Today’s travelers have unprecedented booking options, greater technological capabilities, and a higher propensity to seek out experiences over material goods. As a result, the travel sector has undergone an enormous shift in recent years, leading to an equally large growth opportunity. In fact, according to Adobe Digital Index’s “2016 Travel Report,” this summer U.S. online travel spend on flights and hotels is expected to grow 5.5% YOY, reaching $82.9 billion.
Still, in such a fragmented marketplace, how are travelers making decisions on where to go and where to book their experiences? To find out, we recently partnered with Phocuswright to discuss the results from their U.S. Traveler Technology Survey, in a webinar entitled, “From Sharing to Booking: Exploring the Role of UGC on Travel Shopping.”
While you can watch the replay to hear the full discussion, I’d like to call out a couple of specific trends that we are frequently seeing with our clients at Olapic.
What Influences Travel Decisions?
According to Phocuswright’s research, here were the top sources for information that travelers are turning to when planning trips:
- 59%: Online travel reviews found on websites such as TripAdvisor
- 54%: Vacation pictures and videos posted on social media networks
- 31%: Videos on YouTube
- 16%: Ads or posts sponsored by travel companies and social networks
- 11%: Travel blogs
Notice that the top two (and to an extent, top three) sources by far are focused on user-generated, or what we call “earned,” content. Travelers are turning to each other to see authentic travel experiences prior to booking their trips. Smart brands are tapping into this traveler content to accomplish a number of goals, including: to provide more realistic information to prospective travelers, drive traffic down the booking funnel, keep users on site and engaging with lifestyle/aspirational content, and to drive to a property detail page. Hyatt tapped Olapic to launch social.hyatt.com, a hub of traveler photos that showcases guest experiences while staying at any one of the more than 575 Hyatt hotels and resorts worldwide. “We want to build long-term relationships with our guests, and that means offering them digital and physical experiences that keep them coming back,” said Ellen Lee, senior vice president, global digital, Hyatt.
Another takeaway from our webinar with Phocuswright was the realization that the end of one traveler’s trip often sparks the beginning of another’s. Put differently, traveler content is motivating the behavior of new travelers, so brands must thoughtfully engage travelers post-booking to entice them to share content during their trips.
Motivation Behind Travel Reviews
The good news for brands is that people are largely motivated to share positive experiences from their travels. According to Phocuswright’s research, overwhelmingly, people want to share positive experiences over negative ones:
- Restaurants: 93% positive, 3% neutral, 4% negative
- Airline: 84% positive, 9% neutral, 7% negative
- Hotel: 84% positive, 7% neutral, 9% negative
- Home/Apartment Rental: 80% positive, 16% neutral, 4% negative
- Car rental: 72% positive, 15% neutral, 13% negative
What does this tell us? In short, that brands should be excited, not apprehensive, about engaging their travelers to contribute high-quality earned content for their marketing efforts. In general, there is a surprising level of travelers ready and willing to share positive travel content to their networks on behalf of brands.
We’ve worked with Texas Tourism, who wanted to create a more compelling and engaging experience for visitors to TexasTourism.com. Recognizing that nobody knows Texas better than locals, and that locals would be happy to share their positive experiences with the state, the brand posted on social channels and sent an email newsletter to Texas residents requesting they share unique experiences using #TexasToDo. With Olapic, all of these initial images were gathered, moderated and programmed to appear on a single gallery page on TravelTexas.com. The page was filterable by interest, region or trending city. To date, Texas Tourism has received over 24,000 images to the branded hashtag, and realized the following results:
- 26% increase in total page views on desktop
- 20% more engagement with #TexasToDo content on TravelTexas.com
- 33% increase in return visitation
Brands like Travel Texas are using their hashtags at every customer touchpoint to connect with the traveler pre, during, and post-visit. By immersing the advocate or traveler in the brand experience through an evergreen hashtag, when these individuals have great travel experiences, they know how to opt-in and showcase their content with the brand.
Certainly, the travel landscape is changing, but one thing is for certain: Travelers want authentic, unique experiences from hotels, airlines, and hospitality brands. It’s time that brands tap into the earned content already being created to succeed in this new economy.
Click here to watch the full webinar replay.