Consumers Visit More Than 38 Travel Sites When Vacation Planning

Director of SEO & Insights
Published 9/26/13
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We are all familiar with the travel planning funnel. Except…. 

Much like Billy from Family Circus, consumers don’t take the straight path – they do a lot of exploring along the way. The broad and winding route to travel purchase was recently tracked by Expedia Media Solutions and Millward Brown Digital in the study The Traveler’s Path to Purchase, conducted by Compete. This research documents the online consumption habits of the average U.S. vacation package booker during the 45-day period leading up to a vacation package booking online – specifically those who visited an OTA and a DMO (destination marketing organization) in the process.

By way of example, the report contains the 45-day saga of the sites visited by an actual travel package booker. Over the course of seven pages and dozens of websites, this traveler starts by researching Niagara Falls, changes to Nassau, Bahamas and ultimately books Cancun. We need only look at our own online vacation planning habits to know how true this is.

My own summer vacation planning this year started with a plans for Maine, pondered the Florida Keys and ended on a Disney Cruise. As a resort marketer, it makes me pause to wonder how many remarketing dollars in the industry are being spent on folks whose planning has moved on to other destinations altogether.

Consider tightening your remarketing outreach to 2-3 weeks instead of the standard 30-45 days.

While the Expedia study is clearly geared to illustrate a case for more partnership between OTAs, DMOs and retail sites, there are insights into consumer travel behavior to take note of:

  • OTA sites led travel planning for vacation-package bookers, taking a 47.2% share of visits. Other segments’ shares included airline sites (11.2%), planning and review sites such as TripAdvisor (6.8%), and DMO sites (6.4%). Hotel websites made up 4.1%.
  • 35% of all OTA visits during the week of a package booking occurred the same day as the booking. This indicates that the other 65% of OTA visits that week happened while final research and planning was being done.
  • On the day of the booking, these travelers made an average of 16.4 website visits, 30% of which (about 5) were to travel sites, including everything from OTAs to airline, hotel, and review sites.
  • DMOs made up 6.4% of all visits, which is a 30% increase since 2010. Travelers checking DMO sites prior to visiting an OTA site converted 32% higher when visiting the DMO 9 to 24 days ahead of booking.

Key Takeaways:

  • Consider tightening your remarketing outreach to 2-3 weeks instead of the standard 30-45 days. These prior visitors to your site are less likely to have moved on to other destination options.
  • Even if you are trying to increase the mix of your online bookings coming from your website directly, a great deal of travel research is taking place on OTA sites. Make sure your presence on these sites is compelling enough to put you on travelers’ short list of lodging options, so they will visit your website.
  • Your local and state/regional DMOs may be getting nearly as much share of travel-planning traffic as TripAdvisor and other planning/review sites. Review your member benefits and advertising options to maximize your visibility on their sites.

With the rise of “Big Data,” resorts have more advertising options that target individuals based on their online activity and demographics, such as Quantcast, Adara and Sojern. The better able we are to identify who is in their 45 days-out planning cycle, particularly what their travel dates and destination are, then the better we can focus our marketing dollars on the right audience at the right time.