Does User Generated Content represent the missing link in the online travel buying cycle
Web 2.0 or Travel 2.0 is a hot topic for the travel industry and new research by EyeforTravel has revealed that User Generated Content (UGC) now plays a remarkable role in the UK young professional’s online travel buying cycle, with 72% saying that consumer reviews have influenced their travel choice. (7/19/2007)
UGC is having a significant impact on their decision-making process when it comes to travel; 15.3% state they always use UGC for travel, and a lower 12% for non-travel products such as music. Interestingly 63.8% occasionally use UGC in their buying cycle, so that’s a sizeable 79.1% who have actually used consumer reviews for travel before.
“The implications for the travel market are expected to be enormous as UGC is effectively bringing the experience, knowledge and advice services online that are more commonly associated with offline travel services. Traveller reviews and recommendations represent the missing component for a complete online travel buying experience,” says Amy Scarth, Head of Research at EyeforTravel.
Ultimately UGC is proving to be a very powerful conversion tool as consumers are looking for reassurance to shift from the research to the purchase stage of the buying cycle. UGC is being used after the search is narrowed and therefore later in the research cycle. 29.7% of UK young professionals say consumer reviews are very influential when booking travel online and 50.3% say they has a certain level of influence. Only 20% do not find them useful at all. TripAdvisor is by far the favourite UGC site and also up there as one of the most popular travel sites in general.
Many companies are worried about the implications of UGC in the world of travel and others are embracing the opportunities presented. But is it a threat? What do people actually look for in consumer reviews? Interestingly, EyeforTravel revealed that most people actually look for positive reviews rather than negative reviews and state that this is clearly where their focus is.
Following this, people are looking for detail, particularly information that is not available in official reviews. They are looking for honesty, mixed reviews, a good balance of positive and negative comments from which they make their own judgement, rather than take it exactly for what it is. They look for quantity, suggesting sites with low volumes of UCG won’t be taken seriously. They want true insight, experience and knowledge and they value consumer ratings. Further down the list are negative reviews and, the importance of how a review is written is emphasised i.e. they only listen to somebody similar to themselves. It is suggested that as the value of UGC grows, niche UCG sites, such as those catering for families or singles, are likely to split off from main sites and become very successful.
For those that book offline, 90% still consider online travel purchasing to be more convenient. The research suggests that it is not always their preference to go offline to more traditional channels but, rather the availability of particular products and information online. They say personal advice is missing and some the web lacks human contact, reliability and security. However, as UGC enters the online space, not much is keeping the UK young professional from buying online except the capability of online travel companies to cater to the rising demand of the consumer in terms of product range and availability.