A couple of really big players recently made news with tools to help travelers plan their vacations — not only streamlining the process but providing inspiration. Google made a splash with its “Destinations,” which aims to make travel planning easier. It’s a mobile tool where a traveler enters the name of a country into a Google search on a phone along with the word “destinations.” That brings up a series of suggested towns and cities. In just a few clicks travelers can gauge a trip’s average cost with at-a-glance hotel and flight prices. Google can then take web users directly to the relevant reservation pages where travelers can also enter their interests to find suitable options.
And Booking.com has added Booking.com/destinationfinder, where travelers can enter their “passion” or select a preferred activity or type of break from over 200 options. An algorithm then picks a selection of relevant destinations and places to stay from over 850,000 establishments.
Pretty cool. But sometimes it’s the smaller travel sites that not only think “differently” — but might even think “backwards.” A lodging exchange company called Nightswapping recently introduced a “reverse search engine.” A traveler types in the city of departure rather than the destination — as well as the maximum distance they want to travel and arrival/stay dates. The site will suggest weekend destinations and places to stay with local hosts.
The results provide ideas and inspiration for upcoming trips. Example: Type in “Los Angeles” and “200 miles” and “April 15-22” — and the site will come up with some ideas for inspiration.
Budget is not a big issue because the way Nightswapping works is that users sign up to host travelers, receiving in turn a free night’s stay with someone else when they next take a trip. Users who haven’t yet earned any nights or who need extra reassurance can opt to buy nights instead at usually nominal rates. The site has over 180,000 members.
What’s the lesson for marketers in all these tools — forwards or backwards? With the overwhelming amount of information available — one of the reasons for the resurgence of travel agents — destinations, hotels and other travel suppliers need to keep it simple as well. Rather than an onslaught of deals or pretty pictures, it might be good to think from the traveler’s point of view. What do they like to do? What places have they liked before? How much can they spend?
Travel industry professionals may take for granted that potential customers know the lay of the land as far as where they should travel. But in many cases that’s simply not true. People know they want to “get away,” but they really have little idea of where to go and what might be available to them.
Bottom line: think “backwards” and rather than promote your own product, think about what the consumer needs as far as inspiration and information.
That may be the best way forward.