From the moment someone starts dreaming of their next holiday, they are embarking on a complex journey. It is a journey that relies heavily on digital media and a range of channels in the quest to get to know particular destinations better and get the best deal. If businesses want to turn these wannabe travellers into their own customers, it is essential they stay with then throughout the process, providing help and guidance along the way.

So who are today's travellers? Generally speaking, they are digital savvy individuals who happily travel with multiple web-enabled devices. They regularly surf the web, are avidly engaged with social media, and will visit at least 20 websites when researching a holiday. They are also looking for a personalised experience and content that reflects their interests.

This post is the first in a three-part series looking at the customer journey in detail. We kick off with the inspiration stage, when a holiday is still developing in someone's imagination...

From that moment when an individual says 'enough is enough, I need some sun/snow/adventure,' their dream is underway. Sources of inspiration for leisure travel range from personal recommendations and internet research (the two most popular sources) to TV, printed media and radio (lower down the list, but still playing a part). What would-be travellers are looking for are real-life stories that will engage, enthuse and reflect their own interests.

The good news for smaller travel businesses is that the majority of travellers are not fixed on particular brands before booking their break. This means that bigger brands do not necessarily hold the upper hand. Today's travellers are open to new experiences and are simply looking for brands that are going to meet (or even better, exceed) their expectations.

As far as social is concerned, a large number of travellers are active on social media when on holiday, 76% posting photos on a social network and 46% posting travel reviews. Looking at these statistics it is unsurprising that social media plays such a major part in the inspiration stage of the customer journey. More than half of travellers are inspired by friends' Facebook posts, and social media is the main source of travel ideas and inspiration for one in three travellers.

In terms of how brands can get involved in social, videos are a good bet. More than half of travellers will have viewed an online video from a brand to find out more about a destination or service. Videos help travellers make decisions, not just about where they want to go, but also where to stay and what to do when they are at a particular destination. As well as helping their decision-making process, videos also allow travellers to connect with brands before they've started their trip.

Many travellers also read blogs featuring real-life travel experiences, both from individuals and brands, and these are another key element of the customer journey that brands cannot afford to ignore.

One of the key challenges in this initial stage of the customer journey is fully engaging with customers. As a brand you need to create interesting, relevant and visual content that will impress your audience. You also need to encourage user-generated content in the form of reviews as a way to empower your brand advocates. Add regular monitoring of activity to the mix and you have the first stage of the customer journey in the bag.

Next week, we'll be taking a closer look at the research phase...