By Kate Bielamowicz
Selling “experiences” is the key to influencing potential guests when they first consider taking a trip. When travelers are looking for early inspiration, they’re not focused on hotel rooms. They’re motivated by the prospect of exciting experiences that chime with their personal interests.
As a result, marketing efforts need to be pitched accordingly. When targeting people in the inspiration phase of travel, it’s important not to try and sell them rooms and amenities. Instead, hotels should focus on promoting their destination and rewarding travel moments.
How travel experiences influence the customer booking journey
In the early phases of the travel journey, inspiration for a trip almost always begins with the destination. According to Think with Google, consumers don’t think about brands and hotels when they start dreaming about potential trips. Their minds are fixed on the kind of destinations that excite them.
During these “I want to get away” moments, 82% of leisure travelers haven’t decided on the accommodation they will book with. In fact, one-third haven’t even chosen where they want to travel, they simply know they want to get away.
The latest comScore study funded by TripAdvisor adds weight to Google’s findings. In an analysis of over 2 million people, the comScore “Path to Purchase” study found that 73% of all first searches are generic, meaning that consumers aren’t searching for a specific destination or brand.
Based on these findings, it’s clear that travelers in the inspiration and planning stages of travel are open-minded and ready to be inspired. But what specific factors and influencers are most likely to capture their attention?
The huge sway of social influencer
It’s no secret that social media has an enormous influence on travel choices. A huge 87% of Millennial Facebook users rely on the platform for travel inspiration, and nearly 90% of Gen Z’s say their own travel plans are influenced by social media.
But intriguingly, people often choose a destination because of the anticipated social kudos. Recent research by the University of Georgia found that the prospect of receiving social approval was tied to future travel choices. The researchers created a “Social Return Scale” to predict whether a group of 758 U.S. travelers intended to visit Cuba (over the next one year, five years, and ten years) based on expected social feedback on their experience.
The model proved a good predictor of travel intent, especially for travel within the next year, highlighting how an impressive experience or unique destination are now key drivers in travel decisions.
Early inspiration is driven by location
A study by Sullivan and 20/20 Research found that location is paramount to travelers. Participants from a range of ages, locations, incomes and loyalty membership programs all reported that the location of their accommodation was “a top factor” both in terms of enjoying a past trip, and rebooking in the future.
The study looked at factors including search behaviors, website perceptions, and how participants researched and booked travel. Frequently, location was ranked as more important than amenities, price, and ratings.
When travelers were researching accommodation, they “overwhelmingly mentioned” the importance of proximity to an area highlight, such as the beach, downtown, or a place of interest.
But when it came to booking a hotel on the hotel’s own website, people frequently could not find the location information they wanted. Instead, they had to rely on third-party sites and maps.
The takeaway findings here are that travelers are hugely influenced by the destination, but hotels often focus heavily on promoting their own amenities. In addition, many hotels don’t do a good job of showing how close they are to the kind of location highlights that potential guests are interested in.
The Airbnb approach to selling experiences
More than most, Airbnb understands the immense value of promoting experiences. Along with selling experiences on the platform, the company also promotes its destinations through a dedicated print and digital travel publication called Airbnbmag.
Launched with Hearst Magazines, Airbnbmag features real-life stories and recommended experiences from columnists, authors, and locals living in the destination. Recent stories include a Tennessee singer-songwriter host showcasing her historic home, while The Magic of Paris After Dark and Uncovering the Mysteries of Santeria in Havana are great examples of engaging, personal travelogues.
Meanwhile, a section titled “Not Yet Trending” profiles off-the-beaten-path locations that are yet to make it onto the mainstream travel radar.
As Hearst Magazines Chief Content Officer Joanna Coles puts it, “We’re bringing readers a magazine that fits into the way they want to experience the world today.” It’s a sentiment that acknowledges how stories, destinations and experiences are now primary reasons for why and where people travel.
How to incorporate experiences into your marketing
Here’s three areas where hotels can incorporate experiences into their marketing efforts.
Curate visuals and videos on your hotel website Incorporating destination-focused visuals and video on your website can be an extremely effective way of increasing engagement. In fact, a study by TripAdvisor found that hotels and B&B pages with at least one photo on their website (compared to properties that had none) boosted customer engagement levels by 138%.
If your hotel is near major attractions, landmarks, entertainment districts, or beautiful natural scenery, your homepage is the perfect place to showcase these destination highlights.
Sell experiences through blog posts and neighborhood guides Your hotel blog is another great resource to sell your destination as guests start planning their vacation in more detail. By producing posts on major attractions, local events and must-visit landmarks (ideally with unique images), you’ll both inspire and make it easier for potential guests to imagine their trip with you.
It’s also worth trying to provide tips and insights on unique experiences that can’t be found anywhere else online. For instance, you might want to interview locals in your area and publish a series of posts based on their insights, from the best bars and restaurants, to tucked-away beaches, family attractions, or special cultural activities.
Think of your blog as an opportunity to demonstrate your hotel as an invaluable destination resource. Get creative and focus on the kind of content that will chime with the interests of your audience.
Encourage your guests to share their own stories Few things are more engaging than the real stories of your own guests. So if you find out your guests enjoyed an amazing sightseeing tour, had a unique cultural experience, or fell in love with the local dining scene, encourage them to share their tales of adventure online.
Beyond telling their story on review sites such as TripAdvisor, you could feature a series of guest stories on your hotel website, either on a dedicated destination page or via your blog. These kind of personal accounts will create an authentic and relatable story that helps potential guests better understand what makes your destination so special.
Tap into the power of travel experiences