What travel marketers should know about people searching for experiences

It’s good to be in the travel experience business these days. While the tours and activities market has lagged behind airline and hotel bookings in the digital realm, it’s starting to catch up. In fact, it’s growing faster than the total travel market, according to travel-market research company Phocuswright. Phocuswright has predicted that by next year, the overall tours and activities segment will grow to $183 billion.

Illustration: A blue tour bus rolls along a green road. Stat: The tours and activities sector is growing faster than the total travel market; by next year, it will grow to $183 billion.

That presents a clear opportunity not only for tour and activity operators, but for a number of businesses operating in the travel space. We recently dug into this growing market by partnering with Greenberg, Inc. to better understand traveller behaviour across the US, UK, France and Germany.

How travellers search

Compared to other travel industry segments, the experiences space is still a fragmented market. While travellers generally know what to expect when purchasing an aeroplane seat or hotel room, tour and activity companies run the gamut from family-owned businesses with bare-bones websites to well-known brands that make booking easy.

As is often the case when people want to feel confident about their purchases, they turn to search.

Illustration: A man sits in chair and looks at a travel site on a laptop. Stats: In the 12 weeks leading up to a trip, there are: 3X more experiences searches than hotel searches. 8X more experiences searches than air searches.

Greenberg research shows that in the 12 weeks leading up to a trip, there are 3X more experiences searches than hotel searches and 8X more experiences searches than air searches.1 And while hotel, air and car bookings peak six weeks prior to a trip, Greenberg found that experience searches remain stable in volume throughout the 12 weeks leading up to a trip.

Whatever they’re searching for, each one of these moments is an opportunity to engage with travellers. Even if you are selling a room reservation, find opportunities to highlight the experiences that people are seeking out rather than simply the hotel room or flight prices, much like Booking.com has done with its latest campaign.

We also see travellers increasingly turning to videos to research what they’re going to get before they purchase. Savvy brands like Expedia are regularly uploading robust video content – like this video dedicated to Yellowstone National Park – on its YouTube channel for this audience to engage with.

Planners vs in-destination bookers

The research also revealed some interesting differences between the types of travellers. We found that travellers who book their activities ahead of their trip spend 47% more on lodging and 81% more on transportation than those who wait to book in-destination,2 making them a valuable audience – especially for companies like online travel agencies that sell across multiple categories.

What travel marketers should know about people searching for experiences

But almost half of experiences bookings – 48% – are happening once travellers arrive at their destination.3 And the majority of those in-destination searches happen on mobile. Greenberg analysed over a thousand travellers’ online behaviour and found that searches for activities are happening across devices in the three months prior to a trip, but shift significantly to 54% mobile when travellers are in-destination.4

Put another way, while mobile presence and UX is critical in all segments of travel, if you fumble in the experiences segment, you risk missing half of online bookings.

Closer to home

The final untapped opportunity is to capture a greater share of the traveller’s wallet, even when they aren’t travelling. In fact, mobile searches for “things to do/activities” + “near me” have seen a 6X increase over the last two years.5 This makes it clear that tours and activities marketers shouldn’t neglect those in their immediate vicinity. If you are selling museum tickets or food experiences, consider widening the scope of audiences that you target beyond the travel audience.

Even companies associated with destination travel can get in on this. While Airbnb has been expanding from a home-sharing service to a full-fledged travel company, it has also been exploring experiences that could be equally appealing to locals on a date night as to travellers

Ultimately, the tours and activities segment isn’t just a passing trend in travel. The experiences themselves are the reason people travel. This translates into opportunities for marketers to gain a bigger share of the travel pie.

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