Forget the Funnel: What Non-linear Travel Buying Means for Marketers

What does the new customer journey look like due to the shift from linear to non-linear travel buying, and what does this mean for marketers? Learn how to engage emotional shoppers, leverage influential touchpoints, and adapt to shorter booking windows.

Reading Time: 6 min 


  • Ah, the marketing funnel. Just like models that guide other industries, this has long been the gold standard for marketers trying to map the sales process to the customer journey and inform their strategies. What was once a linear process defined by awareness, consideration, conversion, and loyalty no longer applies to how travellers book their vacations. 

    From a heightened emotional process (due to budgetary constraints and missed travel opportunities during the pandemic) to the increase of influential touchpoints that can shorten the “discovery” window of the travel booking process, marketers need to understand how to work with travellers throughout the buying process.

    Eager and emotional: A new travel shopper 

    Post-pandemic, travel shopping has become an emotional process. It comes with more consideration and excitement from travellers. Hovr reported that 84% of travellers plan to spend more in 2023 than in previous years. The price-conscious travellers are getting savvy, cutting costs in other areas of their lives, or even getting creative on how to save on specific parts of their trip. According to Dentsu, six out of ten travellers planned to reduce spending in other areas (dining, luxury goods, clothing, household repairs and more) to afford to travel. 

    So, what does this mean for marketers? 

    • Use content to meet travellers’ emotions: Emphasise the great moments that travellers have after years of being robbed of happy memories during the pandemic.
    • Show them how to travel without breaking the bank: Travel marketers dealing with price-sensitive demographics must focus on value-based content to showcase how travel is still possible at different budget levels (highlighting cheaper destination or accommodation options). In these situations, A/B testing content can be very helpful.  

    Content can unconsciously influence consumer travel planning  

    Before a consumer even realises they are “in the market” for a vacation or consciously begins planning, a multi-thread sequence informs travel purchases of influential content. Many touch points influence consumers ‘ travel decisions – from word-of-mouth recommendations to pop culture moments and social content. 

    And, while recommendations from family and friends are powerful for consumers of all ages,  social content also motivates travel bookers. Three in four travellers surveyed by American Express Travel said that social media had inspired them to take a trip to a particular place. Instagram and TikTok, specifically, are influential to Gen Z and millennials, with 46% and 29% of respondents, respectively, saying content on those platforms has impacted their desire to book a trip.

    So, what does this mean for marketers? 

    • From social channels to your website, content must be relevant, engaging and informative across channels. No matter where the process begins, each critical touchpoint will give consumers the confidence to book their next trip with the company.
    • It’s imperative to stay tuned to hot streaming shows, where celebrities and influencers are travelling and even locations featured in video games. Collaborate with them to feature those destinations in your content plans. “Set-setting” (inspiration for travel from pop culture) is a huge motivator for travel. 

    Shorter travel windows point to more travel spontaneity 

    Today, the formal research process for travellers is shorter. The always-on discovery of travel inspiration allows travellers to book trips quicker and closer to departure dates. Last-minute planning for travel has become more commonplace. 

    Research and booking are happening closer to the date of departure than ever before, indicating that travellers are operating more flexibly and spontaneously. Almost 58% of US adults surveyed by Persado said they planned their trips in two months or less. This not only impacts the behaviour before their trip but also the travelling. Purchase journeys continue while travellers are at their destination. Many travellers leave room to book tours or make spur-of-the-moment plans from their mobile devices while vacationing.

    So, what does this mean for marketers?

    • Truncated booking times put pressure on your website to perform and increase the need for mobile-optimised websites. It must be easy to navigate and make contextually relevant information discoverable for site visitors at the right time and moment.
    • Focus on high-value opportunities to increase engagement, time on site, and purchase intent to help travellers make informed purchase decisions.
    • Resurface high-value content and help travellers visualise themselves vacationing with the company. Outdated website experiences or irrelevant and boring content will cause visitors to leave and not return.

    The new travel buyer’s journey is complex. Travel marketers need to break down the content channels, format silos, and transform their website into an interactive digital experience. For many, the missing tool in their martech stack is Content-in-Context. 


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