A few months ago we were in the middle of 2017 planning and were talking to travel advertisers about their top goals for the coming year. One of the most common themes was driving more bookings from business travelers. This got us thinking a lot about what trends we’re seeing in the space overall and the best way to quantify them. In downstream conversations and projects, it became really apparent that it is far too easy to be prescriptive about this group instead of thinking about the bigger picture.

We decided it would be smart to step back and validate some of the things we believed about business travel and surveyed 250 actual business travelers. Here’s what we learned.

Some decisions not based on research

If you’re trying to reach a business traveler after they’ve started booking their travel, you’re greatly reducing your potential audience. This is an area where we were really guilty of prejudicial thinking. In our company, it is pretty common to book airfare early and then narrow down a hotel later. Our research found that this wasn’t a common behavior for business travelers; instead, it was more common for the booking to be a single event or for travel and lodging to be booked within a short period of time. Only 16% of the business travelers we surveyed had yet to book a hotel for a trip taking place in the next 60 days.

We also found that 21% of the time, the hotel is already chosen before the trip is confirmed. There are a lot of reasons that this can occur, ranging from familiarity and loyalty to an outright lack of choice due to company or client policy. Still, we were surprised to find out how uninvolved some business travelers are in the planning aspects of their upcoming travel.

Corporate solutions drive significant volume

When we asked these business travelers about what types of sites they are most likely to use when researching hotels for their business travel, there was an almost even split between review, supplier, metasearch, and OTA sites. What they did tell us clearly is that they have not yet moved to rental booking sites like Airbnb (using them only 14% of the time) and don’t often stray from corporate booking tools or agents, using them 44.6% of the time.

In another question, we asked which specific metasearch sites (if any) business travelers were the most impactful to their choice of a hotel, and here’s what we learned:

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This reinforces that a significant number of business travelers aren’t yet engaging through these channels, and gives some indication of where users are getting their most valuable information about hotels. This was another area that we saw some significant difference between male and female respondents, with women identifying TripAdvisor as their most impactful resource.

The distribution of business travelers in our own data roughly follows this view as well, though we do see Trivago deliver at a higher level than the responses here indicate. Our wording – most impactful – was purposeful to try to understand what users identified as being their primary driver, and we suspect that different question formats could yield different results.

Ratings and location over brand loyalty

We all know a business traveler that doesn’t stray from their hotel family or specific brand, but our surveys found that brand was actually significantly less important than reviews and location. 28.7% of users told us that they ratings and reviews most influence their booking decision when two properties had the same price, vs. the 25.5% that told us location was most important, and the 10% that told us the brand won out.

This was one of the areas that we started to get different feedback by gender, with women being slightly more likely to make a booking decision based on images (about 100% more likely) or due to brand loyalty (about 50% more likely.)

We also found that users were more likely to ultimately book with the brand directly. This question also reinforced the level of volume that’s going through a corporate provider instead of through the channels that we think primarily of.

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Booking behavior by device

71.8% of business travelers told us they are most likely to book on a desktop or laptop computer or via a corporate travel agent. 16.5% planned on using a mobile app or mobile site, and 11.7% of users said that they would be likely to use a tablet.

Comparing this to our internal data sets, it appears that business travelers are more likely to book on tablet than leisure travelers, though there are some specific measurement issues around tablet devices that make this data a little fuzzy. For example, not all cost data is available from publishers at the full device-level and not all analytics platforms differentiate tablet devices.

What does all this mean?

If you’re scratching your head a bit about what to do next, here are the important insights we’d call out:

  • Don’t start at the channel level. Advertisers have to think bigger picture about where business travelers are coming from and how to engage with them. Starting a strategy for business travelers within the constraints of a given channel is going to reduce the number of users available to target. In this case, it appears that at least between 1/3 and 1/2 of business travelers are not engaging through metasearch channels.
  • WHEN is just as important as WHERE. We knew that some portion of users were unreachable, but were a little surprised to find that so many users (21%, in fact) had a hotel in mind before their travel was even confirmed and that there was such a short window to reach business travelers after their travel was confirmed.
  • Think outside of the search event. Advertisers looking to drive big results with business travelers need to think beyond the traveler themselves and how to impact the volume that is going through corporate travel agents, assistants, or booking platforms. These second or third order opportunities are tough to target but shine light on an opportunity for innovation in the space.
  • UI and UX can make a difference. Once advertisers have a business traveler in the funnel, that traveler can be better converted by reinforcing what matters to them. With reviews and ratings and location being the primary drivers of hotel choice when prices are similar, a host of new creative options are available. Very few site experiences bother to understand where a meeting is taking place, and we’ve never seen a retargeting ad that brings in both location (convenience) and rating and review data.

As advertisers are thinking about their strategies and messaging for business travelers, they’d do well to put some of these learnings into practice and to go through their own high-level research exercises as well. Beyond the statistics and insights presented here, we learned a number of things around our own belief and have been able to create new opportunities as a result.

[Methodology: we surveyed 250 self-identified business travelers. They were from the US and ranged in age from 25-44. 61% of the respondents were Male. We’re not professional survey designers, but feel pretty good about the overall approach. We utilized answer rotation and validated the results with randomized sampling. The survey was run in two cohorts and the results aligned in both. We’d recommend any follow-up research consider some other important factors that were outside of our scope like frequency of travel, domestic vs. international travel, type of properties booked, lead time to travel, and selected loyalty programs.]

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