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The Travel Research Cycle: How Do Customers Research Online Travel Purchases?

The Travel Research Cycle: How Do Customers Research Online Travel Purchases?


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We look at how consumers decide on travel purchases, the channels they use to research, and the length of the decision making process. 
There is no typical travel booking process, and it will vary according to the type of travel product, and factors like price.
So, for example, a family holiday may require more consideration and research than a quick weekend trip.

Travel Booking Trends

According to ABTA’s 2017 Holiday Habits Report, online travel booking continues to grow.
83% of travellers booked online in 2017, compared to 76% the previous year.

Mobile bookings are still in the minority according to ABTA, but are growing, especially for younger age groups.

Websites Used for Travel Research

Phocuswright’s guide to the US digital travel market finds that airline brands are managing to capture attention more than accommodation brands.
This may have more to do with the relatively fragmented market for accommodation – there are more accommodation brands and sites than airlines.
In addition, while hotels are often booking directly through comparison (or metasearch) sites like, flight bookings end up with the airline, even if found on a site such as Skyscanner.

The Influence of Tripadvisor

With 342m unique visitors in 2017, Tripadvisor is the most visited travel website in the world, and therefore has an influence on many travel purchases, as people head there to read reviews.
Indeed, it claims to have reached 60% of global web users who started their decision process and subsequently booked travel online in Q2 & Q3 2017.

Tripadvisor’s research also highlights the length of the travel research process, with 80% of research taking longer than four weeks to complete.

Use of Mobile in Travel

According to stats from emarketer, mobile is becoming more and more important in the travel booking process, with travel sales in the US reaching $189.62 billion in 2017, with 40% from mobile devices.

Mobile is predicted to account for 50% of all travel sales by 2021.

Research and Booking via Mobile

There’s a disparity between the amount of travel related research taking place on mobile, and actual bookings completed.
Our own research shows this, with 41% of all visits to travel sites coming from mobile devices, but just 18% of bookings.

When compared to the same figures for retail (60% traffic / 50% purchases) this suggests that people are much happier to research than book travel on mobile.
Stats researched by Phocuswright for Bing echo these findings, and break their stats down into flights and hotels.
So, when booking flights, 37% use mobile for shopping and research, but just 18% book on these devices, with a similar pattern for tablets.

For hotels and accommodation, the trends are similar, though a greater percentage are happy to book on mobile, perhaps because booking a hotel is generally a simpler task on mobile than booking flights.

Digital Travel ‘Touchpoints’

Understanding and explaining the travel research and booking process is a tricky business.
No two journeys are the same, and attempting to understand in as a linear process is almost impossible.
In reality, with so much travel information at the customers fingertips, travel research takes in a series of touchpoints, often across different devices, and varied according to customer preferences.
Google’s travel micro-moments series attempts to make some sense of this.
Using the example of Kendra, who planned both business trips and vacations, Google shows the complexity of the research process, with multiple searches and several different brands considered.

Consumption of Travel Content

Expedia’s Traveler’s Path to Purchase report¬†looks at the number of travel sites visited by travelers in the US, UK and Canada during the purchase decision, with more content consumed in the run up to booking.

The types of site visited change during the research process.
For example, search engines and family and friends are more likely to be consulted when travelers are looking for ideas for their holiday.

As the process continues, the influence of these sources reduces, with online travel agents and hotel / airline sites more likely to be used as customers check prices and narrow their options.

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Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is Editor in Chief at SaleCycle. He's been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade, having previously written reports and articles for Econsultancy. ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and more.