Airlines Series Part 1: 4 major global digital trends influencing flight bookings

Tahani Karrar November 2018

When it comes to booking a flight, no two consumer journeys are alike.

As consumer journeys become increasingly digital, today’s marketers have to serve a better informed public that is price sensitive, values user experience, and actions bookings faster than ever before.

“Whether in the UAE, UK or US, the flight shopper journey is one of ongoing engagement and continuous dialogue between the brand and consumer,” said Maria de la Fuente Corrales, Google’s travel analytical lead for travel.

According to new research covering online booking habits in the UAE, US, Europe, and South Africa by Kantar TNS and Google, many of today’s travellers experience a fully digitized journey.

1. Bookings are made last minute – and within regions

Today’s global travellers decide to action a booking within a very short period of time. In the UAE, 37% of leisure travellers book their flights within a few hours and 42% within a few days.

For leisure or business, most travellers prefer to travel within their own region. In the UAE, 45% of travellers prefer to book flights to Asia compared to Europe and the rest of the world. The trend is similar though more acute in the US where 75% of travellers prefer to travel within North America.

Most global travellers buy single or double tickets and their stay ranges from one week to two weeks. Leisure travellers in the UAE stay for about 2 weeks, in contrast to travellers from the US, UK, and South Africa who book shorter stays ranging between 4-7 days.

Google’s In-market Audiences can be used by digital marketers to a segment users actively looking to book flights in the near future or have a high propensity to buy. This helps digital marketers acquire new qualified customers who intend to make a purchase in the near future.

2. Price, user experience, and convenience matter

When it comes to price, UAE travellers are price sensitive but convenience and experience also influence their path to purchase. In addition to attractive rates and discounts, travellers also value convenience and an overall positive experience from shorter flight routes to ease in online booking.

“Understanding traveller tastes in the region, marketers can target these segments by tailoring their special promotions,” said Corrales.

By understanding traveller requirements and communicating the added-value of choosing a carrier - whether it is competitive price, amazing service or ease of booking, digital marketers can make the most of their online campaigns.

3. Bookings are made on PCs but research on smartphones

Nowadays, online flight bookings are increasingly conducted on computers, laptops and smartphones. This trend is replacing traditional offline channels such as travel agencies and call centres.

In the UAE, 61% of leisure travellers prefer to book online instead of offline and booking via a PC instead of a mobile is the preference for the majority of travellers. Speed of the website, user experience (UX), user interface (UI) or habit may be contributing to the preference to book via computer or laptop.

Furthermore, more than half of flight bookings are transacted as direct purchases from airline websites instead of indirect ones from travel agents. While some travellers change their mind during the consumer journey, more than 70% book the first airline.

Digital marketers can facilitate mobile bookings, and so a better overall experience, through technologies such as Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) which allows customers to create web pages that load quickly on mobile browsers and help provide a better overall mobile user experience.

Furthermore, integration of Google Pay will improve the mobile experience as it enables travellers to easily pay for flights through their phones.

4. Search and video are part of the journey

Previous experience with an airline is the most important factor when it comes to travellers becoming aware of an airline brand. Beyond that, pre-purchase research and word-of-mouth are the most popular discovery options.

Online, the three top touchpoints for travellers are: airline websites, search engines and price comparison websites. Within the UAE, 91% of travellers turned to search, significantly higher that in the US  and UK where the numbers are lower at 64% and 65%.

Search is relevant in each travel moment of intent and search engines are the go-to-place for information on flight selections or bookings. Out of videos watched, YouTube is the go-to-place, followed by other social media sites and airline websites. In the UAE, 65% of travellers watch videos on YouTube compared to just 9% who watched videos on TV network websites.

To maximise Search relevance, digital marketers need their ads to be present at the right moment and be relevant. By creating ads that answer traveller Search queries and directs them to a page on the website that delivers on what the ad says, digital marketers can drive more conversions from their campaigns.

Understanding these trends, marketers can better position their campaigns to capture more bookings by:

  • Tailoring regional campaigns for last minute bookings.
  • Create campaigns that highlight price competitiveness, UX, and convenience.
  • Improving download speeds and payment methods on mobiles and PCs.
  • Answer traveller queries in campaigns and direct them to actionable web pages.

So, focus on making your campaigns relevant to traveller search queries, improve the customer path-to-purchase - on mobile and PC - to see a rise in campaign success!

Next month we will be publishing the second and final part of our Airlines Series, so make sure not to miss it.