What travel marketers should know about people searching for experiences
05/08/2019|10:26:27 AM|ThinkWithGoogle

It’s good to be in the travel experience business these days. While the tours and activities market has lagged behind airline and hotel bookings in the digital realm, it’s starting to catch up. In fact, it’s growing faster than the total travel market, according to travel-market research company Phocuswright. Phocuswright has predicted that by next year, the overall tours and activities segment will grow to $183 billion.

That presents a clear opportunity not only for tour and activity operators, but for a number of businesses operating in the travel space. We recently dug into this growing market by partnering with Greenberg, Inc. to better understand traveler behavior across the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany.  

How travelers search

Compared to other travel industry segments, the experiences space is still a fragmented market. While travelers generally know what to expect when purchasing an airplane seat or hotel room, tour and activity companies run the gamut from mom-and-pop operations with bare-bones websites to well-known brands that make booking easy.

As is often the case when people want to feel confident about their purchases, they turn to search.

Greenberg research shows that in the 12 weeks leading up to a trip, there are 3X more experiences searches than hotel searches and 8X more experiences searches than air searches. And while hotel, air, and car bookings peak six weeks prior to a trip, Greenberg found that experience searches remain stable in volume throughout the 12 weeks leading up to a trip.

Whatever they’re searching for, each one of these moments is an opportunity to engage with travelers. Even if you are selling a room reservation, find opportunities to highlight the experiences that people are seeking out rather than simply the hotel room or flight prices, much like Booking.com has done with its latest campaign.

We also see travelers increasingly turning to videos to research what they’re going to get before they purchase. Savvy brands like Expedia are regularly uploading robust video content — like this video dedicated to Yellowstone National Park — on its YouTube channel for this audience to engage with.

Planners vs in-destination bookers

The research also revealed some interesting differences between the types of travelers. We found that travelers who book their activities ahead of their trip spend 47% more on lodging and 81% more on transportation than those who wait to book in destination, making them a valuable audience, especially for companies like online travel agencies that sell across multiple categories.

But almost half of experiences bookings — 48% — are happening once travelers arrive at their destination. And the majority of those in-destination searches happen on mobile. Greenberg analyzed over a thousand travelers’ online behavior and found that searches for activities are happening across devices in the three months prior to a trip, but shift significantly to 54% mobile when travelers are in-destination. 

Put another way, while mobile presence and UX is critical in all segments of travel, if you fumble in the experiences segment, you risk missing half of online bookings.

Closer to home

The final untapped opportunity is to capture a greater share of the traveler’s wallet, even when they aren’t traveling. In fact, mobile searches for “things to do/activities” + “near me” have seen a 6X increase over the last two years. This makes it clear that tours and activities marketers shouldn’t neglect those in their immediate vicinity. If you are selling museum tickets or food experiences, consider widening the scope of audiences you target beyond the travel audience.

Even companies associated with destination travel can get in on this. While Airbnb has been expanding from a home-sharing service to a full-fledged travel company, it has also been exploring experiences that could be equally appealing to locals on a date night as to travelers. 

Ultimately, the tours and activities segment isn’t just a passing trend in travel. The experiences themselves are the reason people travel. This translates into opportunities for marketers to gain a bigger share of the travel pie.

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