Deep dive into travel research activity by online and offline bookers

Google has been very busy of late with its travel research. After last week’s plea for simplicity, mobile and personalisation comes a major look at booking patterns.

The data (and subsequent interpretation by Google) comes from two studies carried out last year with 5,000 consumers via GFK and a Nielsen study of 1,700 mobile users, both with UK respondents.

The “Sun, Sea, Sand and… Search” report comes as almost half of the British public (44%) are now believed to be researching some form of travel each month, but rather than focus solely on what those who book online are doing, Google has also looked at how offline bookers are behaving.

Over to the results:

Google found that 90% of both groups (online and offline bookers) always had one “point of departure”: the web. In other words, the vast majority of activity takes place online during the research and product search phases of the booking cycle.

Some characteristics of these groups are as follows:

Around four out of ten of online buyers (42%) are under the age of 34 and 43% of them spend more than 21 hours a week browsing the web generally – whereas 85% of offline buyers are over 34 and almost half (48%) have children.

So what are they doing in the travel search cycle?

Online buyers:

  • Number of search sessions – 16.7
  • Overall time spent – 129 minutes
  • Number of sites visited – 32.5
  • Days of activity over a 73-day period – 13.8 days

Offline buyers:

  • Number of search sessions – 11.9
  • Overall time spent – 94 minutes
  • Number of sites visited – 22.5
  • Days of activity over a 66-day period – 10.1 days

What kind of things are consumers searching for on the web?

Online bookers will perform 10.9 searches, covering:

  • Place – 5.5
  • Brand – 3.2
  • Generic – 2.2

And there offline counterparts with their 9.4 searches:

  • Place – 4.8
  • Brand – 3.1
  • Generic – 1.5

Once both groups get beyond the search phase, where are heading next?

  • Online bookers will make 32.5 visits to 10.3 websites in 4.2 categories (top: 65% visit aggregators, 58% advice sites).
  • Offline bookers will make 22.5 visits to 7.7 websites in 3.8 categories (top: 58% advice sites, 52% operator sites).

What happens when the mobile element is thrown into the mix?

Almost a third of smartphone users show some travel related activity on their mobiles, with 31% claiming they research travel but only 14% are securing a booking or getting quotes.

How do they use their mobile devices?

Solely mobile researchers are visiting just 1.1 websites during a session but those who book typically have 5.1 research sessions before visiting 3.3 websites to complete the cycle.

Finally, almost half (49%) of those using mobiles to get prices for travel products do so on aggregators, with both advice sites and operators help 40%.

Google says the most surprising aspect of the research was that online and offline bookers behave similarly, with the majority of both groups using search engines in the research phase of the booking process.

It also says mobile is THE element to keep an eye on, as travel-related mobile queries so far during 2013 are up some 66% year-on-year.

To compliment the image the top of the story outlining the typical online purchase journey, here is the offline version:

google travel purchase cycle offline

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.





  1. Mohit Sharma

    The article definitely gives you great insight into the impact of “search” in the Online Travel Realm and it’s commerce. For an OTA to succeed – strategy and execution across multiple streams is critical There are multiple aspects that need to be established and given due attention to achieve success in this online business – Marketing, Distribution, Operations, Branding, Technology, Business Strategy and Profitability.

    With all that being said – a hybrid of Search and Social activity is really important to achieving long term marketing success for an OTA.

    For your Travel Technology & Consulting needs –

    Reach out to us at .

  2. Stuart Lodge

    I’d love to know comparisons to other sectors ie how many sites do shoppers look at to find a great coat (fashion). How many pirate torrent sites to get the latest freebie of Breaking Bad (entertainment) etc Porn, music, fitba etc

    Coz either travel is really bad at delivering what people want quickly (fairish accusation), times are tight and people want more for their dolla (very fair), or people with so much choice become more indicisive (ie watching 100 channels of Sky TV and can’t find one damned good thing to watch) so they just forever flick through, in some Dantesque/Godot-like eternal search and wait.
    Waiting, waiting, waiting. Like in Casablanca (the film)

    Think indicisiveness is a factor though…
    Or maybe it isn’t..


  3. Heddi Cundle

    Incredible yet insane facts/stats on the time wasted searching travel. We’ve equated this to around $243 in hours spent (based on average US hourly salary x 9 hours) trying to find a deal that’s $5 cheaper than one seen a week earlier. This is the issue’s fixing – with funds in your account, you focus on the booking, not multi site searching. Our users spend around 15 minutes checking prices on myTab before booking. It’s that simple – and it’s working!

  4. Jon

    do you have a link to the actual report itself? I don’t see anything in the article


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