Where do you plan to go in 2014?
That’s a question advertisers in the travel industry are eager to find the answer to. And for a pretty good idea of that answer — and some insight into when and how to pitch you — they turn to data-marketing companies like Sojern.
“As you might imagine, the travel industry is large and fairly byzantine,” said Mark Rabe, the president and chief executive of Sojern. “But we’ve been able to get really good at estimating when people are in the market for specific travel goods and services, which allows us to give customized offers at the right time and place.”
Sojern regularly mines 520 million “traveler intent points” based on search data, confirmations and check-ins, hunting for trends in the domestic travel market.
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Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Rabe about what some of those trends are and which are likely to shape domestic travel this year.
Q: Have you seen notable changes in how people traveled in 2013?
A. For one, people are spending more time online researching. A study conducted by eMarketer suggested that nearly two-thirds of all travelers today research online before they book. Even 10 years ago that was probably in the single digits.
Q: What trends are likely to carry forward into this year?
A: In the air segment, we’re starting to see longer booking windows. This might be due to the consolidation of the airline market and the economy’s picking up. There’s been an upswing in leisure travel, especially over the second half of the year, making it harder to find good seats at good fares, so people are buying earlier.
Conversely, we’ve seen the reverse in the majority of hotel reservations, car rentals and activities that take place within the destination. With those, the booking windows are contracting. There’s a great report by JiWire that shows that more than 55 percent of travelers are booking travel-related activities while they are actually traveling, meaning after they’ve taken off.
Q: Could you explain the contrast?
A: Well, one way of seeing it is that people may view the price of hotel rooms as more stable than airline tickets and so don’t book them with the same priority level.
Tangentially, we also see a rise in this idea that “other people can do the work for me.” There are a lot of companies taking advantage of and potentially driving that trend. Like Hotel Tonight. We’re also noticing an increased use in mobile devices to transact.
Q: Where are the most popular spots to visit in the United States?
A: New York has been the top destination for years now. The top 10 are relatively consistent, and those are the large cities you might imagine: Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas. An interesting way to look at this is to say, well, that’s booked travel. So what are people searching for that they don’t actually book? Here, we tend to see destinations that are more aspirational, like Honolulu and Miami.
Q: Which areas of the travel sector do you expect to grow in 2014?
A: The consumer-sharing model is interesting. Airbnb has done a fantastic job of progressing on a trend pioneered by HomeAway and VRBO. And the fact that this type of model is getting off the fringes and working its way into business travel is intriguing. Also, if you look at ride-sharing in San Francisco, we have a healthy segment of local transportation, which is handled by consumers, who can signal that they also operate as a taxi by attaching a fluffy, pink mustache to their cars. This was brought about by a company called Lyft. So now people can sign up and turn their car into a taxi. Fascinating.