Mirror mirror on the wall, which is the most-influential travel company of all? TripAdvisor still has a strong grip on travelers from a trip-planning standpoint, and that's its most-appealing asset. But the landscape is fragmented and there are lots of sites, including search engines, for travel advertisers to consider when establishing their favorite clients.
It was almost a given several years ago that if an online travel agency or hotel wanted to be in the mix and reach consumers, then it had to advertise on TripAdvisor.
But that was before TripAdvisor tried to become a hotel booker while later switching back to classic metasearch referrals, hotels ramped up their direct-booking campaigns, and Google accelerated its push to direct consumers researching hotels in its search engine toward its own comparison service, Google Hotels.
A new comScore study — paid for TripAdvisor — found that 60 percent of travel consumers worldwide who booked trips on prominent websites in a dozen major markets in Europe, Asia, North America and Latin America visited TripAdvisor sites and apps along the way as part of their research process. When considering just U.S. travelers, that number rose to 67 percent.
The comScore study tapped into a panel of more than 2 million people and analyzed their online travel research activity leading up to bookings on 325 hotel, airline, online travel agency, and car rental websites in the second and third quarters of 2017. The markets covered included Spain, Italy, the UK, the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Australia, India, Japan, China, France and Germany.
Using the study as a takeoff point, TripAdvisor’s message to the travel industry is: advertise with us.
In reference to the comScore Path to Purchase study, which found that TripAdvisor visitors took four weeks or more to book on any of the 325 travel websites, Martin Verdon-Roe, vice president of product and marketing, hotels at TripAdvisor, characterized TripAdvisor’s ability to influence consumer hotel and flight-booking decisions as “staggering.”
But there are other influencers that might vie for the most-influential tag.
One hole in the study is that it didn’t take into account the roles of major players like Google and Facebook, and their hold on consumers during the travel-research process. While TripAdvisor was the most-visited travel site during the travel-research process, according to comScore, one wonders how inclusion of Google, Facebook and Baidu, for example, might have skewed the conclusions. All of these companies are TripAdvisor competitors in trying to attract travel-advertising spend.
Expedia and Booking.com spend way more on Google than they do on TripAdvisor. Booking.com, for example, spent $4 billion just on digital advertising, with the bulk going to Google, in 2017.
“The rising importance of reviews in traveler’s trip-planning is highlighted in numerous studies, including Skift’s own consumer surveys such as U.S. Affluent Traveler Trends 2018, said Haixia Wang, Skift’s research director. “There is no doubt that managing reviews and acting on reviews to improve product and services is crucial for driving business.”
Brands need to be flexible, though, Wang said.
“However, this doesn’t mean hospitality businesses should cut down spending on other marketing tactics and channels,” she added. “Today’s consumers are all savvy researchers and regularly process tons of information through many sources before they make decisions. They need to reach these consumers at all those touch points.”
In other tidbits from the study, comScore found that the most-popular online travel agency or metasearch sites close to the time of booking were: TripAdvisor (70 percent reach); Booking.com (45 percent); Trivago (28 percent); Hotels.com (23 percent), and Expedia.com (22 percent). The latter three sites are all Expedia Group companies.
When looking at TripAdvisor’s influence over the last few years, the study showed that TripAdvisor’s reach of travel bookers climbed from 50 percent in 2014 to 60 percent worldwide in 2017. However, last year was a slight step back when considering TripAdvisor had 62 percent reach in 2016 despite the fact that the company greatly increased its TV advertising spend last year.
The study also found that TripAdvisor’s influence over bookers varies based on the amount of time before booking. For example, TripAdvisor had a leading 16 percent share of visits among popular travel sites when it came to hotel transactions five-plus weeks before a booking, but Expedia was first (34 percent versus 28 percent for TripAdvisor) one week before, and Hilton was the leader (48 percent versus 24 percent) on the day of the booking.
For travel companies looking to inspire travelers with trip ideas, the comScore study found that 73 percent of first travel searches worldwide — and 63 percent of initial travel searches in the U.S. — had no mention of a brand or destination.
That means there are a lot of open minds among travelers to be swayed.
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Photo credit: TripAdvisor has the most reach among travel websites prior to bookings, a comScore study found. Pictured is a screenshot of the TripAdvisor owl from a TripAdvisor TV commercial. TripAdvisor