Senior Manager Product Proposition-OTA & Meta, Travelport
How has the traveler journey changed from pre-COVID-19 to where we are today — and what does this mean for online travel agencies? Here I’m outlining some of the key differences that are emerging.
Understanding the traveler journey
Regardless of the climate for travel, there are typically six stages to any traveler journey: inspiration, shopping, booking, pre-trip, in-trip, and post-trip. At every step, travelers will engage with travel brands for a range of services, and experience hundreds of touchpoints, on a variety of devices. For example, a typical (pre-pandemic) accommodation-purchase journey has 45 touchpoints alone — and that’s just looking for somewhere to stay!
Online travel agencies (OTAs) can influence travelers’ experiences and become invaluable travel partners to customers at every step of the journey. This goes far beyond simply converting lookers to bookers — this is a chance to open up new revenue streams at multiple touchpoints.
By taking a full view of the traveler journey and creating your own journey map, you will see immense potential to grow conversions at every step. And the term ‘conversions’ doesn’t just mean bookings; there are specific goals your OTA can achieve at each stage of the journey, for example: converting page views to trip searches, searches to bookings, bookings to ancillary attachments, and so on.
First, let’s take a look at this sample leisure traveler journey pre-COVID-19.
Now, let’s compare that to the customer journey in the era of COVID-19.
By comparing these two charts, we can see a number of changes taking place across each stage:
Inspiration Travelers are now naturally much more concerned with knowing what safety measures will be in place across all touchpoints of their journey. This means that while Inspiration is still an important stage of their journey, in the near- to mid-term we can expect assurance to be a deciding emotional factor as well.
Shopping Key traveler concerns, such as getting the best deal and making the most of their break, haven’t gone away. But there are new ones on the list; from ‘how safe will I be?’, to ‘can I get my money back if I have to cancel?’. We know from our recent research that this is an extremely influential factor in decision-making.
Booking The travel environment remains highly volatile, with lockdowns, quarantines and cancellations happening at a moment’s notice. As a result, customers are more concerned now about how insulated they are from financial loss, putting a renewed focus on booking flexibility and insurance validity.
Pre-trip As COVID-19 lockdowns fluctuate, travelers are closely monitoring the situation in destinations. This is creating more demand for pre-trip guidance and information on insurance. Customers will feel reassured at this stage by flexibility and generous cancellation/refund policies, while agencies are likely to experience a significant increase in itinerary adjustments than in the past.
In-trip There is still a wealth of decisions to make in-trip, including taking tours, booking restaurants or experiences, shopping, onward travel, and more. What has changed is that there is more demand from travelers for information while at their destination, i.e. on local regulations and restrictions.
Post-trip With the pool of potential travelers smaller than it usually is, OTAs will need to use every tool at their disposal to develop a loyal brand following and increase purchase frequency. Valuable sources of information are customer feedback and reviews, so they can better understand their preferences and tailor future deals accordingly.