Mall of America

Published on Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Experience required

Becky Power, director of Travel, Google UK, explains why all travel brands should be offering something beyond the booking.

What do you give the traveller who has everything? Is there any destination untravelled, gadget or gizmo untested? According to the latest research into search trends from Google, today's traveller is searching for experiences: voyages into the soul as well as across borders, making memories that will last a lifetime. In fact, recent research has found that 67% of affluent travellers in the US would rather spend their money on activities than invest in a nicer hotel room.

Travel brands and their marketing teams can tap into the experience trend by understanding more about how, when and why customers are searching. This enables brands to engage and attract consumers when they are at their most inspired, and open to new ideas.

How do we know that experiences are the next big thing? Quite simply, it's all in the data. While tours and activities used to lag behind airline and hotel bookings online, they are rapidly catching up, to the extent that the experience segment is reportedly set to grow faster than the travel market as a whole. By 2020, it is estimated that it will be worth $183bn (£149bn) alone.

Hunting high and low
The consumer generally has a handle on how and where to buy their hotel room or airline seat. They know roughly what the amenities will be and what shape that service will take. But this is not the case with experiences. These can take the shape of anything from going to see a one-man band to booking an activity with major international companies. To make sure they know exactly what they're getting themselves into, they do their research.

If proof were needed that hotels and airline seats were becoming the 'nuts and bolts' part of the holiday experience, our research shows that consumers make three times more experience searches than hotel searches, and eight times more than airline searches, in the three months leading up to a holiday. And there are none of the familiar peaks and troughs in buyer interest. Travellers keep on hunting for experiences right up to the departure date.

Latching onto experience
Does this mean that there are rich pickings only for dedicated experience companies? Not at all. In fact, this is the ideal subject to begin engaging with holidaymakers, whatever your travel product. It's time to look outside your ensuite or meal tray and build a relationship with your potential customer based on the experience they can enjoy before, during and after their flight or outside their hotel room.

Video is a popular way for travellers to research potential experiences but equally, there's no need to hastily commence adrenaline-fuelled film production. Providing links or embedding existing content adds value beyond room rates and a brunch supplement.

The research also found that there is a halo effect with travellers who are actively looking to book up experiences before they arrive. This group has been found to spend 47% more on accommodation and 81% more on transportation than those who choose their activities in situ.

That said, the majority of these bookings (48%) still happen once holidaymakers are in the resort, and most of those happen on mobile (54%). So it goes without saying that providing a great mobile experience is essential to capturing this large audience - our research has previously shown that 53% of customers abandon a mobile site if it fails to load within three seconds.

Your next customer could literally be just down the road, as our data also shows that mobile searches for the terms 'things to do/activities' and 'near me' have increased six-fold over the past two years. This means it's worth targeting an audience that is more than just holidaymakers, as the chances of someone nearby being in the market for a museum pass or boat ride are higher than you think.

When it comes to serving travellers with an experience, it all comes down to responsiveness and guiding them to the most attractive - as well as simplest - solutions. Understanding how, when and why they are searching is critical insight that every travel brand needs to take on board.

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