A few years ago, Google produced a study that laid out the five major stages of travel. These five stages of travel help define the consumer’s behavior before, during, and after their trip. It’s helpful to look at these stages to best determine how your property can assist and interact with guests. Whether a guest is dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, sharing, there is a way for your property to naturally assist them.
During the dreaming, planning, and booking phases, a guest can find and interact with your property on many different platforms. Google conducted additional research from October 2013 – September 2014 that shows how consumers discover new properties based on business size and industry.
Google provided data on what platform a customer is most likely to interact with your business over the course of discovery to purchase. The timeline goes from left to right and shows what platforms a customer is most likely to interact with. We included screenshots below which we will reference later in the post.
Oh, the fun and serendipitous things you can do during the dreaming stage of the journey are endless. In the dreaming stage, travelers are just getting their toes wet in the deep pool of travel options. According to Google’s study, more than 50% of travelers started searching for their vacations in 2011, which is two years before the study was published. This means that people spend two years dreaming about their vacation prior to booking. People spend a lot of time planning out their vacations and consult seemingly endless sources to find information.
In the timelines pictured above, organic search is the first stage for both small and medium-sized properties. Travelers turn to Google and other search engines in order to discover either their next location, or to search for businesses and things to do in a general area.
For small and medium-sized businesses, social media will also play an important role in the dreaming phase. Whether someone is on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, there are many opportunities to present your property to potential guests. Like search, know the keywords that are important to your target market.
What you can do to win guests in the dreaming stage
Your website and social media channels will play an important role in the dreaming stage. As a hotelier, you want to capture their attention with vivid imagery and great content. Because travelers turn to organic search in the very beginning of their journey, it’s advantageous to have a good SEO strategy and active social media accounts. While it’s ideal for guests to find your website, social media channels rank well too.
Know what types of searches people conduct based on your property and location. If you’re a small resort in Mexico, you’ll want to research what types of searches people conduct to get to your website. Just got to Google and start typing in potential searches and the most popular searches will appear. When I typed in best resorts in Mexico for… the options below showed up.
A more tactical approach to finding the best keywords for your property is to use Google Keyword Planner. Use Google Keyword planner to discover the keywords Google associates with other websites. Insert your competitors’ websites to see what keywords they rank for.
After you click “get ideas”, Google will divide results into two groups: “Ad group ideas” and “Keyword ideas”. “Adgroup ideas” are simply keywords organized by topic. Use this tab to quickly see a list of main topics Google associates with your competitor. “Keyword ideas” are individual keywords that this website ranks for. Use this tab to see the exact words or phrases guests use to discover properties like your competitor.
If you embrace social media, you have the opportunity to capture a lot of different people in the dreaming phase. Social media is known for its escapism, and as a travel brand, you can capitalize on it in this stage.
The point of doing this type of research is to find content topics that your audience will enjoy. While every content piece probably won’t be crazy popular, finding the right subject matter is essential to success.
Back in 2013, Google reported that 85% of leisure travelers considered the internet their main source of information for travel. Today in 2016, three years later, we expect this number to be even higher. Nothing beats the internet’s ability to offer endless up-to-date information at your fingertips.
In the planning phase, we imagine guests will be in the center of the timelines we included above. For small properties, you can influence guests through referral inks, generic paid search, and brand paid search. For medium properties, you can influence guests through brand paid search, referral traffic, email, display click, and more.
If a potential guest found your site during the dreaming stage, this gives you the opportunity to retarget them with ads on either search engines or social media.
In terms of website content, blogs, guides, and articles about your destination will not only make you more visible on search engines, but also provide real value to potential guests. An informative article will make a potential traveler linger on your website and maybe even return to read again later. Then, when they go to actually make a purchase, they already have your property in mind.
For medium-sized travel businesses, email is an important component of the central stage of booking. A property’s email list is always a viable marketing channel. Here, it can be used to attract new guests who may have signed up for email notifications or previous guests whose email addresses you captured before.
The third stage of travel is booking. Guests are ready to make their purchase decisions and have reached the far right side of the timelines above. When a guests get closer to making their final decisions, we can expect them to spend more time on your website and revisit information they have saved. It’s been cited many times that guests will visit approximately 38 sites before making a purchase decision, according to Expedia. If you have done a good job in the previous stages, one or more of these sites will directly relate to your property.
It’s important that your website is in tip-top shape. Update your property’s pictures, include seasonal information, and make sure it is extremely easy to book a room or bed. Clear and direct call-to-actions will help increase bookings.
It’s also important to be where your guests want to book. Joining the right OTAs and having the best available rates will also help guests book their stay.
The fourth stage of traveling according to Google is experiencing. In their 2013 study, they cited that 50% of travelers use mobile devices to access travel-related information. In 2016, we expect that number to be even higher as the world has shifted to a mobile connected world.
Because your travelers want to use their phones to access information, it’s in your best interest to have a mobile-optimized website. That almost goes without saying. On top of your mobile website, if you have local guides and recommendations on your website, you have the opportunity to provide exceptional value. Online content gives your guests valuable information even when they aren’t on the property.
While guests are on the property, you can also lend them a helping hand over social media. Create a branded hashtag for Instagram to encourage sharing, and monitor it along with your Instagram location tag. User-generated content is great because it helps guests in the other travel phases learn about your property.
Although online information is important, think about creating paper brochures and guides that guests take with them on their adventures off the property.
The last phase of travel is sharing. In today’s world, the experiencing and sharing phases have become intertwined. It’s now easier than ever for your guest’s to share their travel experience, whether it’s for business or leisure. In Google’s original study, they cited 32% of business travelers left a review of their experience. Today, more than just the classic review sites like TripAdvisor are important. A guest is likely to share their experience, good or bad, on several more platforms than just TripAdvisor or something similar.
Your property should be listening and always ready to respond to guests who have left feedback online. We have talked extensively about the importance of responding to online reviews, good or bad. You can check out a few posts here and here.
Listening becomes easier as you do it over time. For example, if you create a branded hashtag and promote it over time, guests will start to use it. Then, when you’re checking Instagram for example, you can easily see what your guests are posting. Being there every step of the way is a great way to build a strong connection with your guests, as Curalate states in their post.
Maneuvering your property’s touch points across the five stages of travel is an art and will change over time. There are meaningful ways to interact with your guest in person and online to help them along their journey. In a way, it has become easier than ever to interact with your guests online because people are more willing to share and interact with brands online than ever before.