Blue Magnet Hotel Online Marketing Guide

How To Target Customers In Each Of The 5 Stages of Travel

If you were to ask most travelers how many distinct stages are involved in the general act of traveling, I would guess that most people would identify two: the research phase and the booking phase.  And for most people that’s what they do–they research the destination, the transportation, the rates, and then make a final decision that leads to the booking for hotel rooms, flights, and car rentals.

It’s a good start, and I’m guessing that many hoteliers are only concerned with the actions a potential guest takes up to the point where they actually select their hotel, but it’s not the whole picture.

In fact, Google has identified 5 stages of travel, and as online marketers, it’s important for us to target customers at each point in that buying process.

Research and Booking: A Fraction of the Travel Cycle

For most hotels, the booking is the final goal of their online marketing efforts.  It is seen as a linear path that starts off with the consumer planning and researching their travel plans online and finishing at the checkered flag at the hotel reservation.

Unfortunately, once that guest crosses the finish line some hotels will wipe their hands clean of that customer.  Well, you could stop there…but then you’d be missing out on a huge opportunity to foster brand loyalty and have guests’ experiences at your hotel work in your favor long after their stay in the form of word-of-mouth advertising.

Google’s Take On How We Travel

Just take a look below at this nifty little infographic that Google developed, identifying what they consider the 5 Stages of Travel.  Whether you agree or disagree with the specific stages featured below, there’s no denying that there is a multi-faceted sales cycle and different online marketing tactics can and should be used to target travelers at each of the various phases in this process.

Whether the customer is dreaming about their next vacation or experiencing it firsthand, it provides a huge opportunity to connect with your customers at each of these key moments in their travel buying cycle.

So based on this interactive infographic from our buddies at Google, how can hotels target potential customers as they move from stage to stage in planning their vacation?

Stage 1: DREAM A Little Dream

As a traveler, you’ve got to start with a dream.  Maybe you saw a billboard of a spectacular Hawaiian sunset emblazoned with the simple phrase, “Visit Hawaii.”  Maybe your friend just posted a video of their hilarious attempt at surfing in Maui on Facebook.

Or maybe your little nephew just picked up the ukulele and suddenly your mind wanders to the land of luaus, leis, and lava rock.  And then again, maybe it’s 3 degrees in Chicago and you just need one sweet week of pure tropical escape.

Regardless of how the idea entered your head, you’re now starting to talk it over with your friends and family, casually tossing out the idea of heading to the Aloha state in the next year.  The seed has been planted…and it won’t take long for that palm tree to grow.

Why is this stage important?

So how does a hotel reach this dreamer in stage 1?

Stage 2: PLANNING The Master Plan

Now you’ve got them thinking.  That random consumer is now a potential traveler because you’ve managed to spark an interest in a future trip.  But you still have a long way to go before you’re rolling out the red carpet for Anonymous Hotel Guest #1.

Your hotel is just one of many in a nebulous idea-cloud of potential destinations and locations.  In fact, over the course of this consumer’s travel cycle, he or she will have visited over 20 different travel websites in over 9 separate research sessions on the internet.

Yep, you’ve got some competition.  The question is: how do you help the consumer cut through the online clutter to see that ethereal beam of light illuminating only your hotel?

Why is this stage important?

So how does a hotel reach this planner in stage 2?

Stage 3: No Reservations About Making A BOOKING

By now the research stage is just about over and Johnny McHotelguest is ready to lay down some clams for what he hopes will be a vacation that lives up to his dreams from stage 1.  How easy is it for this consumer to find your website now that he knows he wants to book?

Will he find you though your official brand website?  An OTA?  Groupon?  Ideally, you’d like him to book through your official brand site, but what have you done to ensure that your site is found first.

Why is this stage important?

So how does a hotel reach this booker in stage 3?

Stage 4: It’s About The EXPERIENCE

At this point you’ve got the customer right where you want them…at your hotel! While online marketing can still help to some degree, for the most part, it is up to the hotel staff to create a memorable experience for the guest on site.

Do you provide good service? Is your property remarkable in any way? Have you exceeded the customer’s expectations?  The greatest impact to a guest’s experience happens on property and will influence their decision to return to your hotel in the future and share their experience with friends in Stage 5.

Why is this stage important?

So how does a hotel impact a traveler’s experiences in stage 4?

Stage 5: SHARING The Moments

This is the point at which the traveler who just experienced their dream vacation can help plant the seeds for someone else to start their journey down the 5 stages of travel.  Whether it’s a well-written user review, a great photo of the hotel’s pool deck, or a quick tweet about all the great restaurants right next to the hotel, harnessing this word-of-mouth marketing is the key to a successful social media marketing campaign, and perpetuating the 5 stages of travel for others.

Why is this stage important?

So how does a hotel encourage travelers to share their experiences in stage 5?

What does this all mean?

The typical vacation planning and travel buying cycles are pretty complex. At its most basic, a typical traveler’s path to vacationland can be broken down into 5 stages.

Targeting hotel guests at these 5 stages of travel helps increase reservations. (Tweet This)

Many people often think of online marketing as simply selecting the right keywords and optimizing a website for those keywords in Google.  That is only a small piece of the pie.  And you can never have a truly effective online marketing campaign by only focusing on a single channel at a single point in a traveler’s buying cycle.

To neglect to target the user at the other stages of their buying process is to miss out on a huge opportunity to digitally greet them at every step of the way to their purchase.

In the end, properly targeting potential guests at each of these 5 stages is crucial to ensuring that they not only book at your hotel, but perpetuate that buying cycle for the next vacationer too! Ah, the circle of life….

When you need assistance in targeting your future guests in these stages of travel, don’t hesitate to reach out to Blue Magnet Interactive. We’d love to discuss how we can help your hotel drive more bookings.