Over the past decade, nothing has impacted travel buying more so than search and consumer access to mobile devices.  Now more than ever before, the customer buying journey has changed due to increased mobile use, both in travel planning, and while in destination.  As a result, the playing field has been leveled for local operators against the big brands and online travel suppliers, who have dominated search for the past decade.

With today’s connected mobile consumer, travel marketers large and small, can impact the mobile and local path to purchase – simply by being there in local search, being accurate, managing reviews, and providing “in the moment” customer service.

What has changed in the customer path to purchase of travel:

                                                                                                                              Source: Sullivan 20/20

1. Mobile Access has changed consumer buying process, expectations, and even the way they buy travel and travel related services.

2. Local and “near me searches” have changed the travel path to purchase with in-destination or “in the moment” sales increasing year over year.

3. Consumers expect the “mobile first” user experience with easy access to contact information, maps, directions and reviews.  They expect accuracy in listing information, and immediate response from brands in solving problems.

4. Within the online mobile experience, local listings, maps, and review sites are dominating the points along the customer journey, and directly impacting revenue in the travel category, more now than in the past with reviews integrated into the local and mobile search experience.

                                                                                                                                 Source: GoogleThinkTravel


The impact of reviews on revenue within the travel category is not new.

But with the increased use of mobile devices, and visibility of  local search on mobile devices, travel consumers are now making “in the moment” decisions while in-destination – and even modifying plans around transportation, accommodations, dining, and activities throughout their travel experience.


The impact of reviews on travel buying

                                                                                                                          Source: TripAdvisor

The Mobile search experience is much different than on desktop: 


Mobile Search



A search on a mobile device highlights paid search results, then maps, then local listings and reviews take top real-estate in both Google and Bing.

There is no room for “organic” rankings in a mobile search environment.  This makes sense, as users accessing information on a mobile device are “mobile,” on the go – and looking for different information than when searching from a desktop or laptop.


Mobile has changed the travel buying journey:


                                                                                                                                 Source: GoogleThink Travel


The consumer buying journey on mobile devices is primarily local, and focused on immediate access to information such as maps, directions, contact information, and reviews to allow for “*in the moment” decisions.


Near me searches impact on Travel buying

                                                                                                                         Sources:  Moz and Google Think Travel

The mobile effect has changed the travel buying path as follows:

  1. The mobile user experience is different than on desktop, with consumers looking to complete an action and accomplish a task, instead of browsing.
  2. Local and “*near me searches” have increased year over year, with in-destination or “in the moment” decisions impacting purchases before travel and throughout the time while in-destination. (Think with Google)
  3. Consumers expect a “mobile first” user experience with easy access to contact information, maps, directions, and reviews.  Customers also expect accuracy in listing information, and immediate response from brands in solving problems.
  4. Increased Importance of reviews and social comments in gaining both reach and revenue.  With reviews highlighted at the top of mobile search real estate, users are more likely to access reviews in making purchase decisions than they would be if they needed to leave the search experience and go to a review website.  The number and quality of reviews are also factors in local search engine rankings.


Local Search Experience on Desktop


Why user reviews Impact revenue more now than ever before:

A recent  comScore study looks at the impact  that online consumer-generated reviews have on offline purchase behaviour:

“Nearly one out of every four Internet users (24%) report using online reviews before paying for a service delivered offline. Of those who consulted an online review, 41% of restaurant reviewers subsequently visited a restaurant, while 40% of hotel reviewers then stayed at a hotel.”

This is not a new trend in the tourism industry.  What is new is that “Review us Here” has expanded to include listings on Yelp, Facebook, as well as travel booking sites, such as Expedia and Booking.com.  

All have an impact on consumer perception and on search rankings – and specifically on mobile search rankings.  

The *comScore report also highlighted:

“Consumers are likely to pay between 20% and 99% more for an excellent (5-star rating) than for a good (4-star rating), depending on the product category.”  (Source comScore).

This suggests that the  impact of reviews on hotels, restaurants, airline, car rental, attractions, as well as other travel suppliers, can alter consumer perception and modify a decision to buy – or event change their decision to purchase

 Travel buying Journey

                                                                                                                                          Source: Sullivan 20/20


Implications for travel and hospitality marketers:

  1. Local SEO is a must, or your business will not be found.
  2. Google my business listing must be claimed, and the accuracy of Google and Bing business listings is important for all brick and mortar businesses or services with a storefront.
  3. Google Maps Pins must be accurately situated.
  4. Google listings should have the Click to Call feature enabled.
  5. Reviews must be managed across channels and in real-time to ensure consumer confidence and service level.
  6. All review channels are important. Positive reviews affect revenue. with Google, Facebook and Tripadvisor being the most critical to mobile search ranking


                                                                                                                                                   Source: ICUC.Social 


By optimizing and leveraging consumer mobile connectedness, local search, and social review platforms together, travel marketers can ensure that they are visible at every place along the buyers travel journey.

All travel category suppliers from hotels, restaurants and rental cars, to attractions, tour operators and destination marketing organizations need to be optimizing and managing their local and mobile user experience to win with today’s traveler.

It is essential to have full-circle integration and management of brand, local, mobile, and social in the travel category, to provide a seamless and consistent brand experience across search, social channels, listing sites, review sites and forums.


Travel marketing

Some additional tips to win with today’s mobile connected customer:

  1. Provide a seamless and consistent brand experience across search, social channels, listing sites, review sites, and forums; listen, respond, and deliver on value as well as consumer expectations.
  2. Solve problems and create value: Monitor and understand consumer user experience at a localized level to ensure a clear path to information, easy access to location details and directions, contact information – and information to make the buying experience easier, and with a clear point of transaction.
  3. Be accurate, transparent, and relevant: Ensure inventory is consistent across channels (e.g., car rentals and hotels should ensure price parity across distribution channels ), information is accurate (e.g., Google map pins, and listings are optimized (e.g., Google Business listings, etc.).
  4. Focus SEO and marketing resources around “mobile moments” – and the impact that “near me” search has had on the customer journey.
  5. Reviews impact ROI: Managing local reviews in widely used channels like Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp – and even on popular travel related sites, such as Booking.com and Expedia – will help to increase your ability to reach to your target audience via higher search rankings. It should also help to drive sales due to increased customer confidence based on comparisons of your product, business location or service to others.  

In preparation for the travel season, a review of your listings on all popular review sites including Facebook and Google Reviews is a must.

Claim and optimize Google and Bing business and map listings.  The good news is that a more direct relationship with the customer is easier now than it was in the early days of search and social.

For large brands with multiple franchises, and numerous locations – this is the time to shift the focus of SEO and digital marketing budgets to ensure that localized support is provided.  The sum is the total of its parts as they say.  One or two locations who are missing the mark can have an impact on the brand.


 About: Alicia Whalen

Digital and social media marketing expert, strategist, and speaker, Alicia Whalen has spent over a decade transforming brands to take a “Digital First” approach to marketing.  Alicia is a recognized social media influencer on Twitter, speaker and blogger with expertise in UGC marketing strategy, social commerce, social trends, digital marketing for tourism, and the impact that technology has had on consumer behaviour.  Alicia has joined ICUC.social as the Global Product Performance Strategist, launching full-service, integrated social commerce and social experience management to some of the world’s largest brands.



Further reading and article references:
  1. https://moz.com/blog/new-data-reveals-67-of-consumers-are-influenced-by-online-reviews
  2. http://www.traveltrends.biz/ttn555-online-reputation-management-biggest-issue-for-hoteliers/
  3. https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/TripAdvisorInsights/n2670/6-key-travel-trends-2016
  4. http://travelerjourney.sullivannyc.com/11/
  5. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/consumer-insights/mobile-influence-travel-decision-making-explore-moments/
  6. https://www.brightlocal.com/learn/local-consumer-review-survey/
Alicia Whalen
About the author

Alicia Whalen is a digital marketing expert speaker and strategist specializing in the travel and tourism industry. Alicia has spent over a decade driving successful digital marketing campaigns and educating professionals about how to embrace digital and social media.

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