Today’s technology-driven, travel buying path is constantly in flux. Travelers are presented with more options for accommodations than ever before, from independent hotels and destination resorts to vacation rentals and private homes. There is also an ever-increasing number of avenues where they can find those accommodations, including online travel agencies (OTAs), listing sites, metasearch sites, and more. Add to this the multiple devices on which travelers may do their research, and the ability to search, book, and plan a trip is available anytime and anywhere. This offers both challenges and opportunities for lodging providers to increase their presence, influence, and engagement in an omni-channel environment.
In 2016, 73 percent of travelers are expected to use their mobile phones to research travel[i], and according to Google, a lodging search phase can include as many as 380 web pages and over 400 digital moments.[ii] Not only is having a presence in all the right places crucial, having a well-trained staff to handle questions during the Research Phase can set your property apart from the sea of available choices.
Despite all of this emphasis on online research, the voice channel still plays a big role during the research phase. According to a Google Click-to-Call Study[iii]:
- 49 percent of travelers report that it is extremely/very important to be able to make a call from the search page to a hotel when doing research.
- 50 percent of travelers will call directly from a search to inquire about promotions, incentives, or deals.
- 35 percent of travelers report they will call to inquire about or compare specific features of a hotel.
- It is also worth noting that 47 percent of consumers are likely to explore other brands when a call button is not available directly from the search results on their smartphone.
What’s Happening for Travelers During the Research Phase?
During the Research Phase travelers are asking themselves:
Where should I stay?
How much will I spend?
What amenities will I need?
What size/layout works best for this trip?
How Are They Searching During the Research Phase?
As the chart below demonstrates, almost half of travelers begin their research in search engines while just 20 percent start at a property website.[iv] However, over the course of the Research Phase, the property site becomes more and more important in influencing the decision to book. OTAs, on the other hand, are less influential than they are usually given credit. This all means that hotels and VRMs continue to have substantial power to influence traveler research through search engine presence and brand site. To do so requires a considerable presence across the spectrum of online sites and requires mobile-friendly tactics.
Searches may look like:
“Condos in Orlando FL”
“Where to stay near Disneyworld”
What Should Hoteliers & VRMs Be Doing to Reach Guests in This Phase?
First and foremost, widespread online presence is the key to creating awareness among travelers. Search engine optimization (SEO), local search optimization, and a visual and mobile-friendly website are among the minimum requirements in 2016. Emphasizing these aspects of marketing strategy will help you maintain rate integrity, and better compete against the clutter of high-commission OTAs and vacation rental listing sites.
Some call the Research Phase the “Lead Nurturing” Phase, the time when guests are not quite ready to purchase but may be guided toward considering your property as a top contender.[v] Assuming you have confidence in your online presence, you can develop a solid lead nurturing strategy via email. Capturing an email address at this point in the journey generally requires offering something of value: an offer, package, or upgrade. Fortunately, this offer can do double duty as a lead capture and an enticement to book. Once an email is on hand, you can outreach with relevant messaging about your destination, property, and amenities.
NAVIS Tools for the Research Phase:
- Capturing leads (Narrowcast: lead management)
- Automated, highly targeted email marketing (Reach)
- Call and contact center (Rezforce)
[i] By 2016, Most Digital Travel Bookers Will Use Mobile Devices. eMarketer, November 19, 2015.
[ii] Gevelber, Lisa and Oliver Heckmann. Travel Trends: 4 Mobile Moments Changing the Consumer Journey. Think with Google, November 2015.
[iii] The Role of Click to Call in the Path to Purchase. Google, September 2013.
[iv] Lupis, JC. State of Travel 2016. Skift, 2016.
[v] Skok, David. Do You Know Your Customer? Buying Cycle & Triggers. ForEntrepreneurs.com.