By Margaret Mastrogiacomo, Vice President Strategy

This is the first article in a five-part series that focuses on reaching potential guests throughout the entire travel planning journey by addressing key digital micro-moments in each phase to shape and influence the booking decision.

Travel planning. We all know from experience that a lot goes into planning the perfect vacation, and with so many devices and planning resources, the journey is complex. According to a leisure travel study conducted by Phocuswright, 60% of respondents reported that a vacation was their largest discretionary purchase. In light of this, before making this large investment, travelers are thoughtfully taking time to research all the possibilities. In fact, according to Google, in just a little over a 60-day booking window, the average person encounters over 38,983 digital micro-moments and interactions.

As travel planners encounter more digital distractions and more research happens throughout the traveler's customer journey, being there for the most important digital micro-moments—during which preferences are shaped and decisions are made—is crucial to capturing the attention of potential guests and nurturing them through the path to a direct booking.

Take advantage of the full travel planning journey.

While reaching potential guests lower in the purchase funnel is a key strategy to winning the direct booking, not being there to influence and shape decisions made earlier in the travel planning journey is a serious missed opportunity that results in lost bookings. Travel micro-moments start when people begin daydreaming about their next vacation, and they continue all the way through the long-awaited trip itself. Google defines four major stages of the travel planning journey in which hotel brands must be present: Dreaming, Planning, Booking, and Experiencing.

With over 40% of travelers stating they bounce back and forth between dreaming about and planning their next vacation—zooming in on the details for one destination and then zooming out to reconsider all the options again—it’s becoming just as important for hotel brands to be present in the dreaming phase as it is the planning phase of the journey.

Key advantages of being present throughout the entire planning journey:

  • Your hotel brand can shape and influence important vacation planning decisions early on in the process to nurture potential guests further down the booking funnel.
  • Seventy-two percent of travelers agree that they look for the most relevant information regardless of the travel company providing it; therefore, if you are not present early in the planning process to offer the information customers need when they need it, a competitor or an OTA might ultimately win the booking.
  • You can take advantage of the full booking window to capitalize on 100% of demand for your destination, and even increase demand by influencing travelers in the dreaming phase when they are choosing between multiple destinations.
  • You can better reach your “best guest” by capturing the attention of the right audience early on in the travel planning process.
  • You will be there for every step of the journey for your most loyal customers and ultimately deepen their brand connection.

It’s not just the journey—device matters too.

According to Google, 40% of US travel site visits come from mobile devices, revealing that a comprehensive cross-device strategy to influence the travel planning journey is simply a must. However, many travel brands claim that they struggle to make a lasting impression within these mobile micro-moments, and Google reported that mobile session length has decreased by 5%.

So, does this mean that the mobile channel is failing to make an impact? According to the same study, the truth is quite the opposite: Conversion rates have grown by nearly 10% on mobile travel sites.

Let’s connect the dots. If the length of mobile sessions is decreasing while mobile conversions are increasing, this means travel planners are turning to mobile research in shorter spurts and making faster decisions. This simply means we need to reshape the way we think about the travel planning journey and how hotel brands can make a fast, effective impact in these key moments.

Understand and be present for each phase of the planning journey.

To ensure your hotel brand is present in the most important and influential micro-moments throughout each phase of the travel planning journey, the first step is to understand each phase and how it plays a role.

The Dreaming Phase: “Dreaming moments" that happen when people are exploring destination options and ideas with no firm plans. At this stage, people are looking for inspiration.

The Planning Phase: "Planning moments" that happen when people have chosen a destination. They're looking for the right dates, the right flight, the right place to stay, and all the things they'll do while they're there.

The Booking Phase: "Booking moments" that happen when the research is done, and people are ready to book their accommodations.

The Experience Phase: "Experiencing moments" that happen when the trip is underway. Travelers are ready to live the vacation they've been dreaming about and share it with others.

Map the travel journey of your target audience, and build a strategy around key micro-moments.

Once you understand the key phases of the travel planning journey, it’s important to uncover the key digital touchpoints and micro-moments that are influencing and shaping the decisions of your target segment. The journey and path to booking varies depending on demographics, income level, location and more. Understanding the online behaviors as well as the wants and needs of your target segment in important digital moments throughout each phase of the journey is your blueprint to success and building impactful multi-channel campaigns.

The bottom line? Be there and be helpful. Simply ask yourself: What need or problem are you solving for the traveler, what is their current situation or context, and how can your hotel brand help?

Mind your KPIs.

Once you build your strategy, it’s important to properly measure success to continually optimize campaign performance and understand how your marketing initiatives work together. Different phases of the travel planning journey have different key performance indicators. For instance, the dreaming phase focuses more on upper-funnel initiatives such as content, video, and social media that are measured by KPIs like reach, engagement, and click-through rate. On the other hand, the booking phase focuses more on lower-funnel initiatives such as SEM and Dynamic Rate Marketing that hone in on KPIs like bookings, revenue, and so on. Also, many marketing initiatives can play a different role with different focus KPIs throughout each phase. Focusing on the right KPIs in each phase is vital to ensure that all marketing plays the right role at the right time in nurturing the potential guest through the booking funnel.

Get started with your full-funnel marketing strategy.

Taking advantage of the entire travel planning journey doesn’t happen overnight. Launching a successful strategy takes a thoughtful, holistic approach that truly answers the wants and needs of potential guests throughout each phase.

In our five-part series, HEBS Digital will help you navigate building a successful full-funnel marketing strategy including:

  • The most important micro-moments and common online behaviors in each phase of the travel planning journey
  • The most effective marketing initiatives and channels for each phase of the travel planning journey
  • The most important KPIs and optimization considerations for each phase of the travel planning journey
  • How your full-funnel marketing plan can achieve the optimal marketing mix on a cost-effective budget to lower cost of sale and increase returns

By the end of our five-part series, you will have all the right tools to capture your “best guest” and be there for meaningful moments throughout every step of the online travel planning journey.