Offline sources still dominate planning and influence for travel market

Travellers base their holiday decisions on ‘traditional’ sources of influence more often than social media and online reviews, a study has found.

Text100 Global Communications’ ‘Digital Index: Travel and Tourism Study’ revealed recommendations from friends and family are critical to 53% of Australians, while only 30% use online reviews and 22% use online forums to influence their travel decisions.

However, while the initial planning and choice of destination is more likely to be influence by traditional, offline sources, the finer details are heavily influenced by social media, particularly in Asia Pacific.

The APAC tourism industry must offer more integrated communications to innovation-hungry consumers, says director for the region at Text100, Anne Costello.

“Widespread Asia-Pacific enthusiasm for social media is definitely not a signal for the travel industry to invest solely in digital. “Travel and tourism operators need to integrate their traditional and new communications channels, but more importantly they need to focus on delivering content which their customers actually want to receive,” Costello says.

“Standalone promotions and loyalty programs, for example, don’t seem to be resonating with consumers any longer; they need to be part of an integrated communications approach.”

The study of 4600 respondents across 13 countries, suggests that APAC consumers lead the way in using social media to inspire, purchase and share travel experiences. Three in four have used social media to inspire at least one element of a recent trip, compared to only 51% of travellers globally.

44% in APAC use social media to help inform destination choice, and more than one in three search for attractions, hotels and activities on social networks.

Searches for ideas/inspiration on social media platforms

APAC’s enthusiasm as early digital adopters also extends to how travellers use technology. 89% of use travel apps on their smartphones or tablets while on holiday, primarily for information about local attractions and finding their way around.

And they would use online sources more if wireless internet was more freely available at hotels and public places, the study found, highlighting the tendency for hotels to charge for internet as a marketing error. As many as 61% of APAC travellers would use social media more often if they had access to free WiFi.

“The presence of the mobile device is quietly but dramatically changing how we behave when we travel,” Costello notes. “As the fastest adopters of digital technology when it comes to travel, Asia-Pacific consumers are experiencing more benefits and challenges alike than the rest of the world. As a result, these tech-savvy travellers feel the travel industry needs to do more to keep up with their fast-growing reliance on the mobile device and social media as part of the overall travel experience.”

“Travel and tourism operators need to be thinking more about what their customers expect out of their holidays, where they turn to for relevant information, and how they connect with their friends and family as the number one source of influence on travel decisions. Integrated communications strategies are a must, but they need to be preceded by a nuanced understanding of the customer – not the other way around.”

Other traditional sources common referred to by Australian travellers include travel agents, still used by 48% in planning holidays, and travel TV programs which help influence choices for 57% of consumers. Loyalty programs and deal websites were found to be the least influential factors when it comes to making travel decisions.