A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Understanding the Role of Tech in the Traveler's Journey
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
~ Lao Tzu
Right Content, Right Moment, Right Channel
If you google "Traveler's Journey," you will get over 100 million results. But why is there so much interest in the way people book their vacations? From a marketing perspective, this is pretty obvious: understanding travellers' different touch points while booking their trips is extremely valuable to map out the users' decision-making process and provide them with the right content at the right moment and on the right channel. Knowing your target audience is crucial, and every industry is very well aware of it. Marketing is becoming more and more granular, and consumers are more and more demanding. The old one-size-fits-all approach, therefore, is no longer effective. As a result, we're not only past the "mass marketing" era. We're also past the "niche marketing" era. Today, we're officially in the "Ad Personam" marketing era. One-to-one communication with customers has become mandatory. To prove the thesis, let's look at the search volume for the query "Buyer's Persona" on the GoogleTrend screenshot below:
As you can see, it increased dramatically over the last few years, and this is because of all the above-mentioned reasons.
Buyer’s Personas, in Hospitality, are a moving target
According to HubSpot, a buyer persona is a "semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer, based on market research and real data about your existing customers."
The puzzling thing, though, is that, in hospitality, the central concept of "persona" is somewhat of a moving target. In fact, travellers seem to suffer from some form of multiple personality disorder when organising their trips. Why? Because your ideal customer in the early stage of their journey will not necessarily be the same one by the end of it. Depending on the stage in which travellers are, they will demand different kinds of content on different platforms. It means that hotels should use various strategies in distinct phases of the journey. And it also means using different software to improve the traveller's experience and maximise brand awareness, guest and staff satisfaction, and, consequentially, ROI.
At its core, the traveller's journey can be trimmed down to three principal, circular phases:
In most publications, the accepted terminology for the different stages of the travel cycles is the one coined by Google in 2016, when the company introduced the concept of "micro-moments" in a guide titled "How Micro-Moments Are Reshaping the Travel Customer Journey" (downloadable for free here).
"Travel micro-moments," Google says, "start when people begin dreaming of a trip, and they continue all the way through the long-awaited trip itself."
These moments tend to fall into one of four categories, which map closely to the stages of the travel decision-making process:
1. Dreaming (I-want-to-get-away!);
2. Planning (Time-to-make-a-plan!);
3. Booking (Let's-book-it!)
4. Experiencing and sharing (Can't-wait-to-explore!).
During the dreaming moment, travellers merely seek inspiration and explore destination ideas with no firm plans. They usually don't even have a specific choice for where to go, let alone the preferred providers for flights, hotels, tours, etc. At this stage, they are seduced by emotional content like:
- Online videos, hosted on platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, TripFilms.com, or social networks allowing video content, such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, or Snapchat. Offline videos on shows such as Rick Steves' Europe, Passport to Europe, The Layover, Planet Earth, Globe Trekker, or Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations also play an important role;
- Photos on travel bloggers' websites such as Legal Nomads, Uncornered Market, Alex in Wanderland, The Blonde Abroad, Hey Nadine, or View from the Wing, review sites such as TripAdvisor, travel guides such as DK Eyewitness, Lonely Planet, Bradt, Rough Guides, Insight Guides, or, again, social networks and messaging apps (Pinterest, WhatsApp, Messenger);
- Other sources of inspiration are the oldie but goldie friends and family, magazines, newspapers, PR, and newsletters. With all the recent hype around the metaverse, moreover, Virtual Reality travel apps are becoming a great starting point for travel bookings too, with platforms such as National Geographic Explore VR, Wander, BRINK Traveler, and Alcove VR becoming increasingly popular.
During the second (planning) micro-moment, travellers have likely chosen the destination and are actively looking for travel dates, flights, hotels, and what to do while travelling. They tend to use filter-based websites (between 16 and 20, according to most studies) such as:
- Mainstream OTAs (Booking.com, Airbnb, Expedia, Trip.com, HRS);
- Metasearch engines, trip planner apps/superapps (Google Travel, trivago, Kayak, Skyscanner, TripIt, Wanderlog, Hopper, Doifoo, Uber, WeChat), review sites (TripAdvisor, Yelp, OTAs, Google Reviews);
- WoM, classic search engines (usually through long-tailed queries, such as "hotel in [city] near [attraction] with [service]"), places and listings (Google/Apple/Yandex Maps, Google Business Profile, Bing Place);
- Blogs, forums, and subreddits (such as r/travel, r/shoestring, r/wanderlust, and r/travelhacks).
During the third micro-moment (booking), travellers are ready to reserve, so they try to get the best deal (lower rate, extra perks, and special offers). This moment is less about "research" and more about "comparison," and the main platforms used are:
- Classic search engines (through branded search, such as "hotel [name] in [city]");
- Brand.com, OTA and hotel brands' loyalty programs (such as Booking's Genius, Expedia's Members, or Bonvoy).
This is also where travel tech starts playing a more prominent role, thanks to the use of channel managers (such as SiteMinder, D-EDGE, or ProfitRoom), which populates OTAs with rates and availabilities, booking engines (NetAffinity), and CRS (Sabre, Amadeus), serving as brand.com's e-commerce, Revenue Management Systems (Atomize, IDeaS, Duetto, OutPerform) to provide the best available rate, hotel websites (Avvio) to increase the hotel's awareness, and CRMs (Revinate, ForSight, Cendyn) to optimise communication and manage relationships with the guests, and create a central place to store their data.
Experiencing, Sharing, Memory and Returning
During the preparation, experience, and sharing moment, travellers anticipate, live, and talk about their experiences. This is when hotels can take the most significant advantage of technology, as they can follow the guests during the whole duration of their stay:
Pre/mid/post-stay communication and guest experience management (SMS, emails, messenger apps, hotel apps, CRMs, chatbots);
Check-in/out. A long wait for a hotel has an extremely negative impact on guest satisfaction scores, as highlighted by a study completed by Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research, so contactless technologies such as AeroGuest, MyStay, and door-lock systems such as Salto, and Assa Abloy can make the check-in/out experience frictionless and dramatically improve the guest experience;
In-room experience (quality of sleep, room cleaning, etc.) improved by housekeeping and engineering apps, such as Hotelkit, Alice, HotelTime Housekeeping module, and Hoxell, and mobile ordering and F&B platforms (Vento QR by HotelTime Solutions);
Ancillary revenue (breakfast, F&B, Wellness, gym, wellness, tours, and experiences) upsell, enabled by tools such as GuestJoy, MyStay, and Oaky.
The journey continues with the creation of user-generated content (UGC). During this phase, travellers share their opinions online, enriching the content for the second micro-moment. The main platform used are:
- Hotel and generic review sites;
- Social Network.
Both can be managed by reputation management tools and gust feedback and surveys platforms, such as Revinate, TrustYou, and GuestJoy.
The cycle ends with the “memory and returning” phase, during which the accommodation providers keep in touch with the travellers, trying to increase their lifetime value, using software such as CRMs, social networks management tools, messenger apps, email, personalised micro-website or landing pages, loyalty programs and apps.
Even though the traveller's journey can appear pretty complicated from the outside, it tends to be cyclical: in fact, the instant a guest checks out and writes a review, the whole cycle starts again, with a new, potential guest influenced by it. From inspiration to interest, from emotion to intent, from interaction to insight, every single phase of the journey is a marketer’s goldmine. So I tend to agree with Google when it states that the traveller's journey is "neverending." We're always thinking about travel, and the journey's intrinsic chaos is an opportunity for hoteliers that understand it, dissect it, and take advantage of every touchpoint.
And if you don’t believe my words, then follow that wise Chinese proverb: “Don’t listen to what they say, go see.”