Occasionalization in Theory
Seventy-five percent of digital travelers are light users, visiting travel sites less than once per month. But there is a significant group of users who conduct more than 50 sessions in a six-month period, and these frequent digital travelers are among the most attractive consumers on the Web. Seventy-five percent of users who spend an average of four hours per week in travel sessions have household incomes greater than $50,000, and 48 percent hold a college or graduate degree. Online or offline, these are the travel marketer’s ideal target — sophisticated buyers with plenty of disposable income.
What matters is how such a consumer uses the Internet in a given session.
Digital travelers’ Internet travel sessions fall neatly into five distinct mission-based segments, which we call Quick Check, Travel Watch, Collecting Information, Stick to Suppliers, and DIY Travel. A deeper look within these segments reveals where users are going and what they are doing by occasion. Their behavior reflects varying objectives — checking on frequent-flyer miles or flight times; looking for special offers; searching for ideas; collecting information; booking an itinerary. Knowing these occasions — and their prevalence — can help travel marketers tailor messages, and even craft distinctive online interfaces, that more closely match a consumer’s desires.
Quick Check occasions are short and direct, and constitute 25 percent of all travel segments. They last a couple of minutes and involve checking one or two pages on one to three sites, often at URLs not visited frequently. More Quick Check sessions are spent at discount agents than are any other session type, except Travel Watch. Think of someone checking the fare for a flight.
Travel Watch occasions constitute 13 percent of all travel segments. They are relatively short, although they’re more than twice the duration (five minutes) of a Quick Check. They also tend to involve one to three sites, but are generally visits to familiar addresses. Users look at 3.3 pages per site compared to 1.6 for Quick Check. Think of someone verifying an itinerary or the frequent-flyer miles he or she has accumulated.
Collecting Information occasions average about 17 minutes and constitute 27 percent of all travel segments. These sessions also involve one to three unfamiliar sites, but visits last an average of 11 pages per site. There’s a heavy skew to full-service superstores (Travelocity or Expedia), travel portals (Yahoo Travel, AOL), and content sites (Fodor’s, Lonely Planet), suggesting that these sessions are dominated by light users who are gathering information for a vacation. Imagine searching for a beach resort for your week off in February.
Stick to Suppliers occasions involve 2.4 highly familiar sites and constitute 15 percent of all travel segments. These sessions are notable for the number of pages viewed — 16, on average — on each site, during sessions that last about 27 minutes. On these occasions, digital travelers are likely to return to airline, hotel, or rental-car sites they’ve been to in the past to check for deals.
DIY Travel occasions are the longest sessions — 39 minutes — and involve 6.2 sites on average. Users have moderate familiarity with the sites they visit, suggesting that these are window-shopping excursions for comparing destinations, facilities, and prices. Reinforcing this characterization, travel portals are visited more frequently (17 percent) and discount agents less frequently (6 percent) during DIY Travel sessions than in any other. Digital travelers during these occasions are the heaviest users of “other suppliers,” moving beyond airline booking to browse among destinations, hotels, restaurants, and events.
Occasionalization in Practice
By using occasionalization to segment consumers and target communication, ultimately building dynamic dialogue, a smart travel company can imbue its brand with the subtle distinctions that enable it to stand out from the price-and-availability lists returned by the commoditizers. Some possibilities: