From how travelers prioritize different travel experience elements to what they’re really willing to spend on a vacation, this Google masterclass was filled with key insights – watch the full session here. After his Click. presentation, we caught up with Tom to take a deeper dive into the latest traveler search trends – and to find out how you can use them to your advantage.
Hi, Tom! Can you start by telling us a little more about your role at Google?
Tom: My name is Tom van Gessel and my role at Google is to ideate and develop helpful solutions for the travel industry, such as the new market research on traveler behavior drivers I shared at Click.2023 and Hotel Insights with Google. In addition, I work directly with some travel partners to bring the best of Google across functions and product areas and help deliver long-term positive impact to them.
What do you love most about your role?
Tom: My remit is to be helpful to partners and the travel industry. Having started my career at Cornell’s Hotel School almost 30 years ago, coupled with being raised in Taiwan where altruism is rooted in the culture, I enjoy helping others, collaborating, and finding creative solutions to challenges. This role also allows me to draw upon my diverse travel industry experience to ideate and sponsor projects with the potential to drive positive change at scale.
What’s the most important takeaway from your Click. 2023 masterclass session?
Tom: With reference to insights from the “Real Drivers of traveler behaviors” market study that I shared in the masterclass, in an increasingly complicated and complex world, it is hard to know what trip experience elements travelers really value and find important in driving their actual behaviors. What we did find is that although some gaps exist between travelers’ attitudes and behaviors—what we call the “say-do” gap—ultimately, travelers are seeking an effortless travel experience and expect a fair value exchange in their travel purchases. I hope the research insights were helpful for the Click.2023 audience as they set their strategy and prioritize scarce resources.
The Expectations of the Evolving Traveler 2022, conducted by KANTAR. International leisure travelers from US, UK, DE, FR, ES, and IT, 18 and older, who traveled between April 2021 and April 2022, n=16,791
What was one of the most surprising traveler behaviors from your research? Why did it surprise you?
Tom: That leisure travelers from the study underestimated the impact of inspiring content on their actual booking behavior. While they said inspiring content was less important to them, ranking it 23rd out of 35 experience elements, the behavior analysis showed that inspiring content was more important to leisure travelers than they said it was, with it ranking 7th out of 35 experience elements.
As inspirational content is often so early in the traveler's path-to-purchase journey, I personally didn’t realize how much an aspirational video that I saw online on YouTube or a social media channel was unconsciously influencing my decision to visit that destination sometime in the future. Consciously looking back, I realized that I had seen some amazing photos and videos of the cultural sites and coral reefs from Egypt, which must have influenced my partner’s and my decision to eventually visit last year.
Sustainability is a hot topic in the industry, but as you explain in your masterclass, it’s difficult to offer consumers the sustainable choices they want and need. What are some of the most successful sustainability initiatives you’ve seen in the travel industry?
Tom: Sustainability is definitely an important topic for the industry, and it is up to all of us to encourage the traveler to do the right thing. We found that leisure travelers did not have a unified view on the importance of sustainability, but when given the choice and without sacrificing core needs, travelers will opt for sustainable choices. So, as an industry, it falls on us to share information, communicate our sustainable practices, and encourage them to make sustainable choices with tangible and concrete actions and offers. Here are some examples of this in practice.
- As part of the Travalyst coalition, we’ve teamed up with other leaders in online travel, like Booking.com, to make sure that no matter where someone is searching for travel information, they’ll see consistent and accurate sustainability details.
- We’re also helping users to make those decisions online through search – if they want to. With new search tools launched last year on Flights, we show carbon emission estimates for every flight in the search, next to the price + duration. Google also helps hotels showcase their sustainable practices with “Eco-certified” badging through search. You can read more about it in our blog posts: Building a sustainable future for travel and Find flights with lower carbon emissions
- Booking.com’s Travel Sustainable Program also helps travelers make sustainable travel choices by helping their hotel partners showcase their sustainability practices through an independent, third-party badging program.
- Airlines introducing sustainable fares or add-ons and rewarding passengers with extra benefits such as loyalty points or more flexible fares.
- Hotels nudging guests to do the right thing to opt out of housekeeping by rewarding them with loyalty points, discounts, or charitable donations.
You also presented some of the latest traveler trends that Google is seeing at Click 2023. What’s one of the most interesting trends in your opinion?
Tom: That leisure travelers from our market research are demanding a fair value exchange. Perhaps it’s not a huge surprise to learn that travelers are keen to make their hard-earned cash go further, with 38% of them saying they were more likely to plan or book a “once-in-a-lifetime trip” than ever before. It’s not about finding bargain-basement, low-cost deals, but rather their actual behaviors are most influenced by travel experiences that give them good value. In fact, “good value for money” was the second most important behavior driver for leisure travelers, ranking 2nd out of 35 travel experience elements. We’re seeing these behaviors in our search trends, across market research conducted by other companies, and even in the conversations I had with Click.2023 attendees who are seeing the same behaviors with their customers. All of this is good news for the travel industry as it signals that despite global inflation and rising costs, travel remains a priority as long as travelers are able to find the right price/value exchange.
How can the travel industry prepare for these trends?
Tom: Travelers are open to spending more, but perceived value is fundamentally important. This suggests that businesses may be better served by focusing on total value to the customer, rather than on cost alone. We know that these leisure travelers are seeking “good value for money.” It is imperative for travel companies to ensure that they are clearly communicating what is included in their service offering to customers. The internet makes trip costs and value comparisons easier than ever, so travelers can feel confident they’re getting a fair value exchange after comparing you to your closest competitors.
Can you tell us a bit more about Google Maps’ immersive view technology?
Tom: Google Maps is one of my favorite Google tools and I’m always delighted to discover new helpful, useful features. For example, immersive view is a new way to explore places within Google Maps. Personally, I call it the “try before you buy” function when I research restaurants, attractions, hotels, museums, you name it. Google Maps’ immersive view lets you feel like you’re there, even before you visit the destination or place. Using AI and computer vision advances, immersive view fuses billions of street views and aerial images to create a rich, digital model of places. In addition, where it gets super helpful, it layers in other information like weather, traffic, and how busy somewhere is. We’ve launched it already in a few cities like London, Los Angeles, and New York, and in the coming months we’ll see new cities added like Amsterdam, Venice, and Dublin. Super cool stuff – I recommend seeing it in action in our blog post.
You also called out that 90% of travelers use digital touchpoints to make their travel provider decisions. How can travel providers best harness this information to capture more customers?
Tom: This means all your online platforms matter, including online video platforms, social media, your own websites, online travel agencies and comparison sites, search engines, among others. In practical terms, this means if you haven’t had the chance to update your website to ensure a frictionless shopping experience, now might be a good time to focus on that. In addition, make sure you’re prioritizing an effective media and distribution strategy that can reach more people directly or through your distribution partners like Booking.com. Of course, it can be easy to let things like this slip down the priority list when deciding where to focus budgets and attention. But if our research highlights anything, it’s that digital should be a priority.
What did you enjoy most about your Click. 2023 experience?
Tom: It’s hard to pick just one thing, so I’ll be greedy here and share my top three. First, being physically present at travel industry events feels like a warm welcome home among industry peers and colleagues. Second, the professionalism and kindness of the Booking.com hosts and event planning team. This was my first Booking.com Click. event and I was thoroughly impressed with the production. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to the party, but I reckon that was impressive. And last, meeting new people and learning from them in conversations, but also from quality content offered by the Click.2023 speakers.
Tom is a Travel Industry Lead at Google, focusing on EMEA partnerships. In his role, Tom helps deliver long-term value to the travel partners and the industry in EMEA. In over a decade at Google, Tom has held various partner-facing roles in different regions across the globe. Tom began his career in real estate and finance, with consultancy roles in New York and Shanghai. He then transitioned to online travel, relocating to Australia to launch and grow Expedia’s Asia Pacific footprint. Tom holds a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
There’s a gap between travelers’ attitudes and behaviors – the “say-do” gap
When given the choice, travelers opt for sustainable choices – as long as they don’t have to sacrifice their core needs
For most travelers, value trumps cost