What motivates and inspires European travelers to book trips?

A recently released Expedia study offered some fun and fascinating insights on the European travel market. The study surveyed over 3,000 European travelers, diving into the motivations and mindsets that influenced their decision-making.

In the following article, we take a look at five of the most interesting findings with supporting tips and takeaways that all hotels can implement.

1) OTAs still lead hotel websites for planning and booking travel

Hotels in Europe still lag well behind OTAs for both planning and booking trips.

While 49% of travelers relied on an OTA to plan their last trip, only 22% used a hotel website. OTAs were especially popular with Gen X (51%) and Boomers (54%), and both generations were found to be more reliant on reviews.

So why are European hotels losing so much ground in these areas?

In terms of travel planning, OTAs have upped their game in recent years. Expedia.com has a “Things to Do” feature, which offers thousands of trips, tours, and activities for destinations around the world.

Meanwhile, Booking.com now has an expansive “Travel Guides” tool that includes traveler stories, seasonal destination guides, and fun features on topics such as “Where to find the world’s best barbeque” and “Europe’s top 6 enchanting forest holidays for families.”

These resources are both helpful and inspiring, encouraging users to stay on the website for longer. This then increases the chance that they book direct with the OTA.

The Expedia survey certainly reflects this fact: a substantial 49% of respondents said they booked their last trip with an OTA, while only 26% booked via a hotel website.

Expedia Europe survey OTAs vs hotel websites

We’ve spoken before about the way OTAs dominate direct bookings in Europe, and it’s clear that hotel websites need to offer a great user experience to compete. But as people increasingly seek unique experiences when they travel, hotels can gain a competitive edge by creating dedicated destination pages packed with insider tips, recommendations, and tours in the local area.

2) Social media important in younger generations for trip planning

The influence of social media in travel planning continues to grow, most notably with younger generations. Expedia’s survey found that 20% of Gen Z used a social site to plan their last trip, while only slightly more (23%) used a hotel website.

Interestingly, each successive demographic was less reliant on social media with 19% of Millennials, 12% of Gen X, and 3% of Boomers using it respectively.

These figures certainly hint at the increased role social media will have as a travel planning tool with Gen Z and future generations. As a huge social influencer, Facebook’s expansion into travel, including their City Guides app, could play a major part in this trend.

Social media also impacts decision-making in key areas. The majority of respondents (47%) said seeing a deal or promotion had the biggest influence on them booking a trip. This was closely followed by seeing travel pictures taken by friends (43%),  and then photos taken by experts (42%).

Expedia Europe survey social media

The takeaway for hotels is that having a presence on social media will become increasingly crucial in the years ahead. Using social channels to push deals and promotions can clearly help drive bookings. Encouraging guests to share photos, or posting professional images can also prove highly influential.

3) Alternative accommodations aren’t as popular as you might think

The sharing economy, specifically the rise of Airbnb, Homeaway, and other vacation rental sites, has long been heralded as a threat to the hotel industry, but Expedia’s survey reveals that threat may have been overestimated.

When it came to their last trip, only 11% of travelers said they stayed in an alternative accommodation such as Airbnb. In contrast, 61% stayed in a hotel.

While you might expect younger generations to be more likely to pick an alternate accommodation over a hotel, the results surprise again. Both Gen Z and Boomers at 11% were as likely to stay in alternate accommodation as each other. Interestingly, Millennials were the least likely at 9%.

Expedia Europe survey hotels vs Airbnb

These figures come at a time when Airbnb has seen its pace of growth slowing down in popular markets due to industry regulations. However, the sharing economy’s biggest player forecasts significant expansion in Europe: by 2020, it predicts there’ll be 24 million stays between European hosts and guests.

These projections add wider context to Expedia’s report, highlighting how the threat of alternate accommodations still needs to be taken seriously.

4) Travelers want unique activities and experiences

While all travelers remain price-conscious, experiences matter far more when it comes to choosing a vacation.

When asked to prioritize reasons for booking a trip, the top three reasons given in order were, 1) “Activities I will be doing on my trip,” 2) “A once in a lifetime experience,” and 3) “The cultural experience.” Well down in sixth place was “Lowest price.”

Expedia Europe survey Activities and Experiences

In terms of specifics, activities were most important to Boomers, while once in a lifetime opportunities and trips with friends were most important to Gen Z. But overall, all generations prioritized experiences over anything else.

This reinforces how important it is to produce destination-based content relating to trips, sightseeing tours and activities in the surrounding area.

Promoting deals and low prices clearly still matters. But a hotel website should also act as a travel resource to engage, inform and inspire potential guests in order to influence decision-making and boost bookings.

5) Desktops still prevalent for research and booking

The Expedia survey also revealed that smartphones are used primarily for inspiration, but that computers remain the primary tool for research and booking.

When looking for inspiration on where to travel, smartphones are heavily used by Gen Z (63%) and Millennials (51%), but infrequently by Gen X (26%) and Boomers (8%).

However, smartphone usage dips and desktop usage rises dramatically during the research phase.

This trend is even more pronounced for bookings: only 20% of Gen Z said they used their smartphone to book a trip, but 82% used a computer. The same behavior is reflected across all generations with 83% of Millennials, 87% of Gen X, and 93% of Boomers all using a computer to book.

Expedia Europe survey - Booking Device

It’s important to reinforce that embracing mobile remains vital, but influencing all generations throughout the travel journey also requires a strong presence on desktop. As individuals move along the travel journey, targeting them with timely content that taps into their current mindset is the key to maximum engagement.

Attracting the European traveler

The latest Expedia travel study provides a number of invaluable insights for hotels. To summarize, bear in mind the following takeaways:

OTAs are used far more frequently to plan and book trips.
To compete, hotels must invest in their own booking channel to create a great user experience. Be sure to include inspiring destination-based content and planning resources.

Social media is used mostly by younger generations to plan trips.
Strong presence on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram will become increasingly important to reach younger travelers. Posting deals, promotions, and travel pictures is the best way to influence all generations on social.

Alternative travel isn’t as popular as you might think.
The likes of Airbnb aren’t stealing the level of market share many might suspect. But Airbnb’s expansion plans in Europe can’t be ignored.

Travelers want unique activities and experiences.
European travelers prize activities and experiences above anything else when they vacation. Creating content about unique trips and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities can play a major part in driving bookings.

Computers are still prevalent throughout the purchase journey.
Younger generations are highly reliant on their smartphone during the inspiratory phase of travel, but all generations predominantly use desktop to plan and book. A multi-screen, multi-channel marketing strategy should be considered essential.

By implementing the above tips, you’ll instantly place your hotel at a distinct advantage in the battle for consumer attention and direct bookings.

Gautam Lulla

Gautam Lulla

Gautam is CEO of Pegasus and an outspoken expert in hotel technology and distribution. When he's not busy disrupting the status quo, you can find him ripping powder on the slopes. Contact him at gautam@pegs.com.

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