Making travel decisions can be a ton of fun – the possibilities! the views! the food! But let’s face it: the many choices, prices and variations can be overwhelming and frustrating for some users. As McKinsey senior partner Alex Dichter put it recently: “… an average purchase journey for a single hotel room lasts 36 days; hits 45 touchpoints, distributed among search engines and the sites of intermediaries and suppliers; and involves multiple devices. Travel is a complex, high-anxiety purchase. Often, you cannot return it.”
To help relieve the stress, Google recommends fine-tuning your marketing messages to match the customer’s pace. In other words, if the customer is still exploring options and looking for inspiration, don’t push for a sale, help them discover more instead.
Increasingly, helping the traveler discover more means reaching them while they are using a search engine to research and compare choices. According to a recent study, 31% of accommodation searches started on search engines in 2018, up from 23% the previous year. With search now part of all stages of the customer journey (see our post on that here), it seems logical that the same study found that customers who started the journey with a search made their travel purchase faster and with fewer stops along the way than those using intermediary sites such as online travel agencies. Interestingly, this was not because OTAs didn’t offer enough or better choices. It seems that they offer too many choices, forcing the consumer to postpone or start the search over again. Search results, in comparison, returned a more curated, on-target results that helped customers make decisions faster. No more analysis paralysis, no more paradox of choice!
If search is becoming more important in the travel purchase journey, it follows that branded search should be seeing better results, too. And indeed, hotel brands are seeing a jump in branded searches: up +8 pp from 34% to 42% year-over-year. Could it be that customers are using branded search to avoid the paradox of choice again? Very likely. Unlike airlines, where consolidation has led to overfamiliarity and general brand indifference, hotel brands are many and diverse. Searching by brand name helps creates that shortcut for experienced travelers that helps them decide faster. To tip the odds of the decision being in favor of your brand, however, you still have to deliver a stress-free and pleasant experience to the end. One where the customer feels assisted, not sold to, and where they leave the site feeling great about their purchases. Challenge accepted!