Prime Minister Gordon Brown might have been voted the man people would least choose as a travel partner, in a survey by TNT magazine, but people of his age (59) are among the most influential when it comes to planning holidays.
Those aged 55 and over are the most prolific online reviewers of holidays and hotels, according to a study looking at what motivates travellers to book a trip away. They may seem unlikely trusted experts, but research by agency Total Media suggests that 48% of 55- to 64-year-olds review hotels online, compared with 42% of 45- to 54-year-olds and just 19% of 16- to 24-year-olds (see chart, page 27).
Marketers should never underestimate the power of customer advocacy, says Nick Oram, Total Media’s joint managing director. “Word of mouth from families and friends is still the most trusted source of information, but if I write a review online it’s not just you who reads it, it’s whoever searches for that place or even just that town, so you start to have reach.”
People of all ages say review websites such as Tripadvisor are a place to look for information and inspiration for their next holiday. Opinion sites are the most trusted sources of information after face-to-face contacts for everyone aged under 65. Those aged 65 or over rank travel agents and travel brochures higher than opinion on review websites.
But it is the 45-plus age group who are influencing the younger generation with their candid views about travel destinations, the survey suggests. They may engage with reviews in a similar way to how they think about old media, says Oram. “Older generations may find it more comfortable writing about their experiences in a way they are familiar with – a letter-writing exercise as opposed to social networking.” The further surprise is that the younger age group seems to be influenced by the reviews although they are not writing them as much.
Those who write reviews are the least involved in social media, and the most prolific opinion writers are those who do not blog – 24% of non-bloggers had reviewed an airline via the web in the past six months and 35% of non-bloggers had written about hotels.
Oram says it is not surprising that the younger market does not write reviews. “Their weapons of choice are things like Facebook, that is where they live their lives,” he says.
Tapping into these review sites by incorporating them onto their own branded website can help marketers build an honest rapport with travellers, Oram suggests. “There are ways to incorporate this type of user-generated content on to your site. You’re paying for someone to visit or contact you in some way through the travel booking process.”
Social media has become an increasingly important part of travel marketing but above-the-line advertising still plays a part in inspiring people’s holiday choice. Television ads, direct mail and web advertising get 17%, 13% and 22% respectively when people were asked where they got ideas from for their last trip, but this comes after search engines and recommendations.
Source of inspiration
Oram says/ “Advertising still has a role to play and all age groups use it as a source of inspiration, but they are very unlikely to contact you there and then to make a booking.
“You’ve got to make sure your ad is visible, you’ve got to make sure you are involved in social media. It’s about incorporating comments in what you do as opposed to just letting them happen alongside you,” he adds.
The egalitarian nature of word of mouth means there’s more opportunity for brands and hotels of all sizes to promote themselves, argues Oram. “It doesn’t matter how big you are as a hotel or how much money you have to spend on marketing, the opportunity is there to encourage everyone to write a review.”
Travel agent or booking websites might benefit from becoming a one-stop shop for holiday arrangements in the future, Oram suggests. “If I can go to a tour operator’s site and isolate the products that I am interested in, such as weather reports and a Tripadvisor feed, I might check prices elsewhere but I am bound to go back to where I can aggregate information.”
WE ASK MARKETERS ON THE FRONTLINE WHETHER OUR ’TRENDS’ RESEARCH MATCHES THEIR EXPERIENCE ON THE GROUND
Marketing director at Teletext Holidays
It doesn’t shock me that the older age group are looking at social media. We don’t do user-generated content on Teletext.co.uk, but Villarenters.com [part of Teletext Holidays] is based around reviews.
One of the big things on reviews is peer to peer. An interesting piece of research done with Metro readers looked at how people choose their holidays: 37% said it was friends, family and colleagues who influenced them and 56% said the internet. Friends and family are about trust, so it’s how you harness trust through social networking.
Marketing director at TUI
The older age group are more travelled and have more time on their hands to write reviews – and this will grow as the population ages.
From our research, we know that people still really trust brochures and the copy on our website is still a very important part of communication. Customers will then use review sites for verification.
We want as many people as possible to write reviews. The Tripadvisor link is on our site. Customers can review on Thomson and will be able to do so on First Choice soon.
We use search engine optimisation through natural and some paid-for search, but we still spend more above the line.
We have MyThomson and MyFirstChoice, which people can access once they have booked. They can view holiday information including weather, videos and they can ask the resort a question. A personalised website is the natural extension to that.
Head of digital marketing at British Airways
Customers are increasingly going online to seek and share information.
We have looked at ways in which we can enhance the online experience for customers and recently partnered with Tripadvisor to provide trusted tips on worldwide destinations on BA.com.
This has proved a useful resource for customers, who can instantly seek other travellers’ opinions on hotels and destinations.
Group managing director at Abercrombie & Kent
Word of mouth is the most important source of product interest and sites such as Tripadvisor exacerbate that. But we think these sites are used more for validation than product selection. Marketing is far from dead in that respect.
Travel booking sites need to act as a holistic resource in terms of informing and exciting, but too much information can result in confusion and potentially a lost opportunity. While some holidays lend themselves to component pricing, many don’t – particularly independent travel in emerging markets where discussion and knowledge cannot be commoditised. In this market, consumers want information that has real substance without clutter.
Marketing director at On The Beach
Of the 750,000 passengers we take away each year, over 40% are aged over 50. This audience is just as tenacious in finding the best deal than other consumer groups and always check reviews.
This audience – along with families – are core to our proposition and therefore we are living and breathing this now. Two years ago, we added Tripadvisor to our hotel and holiday channel to let consumers make choices without needing to leave our site. We also have 20,000 of our own reviews, with 80% of them on hotels and the rest on destinations. Having reviews on specific properties improves conversion by up to 15%.
The traditional channels are key to creating a trusted brand. Online travel agents have to offer more than just price – we believe that you need to own a territory that helps you stand out from the crowd.