Three fundamental issues with the travel customer journey – and how to fix them

We’re all familiar with the travel consumer journey, right? It’s endlessly regurgitated by travel marketers, a well-trodden path leading from inspiration to destination. Thanks to digital technology, the entire travel experience is today more closely mapped than ever before, and the touchpoints for marketers to interact with travellers have never been so numerous.

But in content terms, are you making the most of the opportunities the customer journey provides to get your messages across? Research by Cedar has discovered that there are some fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

·      At the very beginning of the journey (the stage at which the vast majority of marketing spend is targeted), when customers are looking for inspiration, they often find themselves bamboozled by the sheer volume of content available and the number of different places they need to go to in order to find it.

·      Once they’ve booked, customers suddenly find themselves pretty much abandoned by marketers, when the truth is that they’re still searching for inspiration and ideas.

·      Once they’re home, it’s a similar story. With the exception of the odd survey, there’s a deafening silence – but customers still want to hear from you, even if not right away.

In this white paper, we’ll take a closer look at these three areas where the travel customer journey is currently broken, and suggest ways to fix them.

Why us? Cedar are experts in travel media. We invented the sector 50 years ago with the launch of British Airways’ High Life magazine, and today we manage or consult on a 90% digital content portfolio for clients including BA, Iberia, Eurostar, Cathay Pacific, Mandarin Oriental, Tui, and The Dorchester Collection. We also partner with a wide range of brands including Hilton, Marriott, Luxe Collective, and Expedia to help them reach travellers within those portfolios. Our latest, in-depth research into the travel consumer journey gives us the insight to talk with authority on the topic.

But first, a few words on where the world of travel is currently at.

A Travel State of Mind

“It’s hard to think of a business model more fragile – more susceptible to social, political, economic and environmental shocks – than travel,” wrote The Times last year. “Destinations can go out of fashion and their profitability is dependent on the whims of a discretionary spend. They can fall victim to terrorism, war or recessions happening far, far away; to climate events and, as recent history has shown, public health emergencies.”

In other words, travel is a precarious business. A year on from those words being written, headwinds continue to blow in the shape of increased oil prices, sinking disposable incomes, and stubbornly high interest rates, to name just three. As a result, many consumers are thinking twice about whether to travel. A recent trends report by WARC found that nearly a third of consumers have reduced their spending on travel and holidays in the last twelve months.

But this doesn’t mean travel has stopped – we’re just splashing a little less cash on it. In another survey, just over two-thirds of UK consumers said they still planned to travel, even if it meant spending less than they usually would. Some are even planning to travel more – more than a third of Gen Z intend to do that this year.

Crucially, Cedar’s own research found that more than a third of consumers are usually planning two or more trips at any one time. And almost all consumers (98%) are planning at least one trip. In other words, they’re pretty much always in a ‘travel state of mind’.

Which brings us to the beginning of the customer journey.


Challenge 1: Inspiration Overwhelm

As consumers begin to plan a trip, and take their first, tentative steps on a new journey, they are hungry for inspiration and information. We found that almost all of them (94%) are looking for travel content at this point. That’s why marketers have them firmly in their sights as they break cover: this stage of the customer journey sees 80% of total marketing spend, across a wide range of channels.

But at the same time, almost half of consumers (44%) say that finding the content they need takes too long, with a third spending more than 12 hours researching. More than a third (38%) say they have to visit too many sites to find out what they need.

What they are looking for varies immensely, from general inspiration to very specific destination and hotel information. Nearly half begin their search focused on ‘when’ they are going, while the rest are preoccupied with ‘where’.

In other words, they are flailing around in a world of content, directionless, overwhelmed. And most travel brands do not have a content or channnel strategy to meet their needs.

The Fix

“We do a lot of work with brands on really understanding customer decision-making at this stage of the journey and the role of the many different channels within it,” says Kim Willis, Chief Strategist at Cedar. “The first thing we tell them to do is to streamline their content strategy framework. They need to do research to fully understand which channels their customer segments are engaging with, and then find the right channel for the right audience. For example, younger audiences are most likely to be on Insta, while older ones will go straight to travel sites. To cut through and win a media-ready audience, you need to genuinely offer something of value, that’s personalised and relevant. Otherwise you’re just noise.”


Challenge 2: Post-booking Ghosting

After they’ve clambered through the mass of inspirational and destination content at the beginning of their journey, customers will finally make a decision and book a trip. All that’s left is to send them some info about check-in and a reminder or two about their bookings before they leave, and it’s job done.

Job done? Not really.

Our research tells us that customers are thirsty for inspiration in the period between booking and departure. They really want you to get in touch. On average they take six weeks in the planning stage before booking, and then wait four and a half months before they actually leave. During those long months they want their purchase to be reaffirmed. They want inspiration and ideas: nearly half of them are looking for more information at this stage than when they were first planning their trip. And they’re happy to share their data in exchange for personalised recommendations.

The Fix

“At the moment, this is a dead zone for most brands,” says Willis. “And it’s a huge missed opportunity. We’re helping travel clients to really dive into customer needs during this period and look at ways to meet them. This can range from advice on must-sees and must-dos in their hotel neighbourhood to tips on how to make the most of their flight. The important thing is to understand that this stage of the customer journey is about inspiration, and not just logistics. We have a wealth of personal data at this point, so let’s use it. There’s also an opportunity to optimise revenues via needs-based content and partnerships – if the formats are right.”

Challenge 3: Unhappy Landings

For our travellers, it’s finally time to come home. And it’s an emotional time. They’re facing the return to the daily grind, coming to terms with the end of their (hopefully) perfect idyll, wondering if they can remember their computer password at work…

And what do you do? You ask them for a review or send them a survey to fill in. Maybe you offer them a discount code so they can come back again. What you’re actually saying is: Our work is done. See you!

But, as our research shows, customers do want to hear from you – but not straight away. On average, around a third are happy to hear about new holiday ideas in the days immediately following their trip, while the majority would rather wait for a week or two.

The Fix

“A lot of brands are missing a trick here,” says Willis. “There are around 110 million people flying in any given week. They’re staying in hotels, visiting attractions, using airlines. It’s a huge audience, and yet they’re pretty much forgotten once their trip is over. We know that once they’ve got over the bumpy first few days back at home, they’re hungry for new inspiration. They’re ready to dream again, and brands that understand this can reap major benefits.”



The key takeaway of our research is that travel isn’t just about the trip – it’s also about the anticipation and the memories. And it isn’t a product, it’s an experience. Brands too often frontload inspiration content, and then vanish after a booking is made. But people aren’t buying a two-week holiday, they’re buying something experiential: whole months of dreaming.

Despite digital transformation, the travel sector too often still operates according to old world rules. Today’s most successful brands truly understand their customers (think of Netflix, say, or TikTok) and know not only how to personalise content for individual needs but also how to direct messages to the most appropriate channels.

Travel brands need to think like media owners, creating content that is not just high quality but evolves, interacts and creates experiences with customers. Do that and you’ll create content that brings both new revenues and new super fans.