July 31 2018

How Travelers Use Online & Social Media Channels To Make Decisions

Research shows that social media is significantly impacting travel plans.

The world is on the move. The global travel economy of $5 trillion (and growing) is one of the world’s largest industries and according to a report by World Tourism Organization people are traveling more than ever.  Globally, on average, every day, more than 8 million people fly and it is estimated that by 2030 a global population of 8.5 billion people will take approximately 2 billion international trips.

While travel has progressed by leaps and bounds the way we travel has certainly changed a lot in the past 20 – 30 years. Does anyone even remember a time when planning a holiday use to involve dragging yourself down to the local travel agency, picking up a heap of brochures and spending hours trawling through them? This was then more than likely followed by perusing travel guidebooks at your local library or bookstore, perhaps even investing in one; you then might try to find out if anyone you knew had been there, asking friends where they stayed during their holiday and finally, actually phone the hotel to book a room – more often than not without even knowing what the place looked like. It was all brochures, guidebooks and word-of-mouth – making phone calls and speaking to actual people, all of which took hours to arrange, and while worth it in the end, planning the annual holiday trip was a bit of a challenge.

Mobile is Fueling the Way People Plan Travel

Cut to today and traveling is easier and more accessible than ever before, thanks to the development of technology and online services. Smartphones, AI, electronic payments, social media and so on have, for better and worse, affected travel in incalculable ways. And thanks to increasing mobile adoption, planning is getting more convenient. According to a 2018 Facebook study, 85% of travelers used a smartphone when planning their recent trip. Travelers are increasingly turning to their phones – and away from desktops and tablets – to book trips and experiences. If there’s a long weekend coming up, you can simply open an app on your smartphone, decide where you want to go, book your flights and hotels in under ten minutes and before you know it, you’re all set for your quick weekend getaway.

With an internet enable mobile device and the click of finger (and a swipe or swish or two) you can easily scout around online for the best deal, bang in your credit card and off you go. You can also check in online and print out your boarding pass – ultimately we have become our own travel agent! Mobile devices now serve as travelers’ new compass, guiding them from inspiration to booking.

Travelers Draw Inspiration From Social Media

And travelers are not only using mobile to help book their trip but also are turning to online resources to get inspiration to help them decide where to go and what to do once they get there.  Back in the day you might have placed your faith in ‘authority’ books such as Fodor, Lonely Planet, or Rough Guides, but today, it could be a popular travel blog, a travel show on TV, social media, or even your friend’s Facebook photos that spark off your wanderlust and inspires you where to go.

Today’s travelers use their social media channels to pull from peer experiences to get inspiration for their future travel destinations, activities and accommodations. Research shows that social media can significantly impact travel plans – in fact, roughly 89% of millennials plan travel based on social shares by their peers, according to Entrepreneur. Similarly, that 2018 Facebook study we mentioned earlier also revealed that not only do travelers spend five times more time on Facebook than other travel-related sites during the average trip-planning, but 52% said that friends’ photos have inspired their own travel plans and 40% said their last trip was inspired by hearing travel stories from other people. Not only that but 55% of people like social media pages related to trips they are planning and 42% like to follow travel providers online. The same study also revealed that 60% of millennials found ideas for their recent trips on Instagram, with another 2018 industry report by Pinterest revealing that three in four travel pinners found pins from brands useful and nearly all will act on what they see, often booking an unplanned trip.

People Power: Online Reviews Have Enormous Influence

However, one of the most profound effects that social media has had on the travel industry to date is the “democratization” of online reviews. Before we heralded the arrival of the internet, there was no such thing as TripAdvisor and booking trips and accommodations were done on blind faith. But fast forward to today and we can instantly read reviews on where to stay and what to do. It takes only a few seconds to type in the name of a hotel or restaurant into Google and you can access hundreds of traveler reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor, or read an in-depth article on a popular travel blog. Real guest feedback serves to preview the in-person experience that the destination has to offer from a viewpoint other than that of the brand. According to a study by both TripAdvisor & Trust You, 96% consider reviews important when researching a hotel, 79% will read between six and 12 reviews before making a purchase decision, and 85% agree that a thoughtful response to a review from a brand will improve their impression as customers believe they care more about them.

Similarly, with advent of social media, online reviews and communities, it’s becoming less and less difficult to avoid tourist traps and overhyped attractions, with recommendations of better, more authentic experiences just a tap of a finger away. Travelers can also get great recommendations on what to see and where to eat. If you want to know where to get vegan yum cha in outer Mongolia, rest assured someone will have a blog about it! It is much easier to find restaurants and cafes that suit you, where you will really eat among locals, not tourists.

Online reviews and recommendations are significant and highly influential – a study, conducted by Oxford Economics, was able to quantify just how influential a site like TripAdvisor can be.

They estimated, that globally, the popular travel site influenced more than 433 million trips last year, and 65 million in just the United States alone last year! In monetary terms, 10.3% of Global Travel Spend (or $546 billion) was influenced by TripAdvisor 2017, up from 7% ($268 Billion) just a decade prior. For any businesses or brands reading out there… reviews matter!

Technology has undoubtedly changed the face of travel and made traveling so much easier. The content available on the various social media platforms is tremendously accessible and influential and as a result is impacting travel before, during, and after a trip. What was once a traditional, linear marketing funnel (discovery, research, shopping, and purchase), now forms a circle – social is a touch point at every part of the redesigned travel planning routine.