedia Group Media Solutions, and member of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board
With hospitality marketers working hard to capture the demand that is quickly coming back, it’s important to understand exactly what travelers are looking for. I shared some insights on this topic with HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board (MAB) on a recent call, including highlights from Expedia Group Media Solutions’ latest Travel Recovery Trend Report. (The next version of this report will be released in early August.)
Understanding that the effects of the pandemic won’t be short-lived, that there’s still a great deal of uncertainty, and that resources are very tight, marketers are expected to do a lot more with a lot less and demonstrate the value of every single marketing dollar. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand customer behavior.
TRENDS IN CUSTOMER BEHAVIOR
There are three main trends we’re seeing regarding customer behavior: Travel is picking up worldwide, global search windows remain relatively short, and domestic travel is bouncing back.
Travel is returning. The increase in travel is due in part to vaccine rollouts and people’s increased comfort and confidence in hitting the road (or the skies). Travelers are continuing to prioritize domestic travel over international travel, although we’re starting to see international search demand return. Travel shoppers are currently showing preference for traveling domestically, but this does vary around the world.
Search windows are short. Focusing on global search windows — throughout most of last year, many global searches fell to under 21 days. Now we’re seeing more trips within the 22-to-30-day-window and some within the 31-to-60-day window. International trips have even longer search windows, but about 60 percent of domestic searches remain at under 21 days. So, windows are increasing, but they remain comparatively short compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Domestic travel is really back. As one of the world’s leading vaccine rollouts continues in the United States, traveler confidence is boosted, and you can see the correlation with search growth. In week-over-week searches, March 15 saw the largest spike in travel searches, with an increase of 30 percent following the CDC’s release of buy-ins for fully vaccinated individuals being able to travel. We saw spikes in travel searches in other regions because of this announcement as well.
SURVEY SAYS …
To gain a broad understanding of what travelers want, Expedia Group partnered with Wakefield research on a survey of 16,000 adults in eight countries: the United States, Canada, Mexico, UK, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia.
People want to travel. The results communicated a clear message: As of February and March of this year, people said they were ready to travel. Three-quarters of our surveyed travelers said that a vacation in 2021 would make them happier than a new smartphone. We further learned that travelers want to stay longer, whether it’s to make up for lost vacation or because they have more flexibility to work remotely.
People want flexibility. Survey respondents also said that flexibility is now a top consideration. Nearly two-thirds of travelers said they are unlikely to book a non-refundable room in exchange for a reduced rate. This was a near-complete shift from 2020, when two-thirds of travelers said they were likely to book a non-refundable room for a reduced rate. Indeed, while the uncertainty of the last year has caused travelers to be more hesitant to fully commit to a trip, our data suggests that flexible booking and cancellation policies can help them get over that hurdle.
People want information. Accurate, up-to-date property and destination information is extremely important to travelers — not just on property websites but across all distribution channels. Half of travelers said they would most prefer to book accommodations for their next trip through an online travel website, while 33 percent would prefer to book directly; 17 percent said that they would book through a traditional travel agency.
HOW TO REACH TRAVELERS
There are several ways to communicate with travelers that positively impact their booking decisions.
Pre-arrival information. Ninety-three percent of travelers believe that pre-arrival information from the property would be helpful. Travelers further said that viewing detailed photos helps give them the confidence to book an accommodation; our research showed that a minimum of nine photos is needed before a traveler makes a decision on whether to actually book the property or not.
Promotions. There are certain promotions that can entice travelers to extend their stay. Sixty-two percent of travelers said that room discounts would make them stay longer, while nearly half would stay long for free breakfast. Likewise, upgraded room, free parking, and food/beverage vouchers all can persuade guests to extend their stay.
Four takeaways. There are four important takeaways.
- The first is to be visible to prospective travelers where they are shopping and use a multichannel, multiproduct strategy and approach.
- The second is that value-adds and amenities go a long way to entice travelers to stay longer. That’s not necessarily new, but the key is how you message and market that to prospective travelers.
- The third takeaway is that it’s more important than ever to have updated, accurate photos; each photo is an opportunity to convince someone to stay.
- The fourth and final takeaway is that it’s important to ensure that the amazing marketing work you’re doing is being measured — and that you can show the effectiveness of every dollar that you’re spending on your recovery strategy.