In 2018, the global tourism industry grew 3.9 percent to $8.8 trillion, making it the second-fastest growing economic sector in the world. And with consumers increasingly favoring experiences over goods, this trend shows little sign of slowing down.
However, as the industry has grown, it’s been forced to adapt to new technologies and expectations. Prospective travelers now rely on digital channels for every phase of the decision-making process, and lead times are plunging as customers search for last-minute deals – a dynamic that requires hospitality brands to think innovatively. From inspiration, to planning, to the final purchase, hospitality providers must ensure their online presence is optimized for tech-savvy travelers each step of the way. Merchants can stand out from the competition this summer – and year-round – by effectively deploying personalization, seamless omnichannel experiences, and flexible payment options.
Inspiration through Personalization
Travelers today face a dizzying array of options, with more choices than ever in terms of destinations, accommodations, travel and booking. Over the course of researching and planning a vacation, the average user will browse 38 travel websites.
How can merchants stand out in this overcrowded landscape? The only way is to show an in-depth understanding of what prospective travelers truly want by utilizing data to pinpoint what individuals are looking for and tailor your offering to meet those expectations. More than ever before, travelers are seeking novel experiences tailored to their tastes and needs -- meaning that a one-size-fits all site that mirrors a static brochure will surely be overlooked.
Instead of optimizing only for conversions and pushing all customers towards the “buy now” button, travel sites should leverage data to dynamically adjust for user intent, interests and needs. In fact, customers are clamoring for this. One study found that 57 percent of US travelers want brands to use data personalization. Furthermore, 36 percent say they would pay extra for personalized experiences.
Indeed, experiential travelers tend to be higher-value customers overall. According to a 2019 study from Booking.com, travelers who booked their activities ahead of their trip spent 47 percent more on lodging and 81 percent more on transportation.
Efficient Cross-Device Planning
Despite access to powerful digital tools and services, online travel planning is still a long, complex process. And while the multitude of booking aggregators, review sites and travel blogs can sometimes provide helpful insight, it more often contributes to a paralyzing information overload. This can be doubly frustrating for consumers during summertime – when a third of Americans say they’re more stressed out than at any other time of the year.
Further complicating the process are the numerous devices the typical traveler will use to plan their trip. A 2018 McKinsey study found that the average purchase journey for a hotel room lasted 36 days and hit 45 touchpoints across a variety of devices and platforms. The same study found that the popularity of cross-device planning rose 10 percent, and contributed five extra days, 55 percent more sessions and 45 percent more touchpoints to a customer’s planning journey. For travelers already overwhelmed with travel planning, a seamless cross-channel experience is increasingly important.
Brand consistency is important in every facet of hospitality and unifying the experiences between mobile and desktop should be no different. Especially given the uneven approach travelers often take to planning, keeping functionality, preferences and context uniform across channels can help win customer loyalty and maximize conversions. In fact, according to Invesp, companies with strong omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain 89 percent of their customers on average, compared with the 33 percent retained by companies with weak strategies.
Flexible, Generous Payments
After working so hard to identify the right customers and personalize their experiences across platforms, chances are that most travelers still won’t convert. Online booking abandonment rates for the travel industry sit at 81 percent, amounting to major annual losses for merchants. Research has also found that a lack of payment options was a significant factor contributing to cart abandonment. Splitit’s own Affording Summer Travel report further hones in on this point, finding that 42 percent of consumers would decide to book a hotel room -- and 30 percent would even upgrade their room -- if given the option to pay in interest-free installments.
Another important point for merchants to consider is whether they provide adequate global payment solutions. Especially in the travel industry, customers may be in one country but have to pay for hotels and services in another. Flexible payment options provide more ways for international guests to pay, with fewer chances of incurring additional cross-border fees. Payment is often a sticking point in an already complicated travel planning process. The more options merchants give customers, the more likely they will be to take the final step and convert.
The entire travel and tourism industry is bristling with growth. But capturing this potential means keeping pace with the dynamic trends shaping the marketplace. And effectively standing out from the competition will require that brands emphasize personalized experiences, optimize omnichannel engagement and deploy flexible, cross-border payment options. In short, winning over travelers means going the extra mile.
Gil Don is the CEO and co-founder of Splitit. He holds over 20 years of experience in sales and management for US corporations, previously serving as the Regional Manager for one of Dell EMC’s product divisions where he was responsible for driving sales, building customer relationships, and establishing additional channel partners. Prior to this, he served as Vice President of Sales for leading technology system integrators Ankor and We!.