35% of Consumers Booked Travel Through Online Agency

BY Courtney Huckabay

New research from Mintel reveals that only one in eight (12 percent) American travelers has booked accommodations using a home-​share website in the past year, rising to one in five (19 percent) for Millennial travelers (aged 23–40). Despite the variety of alternative third-​party booking options that have emerged in recent years, it appears that old habits die hard for many Americans. Working directly with a travel provider remains the most popular way to book a trip (40 percent), while 35 percent of consumers have booked travel through an online travel agency.

Travel agencies still have the edge on the trendy home-​sharing options. They can keep this edge with creative, enticing and on-​going advertising campaigns. The new AudienceSCAN survey showed 6% of Americans intend to utilize travel-​planning services during the next 12 months.

While some consumers have a desire to be spontaneous while on vacation, many appreciate tools that can create order out of the potential chaos of travel. More than half of travelers have used or are interested in using an online planning tool to create an itinerary (54 percent) or a website that offers travel recommendations based on interests (53 percent), while one in four (26 percent) would like all of their booking information and itineraries in one app. Travel technology using virtual reality is also of interest as three quarters (74 percent) of travelers have tried or are interested in trying virtual tours of a property or destination, rising to 83 percent of Millennial travelers.

However, Mintel research indicates that consumers are skeptical when it comes to certain travel technology. While half (50 percent) of travelers are interested in using augmented reality or VR to explore a location, 40 percent have no interest in using these technologies and 10 percent say they don’t know what they are. Consumers appear even more dubious of artificial intelligence as half (49 percent) of travelers say they are not interested in using a travel chatbot compared to 36 percent who report usage or express interest in them. What’s more, just 17 percent of travelers say they are interested in using a digital assistant to plan travel.

Travel firms can use this knowledge to promote any tech advances they DO offer customers who like to try new things, while still providing good old-​fashioned in-​person service. Digital ad campaigns could reach those customers who ARE interested in VR. The new AudienceSCAN study found 36% of Travel Planning Clients used mobile devices to watch a video about a product they're considering in the past six months, so this segment could be a more tech-​savvy crowd, wanting to imagine themselves strolling on the beach vacation of their dreams.

While we’re seeing new and innovative technology revolutionizing the travel industry, much of these offerings are being met with hesitation from consumers. While services such as self-​check-​in kiosks give travelers a feeling of greater control over their trip, many travelers are skeptical of tools that force users to trust a computer with their plans. This indicates that while technology can make travel easier, consumers still want autonomy over their own decisions in order to maintain a sense of control. Emerging technology that adds something new to the market should primarily focus on educating its core consumer base,” said John Poelking, Leisure Analyst at Mintel.

When it comes to whose opinion matters most, U.S. travelers appear to be more trusting of their peers. More than two in five (42 percent) travelers have read peer reviews prior to traveling, compared to just 16 percent who say they have reviewed social media posts from travel companies. Experiencing local cuisine is also an important component of the travel experience as one third (33 percent) of travelers say they have researched restaurants prior to their trip, rising to 43 percent of Millennials.

Travel agents can improve their websites with more of these kinds of details to woo vacationers. Travel Planning Clients are doing their online research, so be sure to include the information, reviews and booking options they expect to see on travel sites. Ramping up SEM is wise: 44% of Travel Planning Clients took action based on sponsored search results (like on Google, Yahoo or Bing) in the past 30 days, according to AudienceSCAN research.

Whether connecting with friends and family or navigating the streets, consumers say WiFi is a must-​have as the majority of U.S. travelers have used WiFi while traveling, including 54 percent who report using public WiFi and 60 percent who report using WiFi provided by accommodations.

Older Americans tend to be less dependent on technology when traveling, making them more attuned to the potential negatives of smart devices and sharing personal information online. Meanwhile, younger travelers likely have the knowledge and tools to counteract any potential threats and provide peace of mind. Travelers concerned with digital security might be more willing to pay for secure WiFi, in addition to other device defenses such as encryption and antivirus software. Brands should focus on traveler pain-​points and present solutions to these issues, while at the same time prioritizing security and reliability over novelty,” concluded Poelking.