Travellers at an airport

4 Stages of User Search Behavior for Travel Products

  |  July 13, 2014   |  Comments   |  

When searching for a flight or a hotel room, users may begin their queries at any one of four major stages. Here is a look at those entry points and how marketers should respond.

How does a user search for a hotel room or a flight and then eventually decide to make a booking?

Previously, we revealed that a typical online travel/hotel booking engine website is in fact very much a vertical search engine for travel/hotel booking information. But a vertical search engine is only one of the stages where a user performs an online search.

There are four major stages in which a user can search for travel or hotel information.

  • All four stages can be the starting point of a user search. Which stage a user starts at really depends on the behavior of the user, and depends on the stage of the user's specific requirements.
  • Each of the four stages is a very important "search" stage for end users when looking for travel/hotel information.
  • All four stages can be the starting point of a user's search, but not all stages can be a point for a user hotel booking.
  • As an online marketer, you cannot have full control of all four stages, but you should be aware of the stages and what you can optimize at each stage.

Stage 1 of Search: Search Engines

Search engines are where most people start a search. Across many different countries, people usually search using Google. But in specific countries such as China, people mainly use Baidu to perform searches.

For example, if a user searches for hotels in a specific destination on Baidu, Baidu would return a list of search results, which may usually include:

  • A list of hotels from some hotel booking engine websites.
  • A list of hotels from some hotel comparison websites.
  • Hotels from a hotel chain or hotel brand website.
  • A sub-search box for a user to perform further hotel searches.

Stage 2 of Search: Comparison Websites

A travel comparison website is a travel information aggregator, and a hotel comparison website is an aggregator on hotel information. The hotel information, such as prices, room types, etc., is gathered and updated from multiple hotel booking engine websites.

  • Depending on the scope, a travel comparison website can be an all-in-one vertical search engine that provides searches on different travel product types including hotels, flights, vacation packages, car rentals, train tickets, and so on.
  • A travel comparison website can sometimes be a vertical search engine of a single product type, i.e. only information on hotels is available. 
  • For example, when a user searches for hotels in a destination, the travel comparison website would normally return hotels that are available to book from multiple online hotel/travel booking engine websites.

The one main objective for a user to search on a hotel comparison website is to find out which hotel booking engine website provides the lowest price on a specific hotel of a destination. Then, the user will be redirected to the hotel detail page of that specific hotel booking engine website, and complete the hotel booking.

Stage 3 of Search: Booking Engine Websites

A typical online travel/hotel booking engine website provides travel/hotel information to the end users. The hotel information was most likely gathered from some centralized hotel information aggregation systems and/or directly from some hotel chains.

  • Users' search behavior on an online travel/hotel booking engine website has been covered previously.
  • An end user can actually look for hotels, and complete bookings of the hotel rooms, on online hotel booking engine websites without having to make hotel bookings by visiting an official hotel chain or hotel brand website.

Users who are loyal to the specific travel booking engine website would normally skip stages one and two and start hotel/travel-related searches directly on the specific travel booking engine website.

Stage 4 of Search: Chains/Brands

Hotel chain and/or hotel brand websites are the official websites that are built and owned by the specific hotel chains and/or hotel brands.

  • Usually, booking a hotel on an official website isn't difficult and shouldn't be a problem. However, there is no way to compare hotel prices.
  • Sometimes searching for a specific hotel directly on the official website may not be as easy as you think.

Users who are loyal to the hotel chains/brands would normally skip stages one, two, and three and start hotel searches directly on the official website of the hotel chain/brand.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gordon  Choi

Gordon Choi has paid search experience in Google AdWords and Baidu since 2003; Yahoo/Bing since 2002 and SEO and web analytics experience since 2005 across China, Asia, U.S., U.K. and Australian markets. He gathered China Internet experience through working in-house at Ctrip.com and Alibaba.com and now specializes in setting up SEM/SEO strategies, managing online campaign operations, and implementing web analytics solutions for clients.

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