After the recent launch of USDM`s survey of visitors to 11 destination Web sites operated by official tourism offices, Leah Woolford, CEO of USDM.net analyzes in TravelDailyNews how a well designed online strategy can be an important tool for a destination.
TravelDailyNews:How do you comment the findings of the survey?
Leah Woolford: The survey results agree with other surveys that show Americans are planning and booking their travel online and that destination web sites are a popular.
According to the Travel Industry Association of America’s 2005 report, Travelers` Use of the Internet, a majority of online travelers (78 percent or 79 million Americans) turned to the Internet for travel or destination information in 2005, a significant increase from 65 percent of online travelers in 2004. Almost half of online travel planners use destination Web sites – such as those maintained by convention and visitor bureaus – to plan trips.
Other survey findings from the TIA report also indicate that 82 percent of travelers who plan their trips online now also book reservations online, with more than 64 million Americans purchasing or reserving an airline ticket, hotel room, rental car or package tour online this past year – up from 70 percent in 2004
TDN: How can a well-designed online strategy to boost a destination?
L. W.: Using proven strategy and planning, and then executing the online marketing tactics correctly, using best practice guidelines, can put a destination in front of the online public at the specific time and place when they are searching for information. This is achieved through multiple, simultaneous strategies that include a well designed and programmed web site using path analysis, search engine marketing and optimization for key phrase rankings, an integrated database and eCRM program for customer acquisition and retention, and outbound marketing and media to laser focus on the right traffic, including behavioural marketing and media.
TDN: What about the ‘traditional’ distribution channels for choosing or booking a destination? Do you believe they are still strong?
L. W.: The ‘traditional’ distribution channels are still viable, but just not as strong as they once were. The Internet has provided a new level of 24-7 convenience that consumers have embraced. They can research and buy online from the comfort of home at night if they like. Consumers enjoy the ability to research and compare when and where they want and the convenience of purchasing the moment they’re ready. A mix is appropriate, but the allocation to budget dollars needs to be carefully examined to give the Interactive program enough budget to take advantage of the opportunities it affords marketers.
TDN: The survey concerns Americans who travel to US. What about the tourists from othercountries? Are there any plans for creating powerful websites for CVBs in order to attract tourists from other countries?
L. W.: These same web sites serve tourists worldwide. In some cases we have developed web sites specifically for marketing to inbound travellers and those have been very successful. The Internet has global reach. Many Europeans access and use American search engines and Web sites already. In fact, the United States based web portal of CVB web sites at officialtravelguide records about 15-20 percent of its traffic from countries outside the U.S.
TDN: What is the percentage of business travellers who plan and choose a trip online? What is your forecast for 2007?
L. W.: Travel Planners: Business vs. Pleasure Trips. There are some distinctive differences between those planning business trips and those planning pleasure trips online. Men are much more inclined to plan business trips online (54% business vs. 44% pleasure trips).
In general the dominant characteristics of the online business travel planner are:
- they are older (72% are 35 or older vs. 65% pleasure planners)
- earn more money ($93,000 average household income vs. $74,000 pleasure planners)
- are more likely to be employed full-time (79% vs. 68%)
- have a greater likelihood of being a college graduate or more (58% vs. 45%)
- are slightly more likely to be married (73% vs. 67%) than the online pleasure trip planner
We see a trend emerging where business travelers are also planning to “stay a day and play” and bring family in or take the family with on an appropriate business trip. We believe there are significant numbers of business people who plan their business trip online, whether managed or unmanaged. It is so easy. We believe from all the research we read and the research we perform that online planning is growing and booking is growing even stronger for both leisure and business travel.