Digital Travel Planning: Not As Advanced As We Pretend It Is

by / Wednesday, 18 January 2017 / Published in Blog, Industry, Latest posts, Travel & Hospitality


By Bridget Fahrland, SVP, Client Strategy

Why does it take you so long to plan a trip these days? Are you obsessive? Inefficient? A control freak? Maybe. But you are not alone. We share your pain. And we have some ideas on how to make it better.

Does the following scenario sound like you?

It’s 11:38 pm. You swore you were going to go to bed 45 minutes ago but you just need to look at one more lodging option for your trip to Amsterdam this summer …. You’ve got at least 3 apps and two sites open and are maintaining a Google spreadsheet for your spouse to look at options in the morning. You start looking at a houseboat on the Amstel. Originally you were going to stay in town but now maybe out of town a bit could be nice. Now you are reading a Lonely Planet piece about the bike path along the Amstel. Then you are looking at Google maps to see if there are restaurants nearby. One more thing – might as well look at the bus route to see how long it would take to get into town. Now it is 12:13 am. Nothing has been decided.

You’re Not Alone

If you can relate, you may be an obsessive, inefficient control freak … but one thing is for sure, you are not alone.

According a recent Google’s “Travel Micro Moments Guide,”  travelers often take over 3 months to plan a trip with over 500 searches and 7,000 digital touch points. Many of these moments are brief bursts of engagement on mobile devices. Accordingly, the study focuses on how brands can engage the customer throughout their entire travel planning journey, across devices and channels.

That’s all well and good but what the study does not explicitly say – and no one else is really addressing – is that it’s absolutely crazy that travel planning has become such a process. Going to a travel agent in the 80s was an arguably better experience. Yes, it is fun to look at pretty pictures and read about activities. Yes, it is important to read reviews — But 7,000 digital touchpoints? Is that a good thing for the average traveler (it’s a good thing for ad revenue undoubtedly).

One could argue that travel planning reaches a point of diminishing returns after 1,000 digital touchpoints — maybe less. And that the 3-5 month planning cycle depletes the journey itself from the potential of  discovery and turns it into an act of execution — one in which most discovery has taken place in the digital realm and the real world is simply where we play out what we have already seen, checked, mapped and reserved.

Bruce Chatwin would not approve.

Other Things Experts Are Not Saying (At Least Out Loud)

Disruption Does Not Equal Efficiency

While peer to peer platforms like AirBnB & VRBO can offer more interesting or affordable options, booking with them can be time consuming.  The advent of instant book is only recent and still not universal. Often, one has to wait 24 hours to find out, no, that cute little penthouse with a view of the Eiffel Tower is not available – sorry the calendar was not updated.

OTAs Focus On Price Contributes To Unwieldy Planning Process

Searches on Booking or Expedia quickly become a game of “what is cheapest” vs

“what is the best value” or best suited to my needs for a trip. The consumer may quickly realize a few clicks in that 120 a night room in NY does not have the amenities they need but now they’ve wasted 5 minutes reading reviews and looking at pictures of a room they will never stay. A price first, rather than needs first, conversation will often result in no conversion but a high time spent on site – that is not a good thing.

Travel Agents Are Not All Bad

Going to a travel agent seems like a folly of the past – like not wearing a seat belt or smoking at your desk. But in fact, agents have their advantages —  an agent asks you about your dreams and needs. They put together options while you go about your life. The pros are personalization and time savings. The cons can be cost and confidence in choice (unless you read reviews to verify their recommendations).

How Can We Make It Better?

Google is absolutely correct that hospitality brands must be relevant to every step in the travel planning journey from dreaming to  sharing memories. But they have to go even further than that and work to improve the planning cycle by lessening the time needed to have an inspiring, trustworthy travel planning experience.

Can one have the best of both worlds? A travel planning experience that is inspiring, confidence building but also seamless and efficient?

We believe the answer is yes. We believe that hospitality brands can stand out from peer-to-peer services and forge connections that OTAs simply can’t. Their focus should be:

  • Manageable inspiration – thoughtfully curated content that engages consumers without overwhelming them
  • Transparent information – inclusion of OTA pricing and customer reviews since customers will seek it anyways
  • Superior Service – Be the concierge the OTAs and Peer To Peers simply can not be

J.R.R Tolkien said “not all those who wander are lost,” but he said this before wandering led to 7,000 digital touch points. Let’s get people back on the path to more time for discovery in real life. A path where the real delight and connections happens during the journey, not before it.

How Can We Help?

Fluid works with travel companies to help identify the pain points for consumers that impact business, prioritize which to address first, and executive flawless customer experience solutions.  We’d love to help you too, as you set out to improve your digital results. Contact us today!

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