Expedia shares data on millennials and digital travel content

(Exclusive data from Expedia Media Solutions' Travelers Path to Purchase shows that millennials are increasingly going mobile when planing a trip.)

According to exclusive data that Expedia Media Solutions shared with HOTEL MANAGEMENT from its 2016 Travelers Path to Purchase study, 68 percent of millennials begin their travel planning online and close to half of U.S. millennials use their smartphones or tablets while travel planning. Considering a Bank of America survey from June found that nearly four in 10 millennials say they interact more with their smartphones than they do with loved ones, friends or co-workers, the extent to which this group is engaging with mobile devices to plan a trip is unsurprising. However, it’s the travel content that this demographic is seeking online that sets them apart from fellow American travelers.

The Effect of Travel Advertising on U.S. Millennials

Forty-two percent of millennials contemplate two or more destinations in planning a trip and, perhaps even more vital for marketers, millennials are the most apt of all American travelers to seek online travel-related information other than just pricing.  Although price comparisons and deals are paramount to all age groups, millennials are more likely to search for travel tips and photos as well as information on culture and local economies and political climates. Furthermore, when compared to older age groups, American millennials have a decidedly higher propensity to notice hotel, airline, car rental and travel package advertising.

“Millennials use more resources to plan trips and on top of the heavy content engagement, they are also noticing ads across travel categories more so than travelers in other demographic groups,” said Matthew Reichek, VP, product and analytics, at Expedia Media Solutions. “From that, we can speculate that they may just be more open to engaging with content that’s relevant to their interests or booking needs. In addition, because millennials have grown up alongside native advertising –where the traditional boundaries between advertising and content are blurring—it’s quite possible that they are more inclined to treat advertising as just another form of content, underscoring the importance of relevant advertising messaging that best resonates and ultimately drives consideration with millennials.”

American travelers – 47 percent of which say they notice ads — are most impacted by travel advertising in the initial phases of the booking process. But like U.K. and Canadian travelers, their recall decreases as they continue on the booking path and are faced with more ads.

“There’s the issue of how much research is involved [in the booking process] and the fact is that people are going from 120 sites in the U.K. to 140 sites in the U.S. to 160 in Canada, so consumers have a lot of choices,” Reichek said. “They’re going to see what’s out there before they narrow it down and that’s why, for marketers, it’s important to be wherever the consumer is and that’s consistently the OTAs and airline sites.”

Millennials in the U.K. and Canada

In the U.K. and Canada, millennials are more dependent on their mobile devices throughout the booking journey. Forty-nine percent of this U.K.-based demographic use their mobile phones in the travel purchase while 63 percent use their tablets. Canadian Millennials have the highest tendency of the three geographic groups to use mobile devices for travel planning as 66 percent of millennials their phones in the process and 62 percent use their tables.

Travel advertising can also have a greater reach among Canadian and U.K. millennials. In the U.K., travel is the second largest category of advertising behind apparel and accessories, and so 25 percent of British millennials are more likely to notice travel promotions, compared with Gen X and Boomers. Millennials in Canada also have a higher ad recall rate than do their older counterparts. Yet, Canada’s Generation X is slightly more influenced by advertising in the travel booking process.

The Minimal Role of Social Media

The medium that has the least effect on travelers across all age groups in all three markets, startlingly, is social media; only 11 percent of online travel bookers reported including social media as they researched their trip. As with travel advertising, social media plays the greatest role in travel planning during the early stages of the process to source deals, read articles and blogs and search for destination inspiration. Yet social media also seems to serve as an extension of sourcing advice and recommendations from family and friends as travelers are primarily using it to view travel pictures and videos from people they follow, to ask those close to them for insight on destinations that they’re considering and to share ideas with travel companions.

According to Reichek, even Expedia was surprised but how little travelers engage with social media while planning travel, though also believes there’s a lesson to be learned from this piece of data: Travel marketers who invest resources and dollars equally in social media and mobile are likely overspending on social media and undervaluing their mobile strategy.

“While social media should be a consideration in your travel marketing mix, it is not a primary influencer in the traveler’s path to purchase and social media engagement will vary by user and demographic,” he said. “It’s important to think about what information is valuable across all users, which in the case of hotels, might be things like visually-engaging content of the property, destination, nearby sites and activities; customer service information; reviews and links to additional information sources; and what makes the property or area unique.”