Travelers have become more sophisticated with research during the travel planning process, and hoteliers need to develop strategies to capture those bookings.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As travelers become more sophisticated with research during the travel-planning process, hoteliers need to adapt their strategies to differentiate themselves among the channels, sources said.
“People are really hungry and want a ton of info,” said Noah Tratt, global VP of Expedia Media Solutions. “(They) want to validate things they’re hearing from their friends.”
Most travelers will research a destination before they visit, Tratt said, and a good percentage of them have started to rely on online travel sites.
According to The Traveler's Path to Purchase study, which was commissioned by Expedia Media Solutions and conducted by Compete, consumers visited travel sites 38 times during the 45 days leading up to a package booking.
“There’s a real opportunity to reach consumers in that research window by being out there with different kinds of messages,” Tratt said, adding that partnerships with OTAs and other third parties, such as destination marketing organizations, can help a hotel stand out during this phase.
Most travelers also spend time during the research phase searching for deals on airfare, retail and car rentals. During the research phase, travel sites dominate web consumption when compared to traveler research for the retail, financial services, telecommunications and automotive industries. In particular, the study showed that during the week leading up to booking, travel sites accounted for 55% of visits.
Tratt said consumers are looking to gain experience and insight into a specific destination before booking a trip. That’s why the company recently invested in Viewfinder, a travel blog dedicated to providing unique content for specific destinations, which will often mention partner hotels in articles. Viewfinder, Expedia executives believe, will allow partner hotels to reach travelers at a different point in the travel-planning process .
The OTA category still leads the way in terms of site visitation during the travel-planning process when compared to other avenues, such as metasearch sites, review sites and DMO sites, the study claimed. On average, consumers visited OTA sites eight times during the week leading up to booking, with one-third of those visits on the same day of booking.
As the economy continues to improve, some hoteliers are reporting a lengthening booking window. However, lead times can differ based on segments.
According to data from the most recent Pegasus View report, which analyzes more than 1 billion transactions processed by Pegasus Solutions, travelers who book through the global distribution system—mainly corporate travelers—continue to book closer to their travel date, while travelers who book elsewhere—mainly leisure travelers—are growing increasingly comfortable booking further out.
The corporate sentiment of “willingness to spend tempered with a results-orientated strategy” is leading to large meetings being broken into smaller meetings that can be held in a wider range of venues and locations, the report says. This leads to decreases in both length of stay and booking lead times.
The average GDS reservation lead time in June 2013 was 16.28 days versus 16.66 days in June 2012, Pegasus reported.
Conversely, consumer confidence is improving in many areas, the report says, and vacations are being planned further in advance. Transient hotels were booked 16.96 days ahead of arrival in June 2013 versus 16.51 days in June 2012, according to Pegasus.
Year-to-date over last year, Denihan Hospitality has seen a slight lengthening of lead time by approximately one day, according to Tom Botts, EVP and chief customer officer. Better tools helped the company capture more business further out, he said.
“We’re managing it better as a company,” Botts said. “We are also starting a pilot … on the revenue management side that’s helping us raise rates further out in the booking window.”
For Denihan, the average online booking is done 39 days in advance, up from 35 days last year, Botts said. Corporate-negotiated business is booked approximately 20 days in advance and wholesale roughly 80 to 90 days in advance.
“The booking window is all about managing it and being able to understand where people are booking and on what channels,” Botts said. “(By) overlaying the booking channels with market segments, we can understand where the demand is and predict it.”