The number of websites UK travel consumers look at before booking has dropped considerably, according to the latest Google data.
Nigel Huddleston, head of travel at Google, told the Abta Travel Convention in Croatia this week that the average is now 11 compared to around 20 just a few years ago.
However, the rise of mobile means around four to five sites may be added to that figure, he said. Mobile has a far smaller conversion rate and most firms adjust their figures to take account of this.
However, Google insight shows just how important mobile is becoming, with sharing – such as photos on holiday or ideas before booking – now becoming part of all of Google’s ‘Five Stages of Travel’.
“The fifth stage of travel – sharing – is now part of the entire process. People are sharing ideas at the very earliest stages of travel,” Huddleston said.
“We have research to suggest 86% of smartphone owners share photos on holiday and people look at social media every single day when on holiday.”
On desktop three out of four people use search and in any given month an average of 44% of the UK adult population is looking for travel online.
That figure is highest in February (48%) and lowest in September (39%), and on average people take 73 days to research their trip before booking.
In looking at 11 different sites, the average person completes 17 individual online sessions. Huddleston said this pointed to the increased important of brand association.
He said in the past a customer would return to a brand three times during the search and book process. A couple of years ago that figure was two.
The Google data shows that mobile and tablet accounts for 30% to 40% of total queries and four in ten people book offline.
In terms of research, 45% do it exclusively online, 8% exclusively offline and 40% combine the two, while the remainder do none.
Huddleston said: “We are one of the most sophisticated internet economies in the world, especially when it comes to travel.
“While the internet is really important in the initial search and journey overall, visiting stores and travel agencies comes up in the list of most influential aspects when it comes to purchase decisions.
“People want validation of their choice. If they want a family holiday by the beach they want to be two miles away on the other side of a motorway.
“Is it offering good value for money? Nobody wants to go on holiday and find out the person next to them has got it cheaper than they have.”
Delegates were told that, although advanced, travel has lost its leadership position online to the retail sector.
“One reason was we were forever trying to push our customers to the booking point when they were not ready to book. Very few sites do a good job of inspiring the customer.”
Huddlestone picked out easyJet’s recently launched Inspire Me tool as a good example of something he said Google was seeing more of.
Google has seen a huge rise in tablet traffic but around a third of this is being done while the user is sitting on the sofa at home, probably watching a second screen, the TV.
Huddlestone said the Brits love their smartphones and while it is more difficult to get conversions on these devices, sectors like hotels and some OTAs are doing well.
The data shows while 26% of Brits use smartphones to research, only 12% go on to buy on the device. Smartphone package holiday bookings account for just 3% to 4% of the sector.
Google is seeing increased use of other visual functions like maps and photo tours. It has added flight routes to Google Maps and 360 degree tours.
Voice search is the next big thing, Huddlestone said, before demonstrating how the experience is becoming a lot more intuitive and semantic.
“Technology is improving and we are trying to be a little bit more human in the ways we interact, a little bit like if you went into a travel agent.”