New Expedia study finds growing consumer appetite for digital travel content

According to the new Traveler’s Path to Purchase study conducted by independent data company comScore and commissioned by Expedia Media Solutions, more travelers in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. are spending more time consuming digital travel content in the 45-day period prior to transacting an online travel booking.

Of the 258 million digital users in the U.S., more than 60 percent consume travel content and those who do spend 8.7 billion minutes doing so –an increase of 41 percent. In the U.K., 75 percent of 50 million digital users are consuming 2.4 billion minutes of digital travel content for a 44-percent jump in the consumption rate as 70 percent of Canada’s 30 million digital users consume 806 minutes of travel content, a rate increase of 18 percent.

Matthew Reichek, VP of product and analytics at Expedia Media Solutions and presenter of the data at this week’s Phocuswright conference in Los Angeles, told Hotel Management that the comparatively smaller percentage of Americans consuming digital travel content is potentially due to relatively less vacation time, as is the fact that 65 percent of American online travel consumers only looked at one destination. The majority of their British and Canadian counterparts, who notoriously have several weeks more vacation time and so can include multiple destinations in a single trip, looked at two or more destinations.

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But noting the uptick in the time consumers spend exploring digital travel content, he said: “Consumers are really hungry to engage in travel content, and for travel marketers that speaks to fact that if they can deliver relevant offers and information, people will consume and remember it.”

The Digital Revolution

As Expedia Media Solutions is the advertising arm of its OTA parent, research findings that support the ever-increasing popularity of digital travel content may seem like elaborate product promulgation rather than industry education. However, New York City-based digital marketing research firm eMarketer announced in March that 2017 will mark the first time ever that digital ad spends surpass advertising dollars allotted to television ad buys, with a total expected spend of $72.01 billion, or 35.8 percent of the total media spend, going to television ad buys while next year’s spending forecast for digital advertising is estimated at $77.37 billion, or 38.4 percent of total ad spending. eMarketer also reported that desktop and laptop advertising is slated to drop to $24.62 billion in 2017, down from $25.22 billion this year, although mobile ad spends are likely to jump to $52.76 billion from $43.60 billion –findings that are also in line with data from the Expedia study.

Moving Toward Mobile

The Traveler’s Path to Purchase study also justifies the shift in ad spending, as desktop usage among the online travel audience is down 11 percent in the U.K., 3 percent in the U.S. and 10 percent in Canada. Instead, these travel buyers are moving increasingly to mobile usage, with Brits purchasing travel online showing the greatest migration to mobile, up 82 percent from 67 percent last year. Sixty-four percent of Canadians –a year-over-year increase of 10 percent-- are now using mobile for their online travel bookings as 75 percent of Americans purchasing travel online are doing so via mobile, up 3 percent from last year.

But unlike British and Canadian mobile users who prefer to use browsers, 70 percent of those American mobile users choose to peruse digital travel content via apps. For the travel industry, these platforms are costly to build and downloads drive the expense up further.

“We recognize that mobile is complicated for our partners, which is why we can take care of all of that for our partners. So there’s no need to worry about a multi-platform strategy because partners can enjoy those benefits by virtue of working with us,” Reichek said.

OTAs, Airlines Dominate Conversion

Regardless of how these online travel audiences opt to research and purchase their trip, they are all similarly influenced by search engine findings and recommendations from family and friends in the early stages of the process. Those influences are gradually replaced by OTAs and hotel websites, as more than 37 percent of the online travel audiences in all three countries use these resources to narrow their options. However, conversion in every market is strongest on OTAs and airline sites.

Reichek contributes the high conversation rates on airline websites –36 percent of travel bookings made by online consumers in the U.K., 48 percent in the U.S. and 40 percent in Canada—to their strong awards programs as well as the consolidation within the industry. “Consumers know who the main players are because there are fewer options,” he said, but he does not believe that conversions on OTAs result from the sites’ cost-comparison features.

Comprising 30 percent of all site visits, OTAs have the highest engagement across travel categories through the course of the booking process. “OTAs have really rich, granular content and that content has value,” Reichek said, adding that travelers who are only taking one or two vacations a year may not know the destinations that a particular airline serves, or where a particular hotel chain is competitive. “So in order to get a rough sense of what a market looks like when you’re booking a hotel reservation or airline ticket, OTAs are an easy and reliable way to get that information and they’re also trusted brands in their own right."

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