From clicks to check-ins: Travel booking trends
Coined as post-pandemic “revenge travel,” many consumers have been motivated to spend their money on holidays. To capture consumer attention and reap the benefits of this increased demand, it’s essential for travel businesses to understand what consumers are looking for from the booking experience.
At Fresh Relevance, we wanted to learn what frustrates and delights holidaymakers about the current booking experience, so we asked them. In this report, we cover the responses to our seven-question survey and in some cases, compare respondents’ answers to previous research to help you understand the evolving needs of the travel consumer.
- Consumer top preferences when researching and booking are working with a trustworthy travel company (43%), seeing ratings and reviews from other travellers (35%), and getting a consistent experience across channels (20%).
- Don’t waste their time with irrelevant offers and emails or with too many choices. They want you to use your data, their data and data from other travellers (i.e., browse, cart, purchase, product attributes, availability, demographics, etc.) to tailor their experience and help them book their best trip ever.
- Social proof (i.e., user-generated content, ratings and reviews, peer recommendations, product availability, etc.) plays a huge role in how consumers are inspired and how they research holidays.
Holiday spending priorities
In 2023, men were more likely to make holiday bookings a priority than women. 38% of men and 30% of women agree that holiday bookings took priority over other spending.
When you take gender out of the equation, though, and look only at age, travel seemed to be more of a priority for the 25-44 year olds. So, if your travel business wants to attract those 45 and older, especially Boomers and beyond, consider some economical packages that fit in with their other spending priorities. Nearly half of 55+ said they didn’t prioritize holiday spending in 2023, and they don’t plan to in 2024, either.
There may be several economic factors influencing the negative Nancys. For example, for the first time in modern history, the rate of women leaving the workforce is on the rise again – especially among those 25 to 40 years old. And, according to the latest ONS findings, the average age of adults still living at home is now 24, and one in 10 aged 30 to 35 still lives at home. The reasons include college attendance, unemployment, the rising cost of living, and caring for family members. These situations could definitely affect the respondents’ respective spending priorities.
Take the survey findings and these economic factors into consideration when planning travel packages and destinations, making website updates, adjusting prices, and developing loyalty offers. For example, did you know that the 35- to 44-year-old age group in the UK had the highest average disposable income during 2021 and 2022?
Something to ponder.
Life is short — Now’s the time to make up for lost COVID holidays.
This question seemed to be a no-brainer for most of our respondents. Overall, four out of 10 agreed that although they might not be able to turn back the clock, 2023 became a race against time to refill their hourglass. OK, enough with the metaphors. We’ve made our point: 40% of respondents agreed that they prioritized 2023 holiday bookings to make up for lost time during COVID isolations… except for the 55+ group, where only 31% prioritized holiday spending.
So, how can you use this information?
Nearly half of our respondents aged 16 to 44 said they had some catching up to do. If they are your target audience, tap into the FOMO they are already feeling by adding dynamic content such as countdown timers, widgets showing remaining availability, banners promoting time-sensitive offers or coupons with expiration dates or other limits.
Channels that inspire holiday bookings
We know you want to learn where your audience looks for booking inspiration and research, so we created a list of possible channels and had our respondents choose all that helped in their recent booking experiences.
The top three responses probably won’t surprise you, but their order might:
- Online travel agents were the choice for 23%.
- 21% relied most on review sites.
- 18% relied on social media sites the most.
There were no other surprises in the data. In fact, as we predicted, the Gen Z’s (aged 16-24) top three channels were social media (34%), travel apps (25%), and peer recommendations (25%). At the other end of the spectrum, and just as predictable, the 55+ group chose online travel agents (21%) and travel agencies (17%).
An important thing to note, though, is that all age groups reported relying on social proof (reviews, peer recommendations, social media, etc.) to some degree to make their travel plans. When developing your marketing communications, travel apps or website content, help travellers discover the best hotels, destinations, activities and amenities with social proof such as user-generated content and ratings and reviews.
What frustrates consumers when booking travel
We asked this question in our 2022 research on consumer loyalty in travel, but in 2023, we included a few more potential irritants in our survey question. As in 2022, though, we asked respondents to choose their top-three frustrations.
The 2023 losers are irrelevant offers (20%), irrelevant emails (19%), and, tied for No. 3, feeling overwhelmed by the number of ways to research and book a holiday (17%) and travel websites that are difficult to navigate on a mobile phone (17%).
Interesting! In 2022, the top answer was COVID-related — many travellers needed to cancel trips but weren’t given the flexibility, even in those trying times. And, marketers were still using inadequate marketing software showing out-of-date offers that angered bookers who were desperate for a getaway.
The No. 3 reason in 2022 was time. And when you boil the top three frustrations of 2023 to a common denominator, it’s time. The time-tested lesson here? If you want to increase travel bookings — and ensure repeat bookings — be mindful of your customers’ time. The best way to do that is with advanced personalization.
Get to know them and then give them what they want. Collect and integrate zero- and first-party customer data to provide a consistent cross-channel experience and maximize conversions at all stages of the purchase funnel across email, website, app, social media ads and SMS. Real-time dynamic content (e.g., based on browsing or purchasing history, similar products, or location, etc.) keeps travel bookers engaged onsite or with your emails because it shows them offers based on live availability that are most likely to spark their interest.
When we turned this question around a little and asked what they would prefer when researching and booking a holiday, we got some answers you should be aware of. Although their biggest frustrations were irrelevant offers and irrelevant marketing emails, they said their No. 1 preference is to book with a company they can trust (43%), then No. 2 is booking with a company that provides ratings and reviews from other travellers (35%), and No. 3 is booking with a company that provides a consistent experience across channels (20%) — all easily accomplished with the advanced personalization tactics we discussed above.
Marketing tactics that make bookings easier
Our biggest survey surprise was the across-the-board reliance on email as a research and booking tool. In 2022, 60% of all global internet users accessed the web via smart phone. Even so, email (traditionally a computer-based communication method) is still consumers’ preferred communication channel. Perhaps it’s because of the feeling of control they have over urgency and privacy that isn’t as apparent with other online channels. In the chart below, you’ll see that emails are highly effective for all age groups.
Top three messages consumers want to get from marketers? Price drop alerts (40%), social proof, such as availability alerts (28%), and personalized product recommendations (24%).
Consider this, although all age groups reported that email messages were the most useful, there were distinct age-related channel and message preferences. For instance, 16-24 year olds want price drop alerts:
- 25% say SMS alerts would be a useful way to hear about price drops.
- 27% say onsite alerts via banners or pop-ups would be useful.
- 30% would find app notifications useful.
The 55+ respondents responds well to email too, the three email messages they’d most like to receive are:
- Dropped in price (38%)
- Availability alerts (25%)
- Personalized product recommendations (21%)
Getting the right communication to the right customer in the right channel might sound complicated, but the right software can automate those messages based on your customer’s preferences and behaviors — and your business goals.
The information from our survey can be very helpful as you begin mapping out your messaging strategy. But to be most effective, you need to test your moves with your own audience. With Fresh Relevance’s AI-powered optimization, you can automatically test and optimize individual pieces of content or the entire customer experience across channels. Our automatic optimization functionality produces faster results than A/B testing by constantly monitoring performance and automatically deploying the best content for maximum ROI.
Putting the findings to work
The biggest takeaway from this year’s survey is the monumental importance consumers place on real-time personalized booking experiences across digital channels. They want to effortlessly switch between your emailed product recommendation and your mobile app or online shop — all while seeing the same tailored offers.
Trust is another big one for travellers in 2023. Forty-three per cent said they want to book with a travel company they can trust. Another 35% said they want to work with a travel company that provides proof (ratings and reviews) that the holiday bookings they are browsing are top-notch.
Travel bookers know you have access to mountains of data. They want you to use it behind the scenes to provide them with a tailored booking experience that includes real-time availability; price drop alerts about trips they’ve browsed; personalized recommendations based on products they’ve bought, browsed or carted; and reminder emails. And they want you to stop wasting their time with irrelevant ads, offers and emails. Most of all, they want you to make the booking experience easier.
We can help.
We partnered with Censuswide to conduct a seven-question survey and received 2001 responses from consumers aged 16 and older across the UK from September 14 to 18, 2023. Censuswide is a global insight-driven research company. It abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society, which is based on the ESOMAR principles.
About Fresh Relevance
Fresh Relevance, a Dotdigital company, is a versatile personalization solution that empowers commerce-driven businesses to create customized cross-channel experiences with ease. The platform saves you time, integrates with your tech stack, and empowers you to deliver conversion-boosting personalized customer experiences across your website, app, emails, SMS, paid social and ads without relying on your IT team.