SAN FRANCISCO—You might say people spend more time researching their vacation than actually enjoying it. It’s certainly possible. Travelers are becoming more and more savvy thanks, in part, to search engines, online reviews via Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as friends and family oversharing on social media. There’s an abundance of information out there that can influence the decisions of today’s traveler, especially the prospective hotel guest.
However, there are consumer travel behaviors that can be tracked and, once measured and understood, businesses can be better informed and determine what actions to take to best market their products and services. So, what exactly do travelers want? Why do they do what they do?
To get the answers, it’s important to tap into the traveler’s mindset by looking at the data. Sojern, a performance marketing platform for travel brands based here with offices in the U.S. and Asia Pacific, uses global data to assist travel marketers at major brands—airlines to hotel chains to car rental companies—in cutting through the noise in order to drive demand and bookings to the brand’s website in the online and mobile environments.
“We’re a giant travel database and we’re capturing millions of real-time travelers around the world. We’re seeing who is planning to travel and we capture all those intents and turn them into travel audiences,” said Kurt Weinsheimer, SVP of property solutions, Sojern. “It’s also targeted advertising and offers for users to make it more relevant and much more effective.”
In a conversation with Hotel Business, Weinsheimer breaks down, one-by-one, the key takeaways from Sojern’s recently released North America Travel Trends Report and ways businesses can use these insights to effectively reach the consumer:
“Our clients are looking for them to provide direct demand and insights. We are literally sifting through hundreds of millions of booking data points to drive our performance engine and provide information to our clients. More and more, they are asking what are the trends and what’s happening on a macro-business level to help them make more data-driven decisions,” explained Weinsheimer. “We went into a database of 350 million travelers and measured search and booking activity in the second quarter of 2016 to look at year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter to understand where people are going and what’s shifting.”
While the only thing constant is change, Weinsheimer noted there are economical and political factors that can impact consumer behavior on a daily and monthly basis. “We use the data to help our clients in border markets get a glimpse into those trends,” he said.
Trip Search, Duration Trends
Travel habits and patterns can influence the distance consumers are willing to travel, with travelers in North America searching for shorter trips than other markets, according to Weinsheimer.
“We saw they were making the shortest trips. One of the stats we found was 43% of North Americans search for trips that last a maximum of three days, while Europeans are searching three times as much, with 26% seeking travel for 12 days or longer, and 22% for Asians,” he said. “In Europe, people take advantage of low-cost carriers and they can move from one country to another for less than a hundred dollars. It opens up your appetite to try new places and explore more.”
In addition, Sojern is actively looking at travel tied to sports, specifically, the intent to travel. When they looked at one sporting event in particular, the Copa America soccer tournament, they saw Seattle, San Francisco and Orlando were big markets for the games, according to Weinsheimer.
“San Francisco and Chicago were the biggest origin cities driving people to Copa markets and it isn’t surprising when you think about how New York and Chicago are big markets with large populations of people from Central and South America. A lot of them would be excited to go see the games and it might be within easier reach than Colombia,” he said.
Mexico clinched the top spot for U.S. travelers for the time period from 2015 to 2016, while the United Kingdom took second place. This is a reversal from the previous year where the U.K. was number one and Mexico was second most popular on the list.
“Mexico is extremely popular, it gives a sense of adventure and of international travel yet it’s close by and tends to be really affordable,” he said. “Before, you’d go to Mexico and sit on the beach, now people go there to visit San Miguel del Allende and take art classes or travel to different parts of Baha and do kayaking or surfing lessons. The country has done a great job to discover the adventurous side of it, and plays to people’s interest to make the experience unique. It’s also economical from a dollar standpoint and time standpoint.”
For European travelers, the United Kingdom remains popular and currently holds the number-one spot on the list for the time period from 2015 to 2016. Previously, it was France that topped the list.
“There’s a lot more interest in Europe and making those trips more affordable. When you look at that, it opens up the U.K. as an opportunity and London is the gateway. London, Rome or Paris serve as a jumping-off point and it’s the English language that makes people feel more comfortable traveling to a European country. They get a sense of adventure and know how to order a beer,” he said.
Cuba Is Hot
Opportunities have increased exponentially and continue to evolve for the hospitality industry in Cuba, which has sparked consumer interest in travel there. “As it becomes easier for consumers to get to Cuba, we’re seeing demand continue to increase and we’re also seeing that on a Canadian basis, Cuba is rising because they don’t have the same trouble with travel. They need to get in before the American tidal wave of travelers. Cuba is a big winner especially from an awareness standpoint,” he said.
Sojern’s report revealed one in three travelers are looking to spend more money on travel in 2016 than the previous year. One of the contributing factors is increased demand and interest in travel overall, according to Weinsheimer, due to the strength of the dollar.
“Looking further, people want new experiences and from a macro-trend standpoint, those experiences are the new luxury product. They talk about the new place they visited, restaurants they tried and the experience they had,” he said. “People forget it’s a drive market and gas prices have been pretty friendly to the road warrior. People are ready to get the family in a truck for an adventure.”
Weinsheimer noted there are lessons travel marketers can glean from the report, specifically, how “timing marketing campaigns with world events is crucial to reaching your target audience. Paying close attention to consumer trends can only benefit marketers and help them prepare accordingly,” he said. “Also, make sure they can test their assumptions and question what is already known. If you’re not staying abreast of changing behaviors and demand, you’re going to be missing forward-looking opportunities.”