Commentary

OTAs Better At Engaging Consumers Offline Than In Social Media

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, July 11, 2017

As hotels and airlines look to renegotiate their contracts with online travel agencies (OTA), they may want to take a closer look at how well each OTA performs in driving consumer conversations offline and online. Since social influence has a proven impact on sales, a quick chat at the water cooler or a Facebook Messenger discussion about an upcoming vacation or weekend getaway is a leading indicator of who will secure the booking. Right now, TripAdvisor, Expedia.com and the other OTAs are outperforming hotels and airlines in this all-important battle for share of conversation.

It may seem counterintuitive, but our new analysis of online and offline conversations data finds that consumers talk more in real life about OTA brands than they do on social media. For hotels and airlines, this data provides valuable insight into which OTA brands can drive the most sales for their business.

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Online travel agencies and other travel websites have transformed the way consumers research and book their vacations; in fact, a comScore study recently found that, on average, travelers in the U.S. made 140 visits to travel sites in the 45 days prior to booking a trip. This shift in behavior doesn’t start and end on digital. Even though consumers are booking their travel online, consumers are talking about their travel plans – including mentioning leading sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor – in face-to-face conversations. This is because individuals move fluidly between their online and offline lives and huge numbers continue to search online and then talk offline.

It’s also consistent with what we see across many categories—that the growth of social media doesn’t come at the expense of real world conversations. If today’s digital-first brands, such as online travel agents, must pay close attention to consumer conversations occurring offline as well as online, then that speaks volumes about its importance for all brands.

It also means that when planning their marketing and negotiating partnership deals, hotels and airlines should take into consideration the relative strengths of OTAs in getting consumers to talk about their experiences and what works best for the OTAs in driving conversation.  What’s more, OTAs outperform hotels and airlines, we found, confirming the powerful role they play in consumer travel decisions. This finding indicates how important it is for hotels and airlines to understand their own performance in driving social influence and to take steps to make themselves the topic of conversation.

We know from our research that there is a direct link between social influence and sales, and that offline and online conversations are nearly equal in their contribution to sales. Thus, it’s important for travel brands that want to tap the power of social influence to understand how their partners perform in both forms of conversation. 

OTAs perform particularly well in offline brand sharing—which is the amount of face-to-face conversations in which people are talking about a brand’s marketing or advertising—as compared to online. This is a particular area of strength for OTAs as compared to hotels and airlines. They also outperform both among online influencers, proving that travelers are more likely to talk about a travel website’s marketing campaign than they do about hotel or airline campaigns.

TripAdvisor is the clear leader in the category overall, performing better than its peers both offline and online. Meanwhile, several OTA brands, such as Expedia, Hotels.com and Travelocity, have higher volume scores offline as compared to online, which shows that consumers are talking about these travel websites in more offline conversations as compared to via social media. 

Among its peers, Kayak performs especially well in terms of sentiment. It ranks first in offline sentiment and second in online sentiment, which means there are more net-positive conversations about the brand than about its competitors. However, it ranks last in getting everyday influencers to talk about its brand. These are the “people next door,” the neighbors, friends and acquaintances who have positive experiences with the brand and represent the most persuasive form of marketing.

The travel websites that are the strongest in getting everyday influencers to talk about their brands are TripAdvisor, Orbitz, and Hotels.com, which rank first, second and third in this measure, respectively. Hotels.com ranks at number one for online influence, followed by Priceline.com, and Expedia. Although it performs well in offline influence, Orbitz ranks at or near the bottom in nearly every measure of our analysis, contributing to its last place ranking overall.

Social influence drives marketing ROI and sales better than any other marketing channel. By understanding and optimizing performance in both offline word of mouth and social media, both OTAs and their hotel and airline partners can drive better consumer engagement and business impacts for their brands.

 
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