Customer Journey: Planning a Summer Vacation

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Customer Journey: Planning a Summer Vacation

The consumer journey for someone who is planning a summer vacation in the U.S. includes looking for inspiration in travel websites and social media platforms, hiring travel agents to make the plan, using online services for booking, consulting travel websites and reviews to gather additional information about specific places and seeking international health insurance coverage to prepare for the summer travel. Challenges faced in planning a summer vacation in the U.S. have to do with budgeting and affordability, not having enough vacation time, lack of options for domestic destinations, and preparing for various age groups and needs. More details about the consumer journey analysis for planning a summer vacation and insights into the challenges faced in planning a summer vacation in the U.S. are provided below.

Research — Looking for Inspiration

  • Many U.S. travelers use Hotel Tonight's app to get inspiration about where to travel internationally for their summer vacation and between March and May 2019, three of the locations they were most interested in were "London, Paris and Puerto Rico". The app has more than 32 million users.
  • Over 90% of the users of Hotel Tonight's website are based in the U.S. and many of them view this site based on web traffic from referring sites such as visitmenow.com (47.03%), travelsites.com (14.49%), weebpal.com (8.99%), links.cardlytics.com (7.84%) and coupons.businessinsider.com (7.84%) which suggests that these sites are also used while searching for inspiration.
  • Hotel Tonight's users also use social media platforms to get inspiration for travel including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter as some website traffic came from these sources.
  • U.S. Family Travel 2018 survey showed that families are inspired by their children (57%), friends (47%), other family members (43%), other parents (26%), bloggers (16%), their children's friends (15%), their children's teachers (11%), journalists (10%) and travel agents (9%) to decide where to go and what to do.
  • They are also inspired by information received from sources such as search engines (e.g. Google and Bing) (34%), Facebook (31%), TV shows (31%), travel websites (e.g. TripAdvisor and Expedia) (30%), movies (29%), magazines (26%), online videos (24%), tourist offices or websites (22%), Pinterest (21%), Instagram (21%), guide books (19%), advertising/marketing (18%), travel supplier websites (e.g. airlines, tour operators) (17%), blogs (13%), travel clubs (e.g. AAA) (13%), newspapers (9%), and Twitter (8%).

Making the Plan

  • In 2019, most U.S. travelers planned to have a domestic summer vacation "with 33% traveling cross-country, 28% exploring their own region and 22% staying within the borders of their home state".
  • Vacasa is one of several sources that U.S. travelers use when making the plan for their summer vacation because it provides tips for consumers to use based on summer travel trends which are derived from surveys conducted with U.S. travelers.
  • Vacasa also proposes "top vacation rental destinations" to travelers based on partner data and the company also considers combined occupancy when making their selections.
  • Travel clubs such as AAA are also consulted in making the plans since they provide details about road trips for travelers who prefer domestic vacations.
  • In 2019, their travel editors provided over "450 pre-planned road trips" with popular routes for members including "Las Vegas to National Parks".
  • In 2018, AAA Travel found that Americans use travel agents when making their plans and that at least 27 million travelers would've sought the services of travel agents in 2019.
  • American travelers like to use travel agents because they gain value from the experience since travel agents can "find the best deals, secure upgrades, and...money-saving perks".
  • They use the information provided by search engines (46%), travel websites (43%), and tourist offices (30%) to make their plans. Planning also starts 1 – 3 months before the trip.

Booking

  • U.S. travelers use the following to "book their travel options" for their summer vacation: hotel websites (21%), online travel agent (e.g. Priceline, Expedia, Booking.com) (20%), theme park website (15%), airline websites (13%), car rental websites (8%), cruise line website (6%), home sharing website (e.g. AirBnB, VRBO, Home Exchange) (6%), travel agent (6%), and tour operator website (3%).
  • 60% of U.S. travelers "use online booking services" in 2018 for their family summer vacation plans.
  • 48% also preferred to use travel agents to get their booking done mostly to get better rates.
  • 57% of American travelers chose summer vacation rentals in 2019 based on location.
  • Bookings are done 1 – 3 months ahead of the trip/vacation.

Gathering Information for Specific Places

  • U.S. travelers seek information about specific places from travel news sources such as U.S. News Travel that provide rankings for vacation destinations and provide additional details about the places inclusive of hotels and flights.
  • Travelers 18 – 24 years old seek inspiration from Instagram and gather additional information from social media, reviews, and guide books.
  • Information about fare prices is sought from airline websites and other websites that offer the option of making comparisons across airlines. Examples of such sites are "Airfarewatchdog, FareCompare, and Kayak".
  • Travelers also use travel-agency sites like "CheapTickets, Expedia, and Travelocity".
  • Expedia is used to get information about cities in the U.S. with cheap flights and cheap hotel rates and advise of when to make car rental arrangements to get the best rates.
  • Another travel website that is also consulted to search for details for specific places such as theme parks, other "attractions, restaurants, and hotels" is TripAdvisor. It is also used for reviews of specific places.

Common Places

  • Americans visit their health insurance companies prior to traveling for summer vacation or others to ensure that they have travel coverage.
  • U.S. travelers with Medicare health insurance may not have access to overseas coverage and are usually encouraged to get international travel health insurance (e.g. GeoBlue). This is being encouraged by "the CDC and major carriers such as Aetna, Kaiser Permanente, and UnitedHealthcare".
  • U.S. travelers compare international health insurance policies and their respective prices using sources such as InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright, and Squaremouth.

Challenges in Planning a Summer Vacation

1. Budgeting and Affordability of Travel

  • According to the U.S. Family Travel Survey 2018, a major challenge that families face when planning their summer vacation is affordability and the cost of traveling. Respondents of the survey believe that family vacations are expensive, especially for larger families and affordable family travel options are lacking.
  • In their experience, travel companies are not transparent in their pricing because advertised rates are not reflective of the additional fees and surcharges, which causes some frustration for travelers.
  • The number of Americans who are making summer vacation plans is increasing but the average budget is decreasing. Generali Global Assistance's annual survey (2018) found that the average budget is $2,643, which was a slight decrease.
  • Besides planning for travel during the summer, parents also have to consider spending on other activities for their children who have a much longer vacation that they do, which might also be expensive. They may spend on other activities such as camps (e.g. day camp, sleep away camps, and specialized camps like art camp), and weekend trips.


2. Not Enough Vacation Time

  • Korn Ferry's survey found that for professionals, finding the best time for vacation is a challenge since many of them have to repeatedly check in with their offices (45%).
  • 95% of them usually plan their vacation for a minimum of one week, but 65% of them have "had to cut a vacation short due to work pressures".
  • 45% of them are usually putting out fires at their workplaces while 19% of them enjoy working while on summer vacation.
  • Just over half of the professionals surveyed have arguments with their spouses because of work engagements while on vacation. This suggests that there is some difficulty balancing family time and work while on summer vacation.
  • Over 50% of Americans did not use all of their vacation days in 2017.
  • Another survey found that 55% of U.S. consumers planned to use 1 -3 days for their summer vacation in 2019.
  • Parents don't get as much summer vacation time as their children do, which also poses a challenge in finding enough activities to keep their children occupied.
  • Some parents end up planning separate vacation times to ensure coverage with their kids.


3. Lack of Options for Domestic Destinations

  • Generali Global Assistance's annual survey (2018) showed that 46% of Americans "preferred to spend [their] summer vacation" locally.
  • U.S. travelers wanted to have more packaged travel options locally in 2018 as they do for international travels and there was a similar sentiment in 2017.
  • They wanted to see packages that might include "a bundle of accommodations, food and attractions" for domestic destinations.
  • U.S. Travel launched an initiative in 2018 to advocate for "research on domestic travel" as the organization helps to improve the growth of domestic travel for American vacation.


4. Preparing for Various Age Groups and Needs

  • U.S. travelers find difficulty making vacation plans for family members of various age groups and found that the travel industry doesn't provide enough options for very young children and older teenagers.
  • There are also limited "[t]ravel options for adults and children with special needs" (e.g. autism). Adults and children with severe food allergies and those who require special mobility needs are also at a disadvantage because of the limited options provided for them.
  • Multigenerational families have difficulty "[f]inding the right summer vacation ideas" including vacation rentals that can accommodate all family members.
  • They use travel apps to help them "find the right restaurants, local activities, and events".
  • When planning a summer vacation, considerations are to be made for preferences within a multigenerational family. For example, Discover survey found that persons of the Gen Z (25%) and Silent (40%) generations will mostly value spending time with family/friends while Millennials (28%), Gen X (39%) and Boomers (41%) will mostly value relaxation during their summer vacations.


Research Strategy

For this research, we consulted travel news sources (e.g. U.S. News Travel), travel websites (e.g. Expedia), review websites (e.g. TripAdvisor), U.S.-based travel surveys (e.g. U.S. Family Travel Survey 2018) and other reputable news sources (e.g. Forbes) to provide details for the consumer journey analysis and insights into the challenges involved in planning for a summer vacation. While we could easily find information surrounding researching/looking for inspiration, making the plan, booking, and gathering more information about a specific place. We realized that travel-related publications, reports, news, and surveys do not focus on common places that U.S. travelers visit to prepare for summer vacation after the plan has been made. For this aspect of the research however, we looked at consumer reports that discussed overseas travel and making preparations for it and found discussions about getting international health insurance which we included because it was deemed valuable, in gaining additional insights.
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