wish you were hereDuring this week’s Tnooz webinar, Transforming the Supplier-Driven Booking Experience, a group of experts sounded off about how the travel and hospitality industry is rapidly changing, thanks to a major shift in customer behavior and new demands of website experiences.

And Robert Cole, Founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting company, didn’t pull any punches when it came time to explain what suppliers need to do to drive bookings, repeat purchases, and loyalty.

“Irrelevance is the kiss of death,” said Cole. “Travel suppliers must create value and be relevant throughout the entire booking process. How are you saving the traveler time? How are you saving them money? How do you maximize lifetime customer value? Does your brand truly understand and anticipate the needs of your customers?”

In addition to Cole, the webinar featured Gene Quinn, CEO & Producer of Tnooz; Kevin May, Editor of Tnooz; and Kurt Heinemann, Monetate’s Chief Marketing Officer.

Cole’s part of the webinar pointed out that the travel purchase process has changed. Historically, it’s been a three-step process. Now, however, Cole said it has grown to include seven steps, and he noted specific ways travel and hospitality companies could use what they know about the customer to enhance the experience.

1. Inspiration

Why is the trip being taken? It’s an important question to ask, but not too many websites fully grasp the motivation of their visitors. Once you understand why a traveler is going on a trip, there’s an opportunity to respond and create an emotional experience that will drive them to purchase. Ask how you can appeal to that segment, and then deliver relevant content.

If you realize the travelers are honeymooners, understand that this particular type of customer expects certain things. Honeymooners don’t want to see pictures of families on vacation or architecture. They want to see romantic images of couples spending time together, so there’s a great opportunity to deliver content that will resonate.

2. Research

During this stage, travelers are evaluating budget, location, and time constraints. They are searching for options that work for them. Let’s stick with the honeymooner example: At this point, they are looking for a destination, selecting one, and then maybe realizing it is too far away or out of budget.

3. Planning

This is when the traveler asks: How? How do I get there? How do I get around the destination? What activities can I do there? What hotels have the best options? During this stage in the process, it might not be a bad time to serve up specific packages that meet the needs of the specific traveler. For instance, promote romantic getaway packages to those honeymooners to make it easier for them to plan and book.

4. Validation

At this point, travelers want to be sure they are getting the quality they expect. That requires validation from outside sources. In the past, that validation came from a travel agent. Now, however, they are turning to trip advisors, blogs, online reviews, and guidebooks, underscoring the importance of engaging travelers with your brand so they will share their great experiences with others on social networks (more on that in step 7). Those honeymooners might head to another website and research reviews from other newlyweds before booking.

5. Booking

Now it comes down to whether a product is available and whether the price has changed. If the price has changed, a traveler might start the process all over again. Hopefully, however, the traveler buys from you at this stage.

6. Travel Experience

Once the purchase is made, there’s a great opportunity to capture ancillary revenue. While most travel and hospitality websites stop attempting to upsell and cross-sell post-purchase, it can actually be quite effective. For instance, there are different types of honeymooners. Some never leave their hotel suite, while others want to go on adventures and participate in activities. Segmenting and targeting offers to those different types of honeymooners after they’ve booked through you can drive new revenue.

7. Sharing

Post-trip has become a big opportunity for travel and hospitality retailers to increase engagement, loyalty, and new customer acquisition. Why? Because the feedback of those travelers can have a huge impact on their social network. Those travelers can prove why the trip was worth taking to their circle of family and friends. If those honeymooners come home and share incredible pictures of their trip, they inspire others to take a trip as well, and the travel cycle continues.

As noted by Cole’s honeymooner examples, there are chances to inject relevance and convenience for travelers at almost every step in this process.

Bottom line: Offering images and packages that are relevant to the specific traveler makes the process customer-centric, driving the traveler to purchase from you, and increasing the chance the traveler will share their experience and become one of your loyal advocates.

Fail to do that, and it could be the kiss of death.

Want to find out more about delivering relevant travel experiences? Check out the archived webinar, and be sure to download our free Ultimate Guide to Creating a Booking Experience that Converts eBook.

Wish You Were Here image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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