In its position as the premier chronicler of information on the planet, Google publishes a wide range of information on a vast amount of different topics. So it doesn't come as a huge surprise that the mega-corporation compiles some authoritative reports on the travel industry. Every year, Google in fact publishes a study which provides key insights about US travellers’ shopping behaviour. The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision report has recently been published, and it provides a wide range of valuable insight for travel-related companies and digital marketers.
Latest Google survey
The Google survey was carried out in Spring 2014, and involved 3,500 US leisure travellers, with each person surveyed for the report having to have travelled at least once for personal reasons during the first half of the last calendar year. Additionally, 1,500 US business travellers were also surveyed; for the purposes of the report these were defined as those who have travelled at least three times for business during the six months which preceded the report.
One of the most important pieces of information to come out of the report is the fact that the number of people using solely mobile applications as a starting point for planning and booking travel is declining. But it would be misguided to assume that this means that mobile platforms are of decreased significance, what is instead of emerging is a picture of travellers utilising multiple devices with regard to travel booking plans.
Google survey found that overnight accommodation research is increasingly beginning at search engines. This was the case for almost one in four of the travellers surveyed, which represented a significant increase from the same figure of 18 percent during the 2013 survey period. By comparison, branded sites and apps saw a decline in usage as the first place that trips are planned, falling to 31 percent from 37 percent in 2013.
The same pattern was reflected in rental car research. 38 percent of US travellers initially planned such purchases via search engines, which compared to 44 percent during the previous year. While this indicated a decline in apps as a way to initialise bookings, it is also important to note the wider context. The fact is that apps remain more popular than search overall, and clearly remain a critical way for digital marketers to reach travellers.
Finally, the same trend was also reflected in the booking of plane tickets, with 45 percent of US travellers using airline sites or apps as a starting point in 2014; a fall of four percentage points.
Independent market research
Some may be slightly sceptical about the validity of this survey given that it has been carried out by Google, who have an obvious vested interest in promoting search engines in general. But it is worth noting that the actual research was conducted by an independent market research firm, Ipsos MediaCT, and that the subject matter and the way the research has been carried out and worded in the report has remained consistent for several annual editions. Previous versions of the reports have essentially reflected completely different trends, which suggests that there is no inherent bias within the surveys.
In fact, Google’s survey does not suggest that mobile applications have lost their significance. Rather mobile apps are part of a more nuanced and complex range of traveller behaviour which takes advantage of numerous sources when planning and booking travel-related products and services. Google notes that “leisure travellers mostly book via mobile websites, while business travelers mostly book via apps – both types of booking method are still key.”
This is reflected in the fact that half of those who use their smartphone for leisure travel planning and research ultimately book another way, such as by making a call or using a desktop computer or a tablet. But when looking at booking, 40 percent of leisure travellers used apps on smartphones in order to book trips, while nearly two in three business travellers used apps. This figure clearly underlines the importance that mobile applications continue to occupy within the tourism marketplace.
Nearly half of the searches being carried out are now taking place on smartphones and tablets, showing the importance of the shift away from traditional desktop methods. Desktop is certainly not dead as a method of promotion for the travel industry, but a digital marketing strategy which entirely or primarily focuses on desktop is lacking in vision and relevance.
Plurality of searches
Overall, the global report paints a picture of travellers who are not relying on one singular source of information, nor a solitary type of device, when planning and booking trips and travel-related products. Google found about 75 percent of leisure travellers switch between devices when conducting a singular piece of travel-related planning or booking, and this figure elevates to as much as 87 percent when dealing with business travellers.
Digital marketers should note this trend and adjust their strategies accordingly to reflect the plurality of devices and approaches in contemporary travel booking.
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