Having current tourism digital skills, let alone best practice, has been a continual challenge for tourism operators and destination marketers all over the world ever since customers started the migration to the online world, drifting away from travel agents and brochures to websites, social media and mobile devices.
The internet is the top source for both leisure and business travel planning at 78% and 57% of leisure travelers start their travel booking process with Search. The opportunities from a destination perspective are massive with 65% of leisure travelers researching online before they’ve even decided where to holiday.
Despite the prolific use of technology in travel decision making and booking, regional tourism lags the consumer across all areas of etourism best practice. There is some good news however, in that the tourism business sector shapes up as doing somewhat better than small business generally when it comes to their digital take up. That is because consumer demand for online travel information, recommendations and booking services has grown so quickly and been a driver of that change in industry, albeit slower than it should be to seize the opportunities for business.
For example, the 2015 Sensis eBusiness report shows the number of SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) receiving payments online for sales of the internet at 51% and our own research shows tourism operators having the equivalent online booking and payment facilities at 61%.
The most potent drivers of change in how consumers search and share travel information have been mobile and social, which have impacted on a number of key consumer trends in the travel purchase cycle.
87% of travelers (global) use mobile devices while traveling (Trip Barometer).
Smart phone users use their phones to be inspired on travel choices in spare moments, such as when waiting, commuting, etc. Google has articulated the new mental model for marketing,
83% of leisure travelers have encountered a travel site that was not mobile optimized or friendly. Only 23% of those who have encountered a mobile site that wasn’t optimized actually pushed through. Because of the consumer’s hyper connectivity to their mobile devices, Google now places enormous importance on mobile friendliness of websites and since April 2015 is penalizing websites’ search rankings where the sites are not mobile responsive, according to Google’s automated test.
Another way in which mobile technology has been a driver of change for Google has been the growing importance of location awareness in search. 85% of leisure travelers rely on search engines via smartphones to find local information whilst in destination. This means that it has become a high priority for businesses to have a full and professional listing on Google with their pin on the map, which is freely available through Google My Business which wraps up previous Google listing methods including Google + and Places.
Almost 50% of consumers now access social media every day (and up to 79% for the 18-29 age group), yet only 31% of SME businesses actively operate a social media engagement strategy. During the inspiration phase of the travel purchase cycle, 56% of leisure travelers are highly influenced by information shared by their friends and family and 83% of people cite social networking, video or photo sites as top sources for online inspiration. This makes social media and content sharing an absolute priority for regional tourism marketers and operators alike. Many small tourism businesses have set up a Facebook business page but with no actual practices and planning around their social media presence. Only 65% are linking their website to their Facebook page and only 18% are making use of regional and brand hashtags for content sharing.
There are 90 new contributions posted every minute on TripAdvisor (TripAdvisor). Consumers are less price sensitive where they see consistent 5-star reviews against a property and properties in this situation can increase their price by 11% (Cornell University).
53% of consumers won’t book a hotel with zero reviews (PhoCusWright).
33% of people change their choice based on reviews (World Travel and Tourism Council)
Without any doubt we can say that tourism operators are aware of the impact of reviews on their business and most are engaged in TripAdvisor; however best practice is far from being achieved. Tourism operators are missing out on the positive business opportunities that come from having a strong and healthy presence on review websites and they are missing out on the distribution and up-selling capabilities.
Based on operator feedback less than 50% of operators have claimed their TripAdvisor listing and set it up with quality information and most companies are not maximizing the opportunities that come from engaging in the valuable feedback cycle with their customers.
Social usage also heightens the importance of content in a business marketing plan and video is one of the most urgent content needs for tourism marketing.
35% leisure travelers engaged in travel-related video activities within the past six months
Online videos are viewed throughout the travel journey, particularly before decisions are made with 65% when choosing a destination, 63% when looking for ideas of activities to do at a particular destination and 54% when deciding on accommodations at a particular destination
Facebook users watch eight billion videos a day, doubling the number it announced in April
The integration of video and social use and Facebook’s recent modifications to how videos appear and play on the platform means that videos are increasingly watched more on mobile and any digital marketing strategy needs to include video production that is both planned and opportunistic.
Unfortunately, the indicators are not good for our industry when it comes to using video in marketing with only 26% making use of YouTube monthly and only 30% of those embedding videos into their websites…there is a lot of encouragement to be done on this front.
In the past the focus for industry skills development has been on websites and online bookings. A lot has changed in the last five years with a cracking pace in social media and mobile adoption in the consumer market place which has left tourism businesses confused and unprepared to engage with their customers on their terms and certainly the majority of small businesses and regional areas are missing opportunities to get their products and destinations in front of consumers at the right stage of their decision making.
Website best practice has moved in mammoth steps with mobile capabilities, video, testimonials, blogs now being the requirement as well as mobile friendly booking capability. A social media plan is a priority for business, as is collaborative content sharing, a review management strategy and a search strategy.