In the field of hospitality and travel, the customer inspiration and evaluation process known as “The 7 Stages of Travel” has been around a long time. While the concept remains the same, mediums have changed. Travelers are no longer inspired by travel guides ordered, brochures picked up or the slide shows and snapshots shared by their friends over dinner. Everything is now discovered, planned, and shared online. Here’s how The 7 Social Stages of Travel exist now - online and on smart phones.
Popular websites and smartphone apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine and YouTube have become the travel brochures of today. On Facebook, fans are encouraged to “Like” travel and destination pages like Emerald Isle Tour. They in turn, recommend others and before they know it, readers’ news feeds are full of travel related information. 52% of Facebook users say their friends’ photos inspire their travel plans (source: Webbed Feet). On Twitter, sharing links to stories and posting pictures of dream vacations has become the norm. When considering travel locations, most trips have probably been influenced by a picture from a trip taken by a friend that was shared on Instagram. Be it New York City’s Times Square, the intriguing side streets of Santori or the open vistas of Africa - pictures of destinations will influence and inspire followers. And browsing through the boards that a hopeful traveler has created on Pinterest can help narrow down all the possible destinations.
The inspiration that is found on social media is also used in the second stage of travel – research. During the inspiration phase several locations have probably kept coming up as “the place” to go. That’s when the real research of pricing, best times to travel, route planning and things to do take place. 55% of travelers "Liked"' Facebook pages specific to their destination (source: Webbed Feet). Studying possible vacation destinations, timing and routes includes asking friends on Facebook and Followers on Twitter questions like, “Do we want to fly or drive to the Grand Canyon?” “What about taking the Euro Rail across Europe?” “Is it still too chilly to enjoy an Alaskan cruise in April?” These questions factor into the kind of research a once-in-a-lifetime trip entails. But even if you’re not planning a massive trip but merely a weekend getaway, skimming through Pinterest boards and the photos you saved when they appeared on Instagram will confirm the research and solidify the decision.
Research is complete and the destination is chosen. Now the real dream vacation planning begins. Nothing helps planning more than culling through Pinterest boards or locating pages to “Like” on Facebook, watching travel videos on YouTube and laughing at friends’ escapades on Vine. But it is often more than that. Facebook users will post: “We’ve finally selected San Diego for our vacation this year. Any recommendations for day trips and restaurants?” BAM, their timeline fills with folks wanting to give their advice and share their favorite places. When they post on a destination page with a question about the city or sights to see around it they can get hundreds of responses – from travelers and locals alike. And those recommendations are more trusted than what is seen on random internet sites. In a survey conducted by Destination Hotels, “two-thirds of participants indicated that they spend time on a hotel’s or resort’s social channels before visiting. An overwhelming majority – 80 percent – noted that they browse online reviews when researching and booking their trips.”
When users post on Facebook or tweet out “Heading to The Shore!” they are looking for validation for their plans. They anticipate the positive reinforcement of the congratulatory responses; the jealous tinged ones like “I wanna go!” and even the naysayers asking, “Why would you want to go there?” Often social media is used to make plans as well creating an opportunity to meet up with other friends that might be heading to the same destination. Also shared are reviews of the destination with more recommendations for things to do. “We went there last summer. Be sure to go to…..” When plans are shared and validated, they become more anticipated.
While the actual booking may not take place on social media sites (yet) – savvy hotel properties include links in their posts to their booking pages. Those using social media correctly know that you can’t constantly ask for the business. Social media is a conversation. Occasional requests for business are fine, but every post and tweet and pin cannot be about asking for the booking. If a potential customer has been enjoying the posts and tweets of a hotel or resort destination, they are very likely to go through them to finalize their plans. And by placing customized links in the posts and tweets, it gives the marketer solid ROI to show to the C-Suites.
People are increasingly involving friends and family at home in their travel adventures as they happen. “More than 35 percent of consumers noted that while on their trip, they like to keep friends and family up-to-date with frequent check-ins, status updates and photo sharing” (source: Destination Travel). Whether on Vine, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter, chronicling the trip as it happens versus when the trip is over has become the standard for many socially connected travelers.
Sharing after the vacation is almost mandatory. Social travelers will want to update those followers/friends on the plans that they contributed to, the new hidden jewels they’ve found and restaurants that were recommended. The facts speak for themselves:
- 76% of social media users post vacation photos to their social networks (source: Webbed Feet)
- 40% of personal travelers and 46% business travelers use social networking to share travel experience (source: Bazaar Voice)