How personalized travel is reshaping the tourism industry

More and more of today's consumers in search of a personalized experience prefer to 'do it themselves' when it comes to booking trips. How do businesses adapt?

David Gray/Reuters
Chinese tourists take pictures of themselves standing in front of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia, in September.

Gone are the days where vacationers take the first deal they find.

Some say it was bound to happen. Social media has seeped into the way we look to travel, enticing online users to seek out a more personalized, community-inspired, “#goals”-touting experience, a change which has upended many long-held assumptions in the travel industry.

“Seemingly every company today operating in the hospitality and tourism sector is marketing itself as an experience versus a product, based on rising demand from consumers for more authentic and engaging travel experiences,” wrote Peak DMC, a travel management company, in a 2014 report.

Take TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel review website. More than 160 new contributions are posted every minute from some of its 375 million unique monthly visitors, according to the website. And of these users, nearly 50 percent access the site through tablets and smartphones, a percentage the company expects to keep growing.

“The big daddy of online reviews, TripAdvisor, is becoming terrifyingly important in a traveller’s decision-making process. In fact, more than half of travelers are not willing to book a hotel until they read reviews about the property,” writes Tnooz, a company that provides commentary and business services to the travel and hospitality industry.

It’s not just TripAdvisor. Since 2009, Airbnb – the platform connecting users to personal lodging rentals – has grown 750 percent to “$450 million in funding, a $10 billion valuation, and over 600 employees,” VentureBeat reported last year.

For the travel industry, social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram are increasingly becoming not just impressive marketing tools, but also platforms essential to making a sale.

More than 75 percent of travelers use social networking sites to look for deals, and 30 percent specifically hope to find travel deals, according to a 2012 study by Phocuswright, a market research firm for the travel industry. In addition, Facebook users who are referred to travel booking websites are more likely to make bookings than those who find them from search engines.

How, then, are businesses adapting to the new age of the social traveler?

One word: packages.

“Hotels, like airlines, have gotten smarter about targeting particular types of travelers,” reports The Wall Street Journal. Many companies now partner to push out aggressive discount prices through bundled deals that could save consumers up to thousands of dollars.

“Travel packages aren’t just for budget tourists following tour guides with red umbrellas anymore,” writes the Journal. “The new style of packages caters to today’s do-it-yourself consumers who want to book their own itineraries after carefully researching hotels, flights, and attractions.”

As travel agencies offer customers more options for, say, which airline they’d prefer to fly with using a selected deal, package sales are growing by more than 20 percent, Expedia Senior Vice President Greg Schulze told the Journal.

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