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  • By Louella Losinio

Evolution of travel, capturing the digital omnivore

From TripAdvisor, TripBarometer Travel Trends 2016

Navigating through the digital online jungle of destination sites, mobile apps, and whatnot could be a labyrinthine task for some, but digital omnivores thrive in this online habitat. They navigate through various websites consuming content, seamlessly transitioning from one application to another. Constantly online, this type of traveler is adept at juggling several devices at the same time, booking travels via a laptop and mapping a choice destination or checking out reviews while in mobile mode.

TripAdvisor’s Sarah Mathews described the rise of the digital omnivores, a travel sector that “consciously and subconsciously consumes huge amounts of content,” and how businesses could leverage their online presence to capture this market. Mathews, head of Destination Marketing for Asia Pacific, recently presented at an industry seminar this month at the LeoPalace Resort in Yona.

Matthews, who is a veteran in sharing best practices for tourism boards and industry partners, provided insights on topics such as the “Digital Revolution,” “Destination Trend on Guam,” “Rise of Mobile,” and “Online Reputation.”

According to Mathews, it is important for businesses to be “where the fish are,” referring to the online platform where the digital omnivores thrive. It also involves knowing this particular market and looking at factors such as attribution models and online penetration data. Travel-related businesses, according to Mathews, should observe how they behave at different stages of the travel planning and procurement process.

She said that it is important to know what motivates a traveller to visit a certain location. “Look at the path of purchase until they make that final purchase. How are they getting to you? That is an important part of your business strategy.”

“So we looked at how travelers behave. We looked at what they do. When we look at destination selection, we can see the journey of doing it online,” she added. The bottomline is people want to go online, she said. Majority are doing transactions through their tech devices. Sharing experiences across different social media platforms is important to the traveler, she said.

The numbers reveal a lucrative opportunity for Guam and other destinations in trapping the tech-savvy market. Mathews noted that online global travel spending peaked at $1.3 trillion dollars revenues in 2016.

With the convergence of mobile and app technology, faster and clearer information are within reach. However, Mathews said while mobile has been here for a while, the future is something else. But business owners should get aboard with these tech devices faster and ensuring that their product is compatible with mobile phones.

“One of the things that I constantly hear from business owners is, it’s too much. Social and digital is too much. I can’t get my head around it,” she said, adding that these innovations are just different mediums but tell the same story. “You’re basically showcasing your main product. That is what travellers want,” she said.

Mathews said from a business standpoint, hotels and other tourism related businesses should be following “where the fish are. “The only place to be is online, making sure that your content is searchable,” she said.

Mathews gave an overview of TripAdvisor’s online data, providing a global perspective of how travellers find their information. She said the site receives 390 million unique visitors a month, all travelers. They have over 400 million reviews and opinions, nearly 7 million businesses listed online, and 370 million downloads of the various TripAdvisor apps.

She cited other observable trends, that devices such as smartphones and tablets are here to stay and mobile commerce gaining momentum. More importantly, that the digital omnivores are on the move.

“Mobile is driving fantastic user growth,” Mathews said adding that 72 percent of travellers look for restaurants online, 67 percent for things to do, and 50 percent for hotels.

Meanwhile, 64 percent actually read the reviews posted in the travel site. According to Deloitte’s eighth edition of the “Digital Democracy Survey,” a study which affirms the rise of the digital omnivore, among U.S. consumers, around 68 percent say that online reviews or recommendations from someone within their social media circles have a high or medium level of influence over buying decisions. Moreover, around 60 percent of the respondents said that online reviews by someone they do not know have a high to medium influence over their buying decisions. The study, which defined the digital omnivore as consumers who own a trio of tablets, smartphones and laptops, said the sector continues to grow, “driven by the proliferation of new platforms and increased device adoption.”

From TripAdvisor, TripBarometer Travel Trends 2016

While the destination is a popular starting point for many travelers, a sizable number start their path elsewhere. Culture, cost, and climate are always key draws when choosing a destination. According to Mathews, 31 percent look for cultural experiences, 22 percent for goodpriced accommodations, and 20 percent for the weather.

In terms of regional growth, Mathews said that “all eyes are on Asia,” a region where at least 50 percent of the global internet users are located. She said emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region have the higher proportion of connected travelers, with Thailand and China topping the list at 65 percent.

By 2030, more than 50 percent of global travel population will come from Asia,” and majority of the travellers will come from China. In terms of current regional trends, 76 percent of Asian travellers indicated plans to try something new in 2016, with at least 20 percent expressing interest in cruise and adventure travel.

More Asian travellers are now opting for solo travel. Asian travelers are also looking for essential amenities before booking their accommodations, according to Mathews. Aside from air-conditioning, Wi-Fi is important. In fact, 60 percent of Chinese travelers said they would look elsewhere if wifi was not offered.

Improving Guam’s online visibility is essential in capturing a chunk of the travel market. According to Mathews, this expanding the current content, painting a picture of what Guam is all about and why visitors should visit. The most useful content type includes photos, destination information, and trip ideas.

Guam’s TripAdvisor page currently lists at least 169 attractions, 50 hotels, 369 restaurants, and 387 forum posts. Mathews said global interest on Guam has moderately grown by 7 percent from 2015 to 2016, based on TripAdvisor site traffic data. South Korea, Japan and the Philippines have the highest share of Guam views from either a mobile device or a table.

Local businesses should also expand their mobile features, ensuring online searchability and booking and check out capability. Mathews also recommended leveraging partnerships with other businesses by allowing multiple bookings for tours, meals, and other travel-related experiences in one site.

Mathews also emphasized the importance of engaging customers. When looking at online platforms marketing the destination or service, it is important to measure the engagement rate instead of the number of likes to gauge an effective return of investment.

“A cat wearing a Santa hat moving or wagging its tail will probably get more likes than anyone will ever get. But it is not relevant,” she said, adding, “it is not telling you anything. The engagement shows how an audience interacts with you. When you look at your social media, you want to be looking at what the people are saying in the comments.”

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