A recently published study by Expedia Media Solutions has shed more light on how travel bookers in the US journey to their product of choice and what this means for attribution.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a study carried out by an OTA, it shows how online agents are hugely influential throughout the customer journey, not just at the point of booking.
With 15% of digital advertisers using no attribution and of those that do 34% focusing on last touch and 27% on first touch, Expedia hopes the insights will inform advertisers’ marketing strategies.
Attribution remains one of the knottiest issues in online retailing, particularly in travel where the path to purchase is so protracted and convoluted.
Expedia’s established position in the travel industry means it attracts the sort of traffic volumes that allow it to make general conclusions about consumer behaviour.
Wendy Olsen Killion, product management director at Expedia Media Solutions, said: “We do this sort of research for two reasons.
“Firstly product development, my whole focus is how we can understand consumer behaviour around inspiration, booking, and everything in the middle online.
“We are looking at how consumers engage with content and how that helps companies drive booking decisions, where they book but also the products they book.
“Secondly, we also like to share information with the industry. We feel a rising tide lifts all boats. We want to grow that online booking space.”
The Traveler Attribution study carried out for Expedia by MillwardBrown Digital and looked at clickstream data 45 days prior to hotel and flight bookings.
The study, released to coincide with the recent Phocuswright conference in Florida, took in over 75 million individual instances of travel shopping.
It found that average travel site visits increased as the week of booking neared, starting from a low of 2.5 five weeks out, hitting 15.5 in the week of booking. In total an average of 38 sites are visited.
For flight bookings OTAs represent a third of unique visits, suppliers 53% and metasearch sites 14% while for hotel bookings those figures are 30%, 61% and 9% respectively.
However, Olson Killion said the study highlighted the degree to which OTAs are present at the early inspiration stage, 39% for hotel bookings and 40% for flight bookings.
“That’s their point of inspiration. We see especially in the air space a tonne of people using OTAs for research to confirm what they found on meta or airline sites.
“They are continuing to shop and so really OTAs are being used as a full funnel service whereas they previously may be seen as a booking service.”
Insight into mid-funnel activity reveals how OTAs are very often the destinations for shoppers as they move from supplier or meta websites.
Olson Killion said: “We found that while shoppers utilise several types of travel sites, consumers touched OTA sites at some point in eight of the top 10 most common hotel booking paths, and seven out of 10 for flight.
“Travelers visit OTA sites for research and consideration more than any other category for hotels (49%) and flights (46%).
“Also, regardless of where people initiate research for hotels and flights, OTAs are consistently the more common travel category immediately downstream of any influential touchpoint.”Olson Killion summed up the key findings for marketers and offered suggestions about how this insight might be used:
• OTAs are used at all phases of the consumer path to purchase – inspiration, research, consideration and at the point of booking.
Suggestion: Consider a full-funnel media approach through OTAs, to ensure you are reaching consumers at every stage of the journey.
• Meta sites are commonly leveraged as influential touch points, but meta drives more traffic to OTAs than to any other travel category.
Suggestion: Create partnerships that provide efficient and scalable reach on top channels.
• Consumers who start research on supplier sites are more likely to book on supplier, but not necessarily where they initiated.
Suggestion: Bring them back, give consumers a reason to remember and return to your site.
Related: Insight Into the Intersection of Travel, Technology & Marketing (Expedia Blog)