The internet has changed the world in a multitude of ways, giving us the opportunity to connect with anyone and create anything. But it’s also changed the way we experience the world and ushered in critical shifts in consumer behaviour in the travel industry. No matter how far away a country may be, the world feels closer to us than ever before, with new technologies allowing us to put aside the National Geographic magazines and get a real sense of what a place is like through friends’ social posts, review websites, and YouTube videos. The internet really has made it a small world.
How exactly is the world of leisure and travel being changed though? And what’s driving it? In this article, we look at what’s happened so far and what might happen from here.
Knowledge is Power
In the pre-internet age, knowledge wasn’t always easy to come by. Consumers relied on newspapers and magazines, word-of-mouth, and advertising. If we wanted to know something about a specific place we might like to visit, we’d likely have drawn that information from a TV show or a book, or gone into a travel agents on the high street. It was a longer, more laborious process than we have now, and critically the power was in the hands of the brand, business, or advertisers.
Now, however, the internet has changed things. Information is freely available, allowing us to look up whatever we want whenever we want it. If we want to visit even the most remote of countries, we can find information about it by simply typing its name into Google, where a wealth of high-profile travel websites and smaller scale blogs may have written about it. We can look to Instagram and YouTube and find great pictorial content from the country, or read what our friends think on Facebook and Twitter. As technology advances and new trends in the travel industry emerge, we’ll likely even have the opportunity to explore it first hand through virtual reality.
Developments such as these have fundamentally shifted the way we make our decisions about our leisure time and put the power firmly with the consumer. We can decide from a wealth of sources where we want to take our information, and if we don’t want to take it from an ‘official’ source, we can do that too. Word of mouth moves within seconds. A tweet about a restaurant can go viral and lead to thousands of pounds worth of new business (if the tweet is positive) or a potential risk (if it’s negative). We are now influencers to our friends and our friends are influencers to us.
What’s more, as our friends don’t have a vested interest in promoting the holiday, and as their photographs and videos don’t go through the rigorous quality control procedures necessary in advertising, their content has an air of authenticity that advertising lacks. We see their thoughts on their holiday and deem them more ‘real’ and more ‘honest’. It’s why influencer marketing has gained traction in recent years: the power of traditional marketing to seem authentic has diminished; now we want to get a real insight from real people.
The smartphone has accelerated this change, and become one of the most significant factors influencing travel, before, during, and after our trip. If we’re watching television and see or hear about a place we like the look of, we no longer have to pull out our laptop or log on to our desktop; now we can just get out our mobile phone and search for the location within seconds. Likewise if we see something on the high street, in a magazine, or at any stage of our day to day lives, we can react instantaneously and learn about it within seconds.
This is particularly important for restaurants, pubs, and other leisure venues. Before the internet, finding information about individual locations was almost impossible: local newspapers might cover the venue, but that’s about it, and to read that review, we’d have to keep the paper it appeared in. Now, it’s all stored online, and the rise of the smartphone means that we can access this information while we linger outside the restaurant trying to decide whether to dine there or move on to somewhere else. We can subsequently Tweet, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or rate our experience within a few taps, allowing others to go through the same decision-making process we’ve just been through.
Looking beyond dining, the smartphone’s influence extends most significantly into consumer behaviour in the travel industry. Whereas before, our friends and family would have to wait until our return to hear of our experiences and see images and video, now they can experience them as they happen. The rise of products like Periscope and Facebook Live have turned everyone into a director and everyone’s phone into a mini movie studio. If we want our friends to experience the holiday right alongside us, we can make that happen, and that’s something Virgin Holidays tapped into with its recent Seize the Holiday campaign, which broadcast customers’ holidays live as they happened.
Even if we’re just looking to get the most out of our holidays, rather than show them to the world, our mobiles are our faithful companions. We turn to them when we’re lost, when we need to check when something closes, when we want to see if there are any other venues or events we could attend. Google has been at the forefront of this change, and one of its newest innovations (Google Trips) allows users to do all this without needing to hunt down wi-fi or use their data. Just pull up the app and the information you need is right there.
What can brands do?
The power dynamic may have shifted, but that doesn’t mean brands are now powerless. The key is to meet consumers on their terms with the kind of information they’re looking for; in other words, tapping into key Moments That Matter. This doesn’t require a dramatic sea change, but rather a realigned focus on the core tenet of all good marketing: understanding the customer and what they want. By doing this, anyone involved in the travel and leisure industry can ensure they’re there for existing and potential customers when they’re needed, and help craft a relationship built on trust and loyalty that’ll enable brands to adapt to any future new trends in the travel industry.
What are your thoughts on the way consumer behaviour in the travel industry is changing? Are you cautious about the new factors that are influencing travel, or inspired by them? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or share your opinions with us on Twitter @mporiumgroup.