Travel Suppliers Must Invest In Mobile To Keep Up With OTAs

It's often difficult to gain insight into the customer journey online – making the job of travel marketers even more difficult as they battle to identify customers and convert sales.

A new study by Criteo in partnership with Phocuswright of leisure travellers in the US has uncovered some useful insights into the digital funnel which could help improve conversions, says Tnooz.

Together the firms surveyed 1,000 American adults with internet access and who travel for leisure. The results showed that leisure travel is growing among digitally savvy adults: 63% took at least one trip in 2014 while almost half took three trips or more. They spent on average $3,155 (£2,031) on travel components such as airline tickets, paid accommodation and car rentals.

The researchers drilled down to see what other insights the travellers could offer when it comes to searching, shopping and booking their trips.

The vast majority of travellers (73%) go online to research their chosen destination. But how did they pick their destination in the first place? A lot of them start planning a trip with a destination firmly in mind. This could be down to a range of external factors including visiting relatives, the price of airline tickets or personal recommendations.

While researching the destination online, most travellers prefer to use Google (51%). However, online travel agencies (OTAs) were popular too. More than a third (39%) of travellers used them for pricing and availability information. The study also revealed that searches are dominated by PCs during the early stage of travel planning – but travellers are increasingly turning to mobile devices while researching destinations.

Travellers are spending more time shopping for their trip than researching where to go, the research showed – putting shopping at the top of the new digital travel funnel. This has traditionally been carried out via PC, but similar to researching trips this is in decline. Just under two-thirds (65%) used PCs to shop for their trip, compared with 80% recorded in previous studies. When shopping for flights and hotels, travellers are using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

The majority of travellers prefer using OTAs to suppliers, whether using a mobile device or a PC. Mobile websites are the preferred option compared with mobile apps, but 40% of travellers used both during this phase of planning.

For the buying phase of the funnel, travellers book a wide range of services online. When booking flights and hotels, they appear to place their trust in suppliers – travellers are much more likely to book directly with suppliers than with OTAs – even though there is a wide perception that OTAs offer the best prices and have more options.

As travellers mature, becoming less price orientated, their preference for booking directly increases – as does their loyalty to brands, the study found.

What the research shows is how important are trust, price and ease of use in the new digital funnel. Mobile is becoming a major factor, with travellers using their mobile devices at all stages.

Travel suppliers must redouble their efforts via mobile, an area in which OTAs are investing heavily, especially since OTAs already have a substantial lead over suppliers.