Everything you wanted to know about user engagement with travel content in one report
An ongoing mystery in travel has been specifics on how travelers relate, interact and consume travel content at different lifecycles of the travel planning process.
When are they most amenable to photos? When are they seeking social recommendations? And what devices are they doing at various points in the months prior to a trip?
Expedia Media Solutions teamed up once again with comScore to deliver some clutch insights into these questions, and many others, with their latest report analyzing the consumer consumption habits of travel content.
The report on the “Travel Content Journey” answers some questions while raising a whole raft of others – mostly related to how travel marketers and content creators can leverage these new data points into a more compelling and successful offer for travel purchasers.
Matthew Reichek, Senior Director of Product for Expedia Media Solutions, shared with Tnooz the genesis of this particular project:
“We’re really missing a big piece of the story, which is what are people doing at these places and what content they’re consuming. One thing that was great about this study was the focus on hotel images. We knew that this sort of content was important to consumers, but this is great external validation that investing in hotel content is valuable to customers.”
The research confirmed the status of travel as a significant driver of online transactions: travel accounted for 37% of e-commerce in the first quarter of 2013, coming in at $58 billion in the first half of 2013. That’s up 8% of year-over-year, according to EMS.
For any travel marketers seeking an upper-hand, this deep dive is worthy. Here’s some of the trends and findings that stood out.
Average minutes are on the rise, which means more engagement opportunities
This is something that cannot be highlighted enough: consumers are spending more time on more devices looking at travel.
This growth is meaningful, especially when considering the mobile platform: 45% YoY increase in minutes, 52% engaging with travel content on mobile and 28% of total minutes are consumed via mobile.
Matthew Reichek saw this growth as one of the most revealing results.
“The thing that surprised me the most was the growth in minutes consumed for travel – 93% growth over a 3-year period. When you think of online travel, you think it’s a mature category…but you’ve got this huge explosion of time spent online in the travel vertical. What it tells me is that a) consumers are hungry for this information and b) there are more ways to access the content. That provides opportunities and challenges.”
After years of discussion of the “mobile first future,” the mobile experience is now clearly a must-have for travel. Those with subpar – or non-existent – mobile experiences are at a near-insurmountable disadvantage to their mobile-attentive peers.
Content consumption prior to booking
The data – while indeed derived in partnership with an OTA – came out of comScore, and shows that OTAs remain at the top of mind when travelers begin researching a trip. This makes sense, as OTAs have access to a wide swath of inventory that offers a comprehensive view of a particular trip query.
Suppliers are still holding their own, with airlines tying for first resource at 18% of visits each. Hotel sites garner 15% of the first visit in trip planning. The battle heats up as suppliers compete directly with the OTAs, delivering over half of initial trip planning visits.
Word-of–mouth references posted a solid 10% of initial research into a trip, while meta search and travel media posted a very low 4% and 6% respectively. This is a very interesting result, as travel media generally positions itself at the forefront of inspirational trip planning.
More research is needed here to determine if this is because travelers had already decided on a destination – perhaps with the help of travel media – or if its because travel sites don’t offer actual booking choices.
Meta search sites have a clear opportunity here to become more prominent in the initial trip planning phase – the only way to go is up from here, and providing more content-rich websites might be one way to encourage travelers to see the sites as a more comprehensive overview in the early stages of planning a trip.
On the other hand, meta sites may be content to simply swoop in at the moment of decision to snag the purchase from the sites that have merely been arbiters of information to users without actually capturing the transaction.
Device usage during booking path
This is the result that everyone needs to pay attention to – especially when considering the hype around smartphone adoption. While the smartphone is a vital tool in-destination, it hasn’t yet dominated the trip planning process.
Tablets have a consistent usage across the travel life cycle, while smartphone use varies – even during the trip, the PC outpaces mobile devices. This complicates strategy, as products must now be fully optimized for the different use cases, causing a resource crunch as development assets must be strategically deployed.
While this doesn’t mean that mobile is a dud, or that investment in mobile should be tempered, it shows how much the industry still has to go in regards to mobile penetration and products that work seamlessly across platforms.
Of course, nothing will ever change in relation to the limited screen size of mobile, meaning that trip planning and flight bookings are still likely to be dominated by the larger real estate of PCs for the near future.
Nonetheless, the following slide shows how users are not segmenting by platform – they are actually moving from one device to another.
Check out the device breakdown of different popular travel sites – showing perhaps different use cases of site-specific demographics.
Post-trip content creation
Travel is an emotional purchase, and engaging travelers after they’ve returned home is one way to build brand equity – and ideally build the emotional connection that leads to top-of-mind action for the next trip.
Forty-three percent of the total are posting some sort of content after a trip – this is another opportunity and challenge for travel brands looking to engage with different types of content.
Of course, fleeting loyalty has been a discussion for the last couple of years. So by considering how the engaged minority interacts, brands might be able to grow longer loyalty tentacles into the most active users.
Regarding device usage, the PC again wins, seeing the most share in post-trip activity. Mobile is close behind for social networking, with a near majority of users using their phones to post photos, status and videos.
This information, while opening up new areas for further analysis, also identifies some specific timelines for engaging travel researchers with different assets at the right time – such as pictures.
The report also shows how those booking only air, or hotel/air, or full packages interact – another useful conclusion when segmenting customers.
This research also identifies device strategies that can fuel not only increased allocation of marketing budgets but also development roadmaps for related features.
Varied content across travel stages should also segue into more robust content creation opportunities, content that can then be used to engage travelers as they move through their travel planning process. Emerging content should be thoughtfully approached as a means to amplify current products and pull customers back into the funnel.
Expedia Media Solutions sees this as a way to deepen understanding of how consumers travel through the planning process, and thus be able to tailor products. Reichek concludes:
“We invest a lot of time and energy thinking abotu the customer and wanting to deliver the best possible consumer experience. So it’s all about relevancy, it’s all about giving people what they want when they need it.”
For sites that are able to track how users are engaging with content, this information allows for a more accurate understanding of where a particular user is in the purchase funnel. Armed with this information, marketers can then ensure they receive the assets that are most likely to appeal to them at their particular travel stage.
Ultimately, the key takeaway is the folly of not being heavily invested in a thoughtful multi-device strategy that both drives users through the purchase process and also facilitating post-trip engagement.
The full report, including a full case study of results and more info then published above, can be downloaded here.
NB: Reflection image courtesy Shutterstock.
Nick Vivion was a senior reporter for Tnooz from August 2012 to July 2015.