Travel Path to Purchase Case Study

My wife Shannon is a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. Her dad lived the Buffett life for years in the Florida Keys, and Mr. Buffett’s music never fails to bring a warm memory and a smile to her face. For her birthday this year, I decided to get her Buffett tickets since this is to be his final tour. All of the US dates conflicted with our summer plans so I Googled the entire date range and came up with some European options. The one that really caught my eye was a date in Dublin. We’ve never been to Ireland and my wife is named for the city of Shannon.
From my phone, I checked Stub Hub for ticket options and there were a couple available for the Dublin show so I picked them up and then opened my Delta app and booked tickets for a week in Ireland around the Saturday evening show. Total time elapsed for this shopping trip… 10 minutes or so and I never left my mobile device. This is the new path to purchase, and content powers the customers journey along the way. We had no other plans besides the concert, and I knew we would use digital tools to fill out the remainder of our trip, so with the trip booked for mid-September I gave Shannon her gift in late April and we really didn’t think much about it during the summer.

In mid-August, we both began doing some research for things we wanted to do in Ireland. Neither of us really knew much about the country and the learning process of exploring via digital tools was educational. I used Google of course and especially leaned in on Google Local Guides content that is created by real people instead of the litany of ads that greet any search. It’s not that the ads aren’t helpful, but I find travel as a search category is so dominated by the advertisers, it’s hard to find things off the beaten path. The Google Local Guides content is integrated into Google Maps, so you can easily view content from the contributors related to places that might be of interest. A recent study by ThriveHive found that Google is favoring Maps content in local search so populating content there has an outsize effect.

Image Credit: Joey Rozier, Google Local Guides
Take this image of Trinity College from Google Local Guide, Joey Rozier. It’s a beautiful shot of Trinity’s inner courtyard taken in the early evening. While there are plenty of sites with perfectly retouched content, I prefer seeing what actual people experience, it’s the essence of social media for me. Coupled with searches including ‘coolest things to do in Ireland’ and ‘non-touristy Ireland’, you can quickly get a great list of things to explore using Google Maps that aren’t governed by Trip Advisor or Yelp, which have managed results. Interestingly enough, Trinity was the first place we visited after our arrival in Ireland as it happened to be just around the corner from our first hotel, and we had 3–4 hours to kill before our room was ready. The Book of Kells, and stunning Long Room, are part of the experience which we had seen from the viewpoint of other visitors.
Hotels are obviously a competitive search category and for this, I’ve switched almost exclusively to HotelTonight. I like getting last minute deals on awesome properties and don’t fret about not having a place until the last minute… oftentimes the same day. Browsing Hotel tonight early can give you a sense of available hotels and you can even book early if you just can’t stand the idea of not having a room, but the best deals tend to come later. We ended up getting a room for the first two nights of our week-long trip at The Morgan, a nice mid-range place in the trendy Temple Bar district. HotelTonight’s users and app warned us it would be loud but I guess we looked sufficiently old enough that the amazingly friendly staff put us in the back. The Hard Rock next door and Americanized sports bar across the street were clear clues that we were in “touristville” but it was super close and a great place to start. HotelTonight reviews aren’t overly managed, like travel sites, because you are already within the booking channel by being on the app. It’s much easier to navigate an app like HotelTonight, and you even get negative reviews which can be manipulated for paying advertisers on Yelp and tend to disappear or simply can no longer be found.

Shannon and I shared links of things we found via text, and I created a simple Evernote file with our combined findings so I could find and add to it easily via any device I was using. I did some research on Carrauntoohil, the highest point in Ireland and thought we could maybe hike it. After being told by Shannon that this was a ‘relaxing vacation’, I continued to explore other options. There are several coastal areas that looked interesting so I once again used Google Maps to explore Cork, Galway, Belfast, and other potential destinations along with transport options. Again, this was a different trip for us as we were leaving final plans up in the air until we were actually in Ireland. We’ve often traveled with less flexible plans and then decided to stay somewhere different or gone to do things not on our fixed agenda (something we enjoy). Thanks to a ton of new travel tech, we can now be more flexible than ever.

Our friend Sean Nolan is a Dublin resident and graciously gave us a wonderful walking tour of his city. We strolled along Silicon Docks, the booming tech center along the Liffey River where Google is currently seeking 1000 apartments for its burgeoning workforce. We stopped at a pub along our route that was teeming with young tech types that would have easily been at home in Silicon Valley. Sean gave us some suggestions for the following day and we booked tickets for a Guinness Brewery tour the next afternoon and arranged our plans around that time. Using Google Maps once again we found coffee shops and eateries around our destinations quickly, and my Apple Watch guided us to them with haptics so my phone never needed to leave my pocket. Maps and directions are quite literally the path to purchase, and brands are slowly recognizing and reacting with shopper marketing that helps change the way we experience retail.

Payments too are quickly changing travel. Using the Apple Card and Watch combo makes foreign transactions a snap as most establishments in Europe use tap-based POS systems. We really had no need for cash save the occasional tip and a cab driver in Belfast even accepted Bitcoin. Removing friction, using easy to use touch payments, is a primary tenet of Retail Relevancy. Amazon one-click has set expectations for ease of purchase and integration of shopping touch-points, and travel is a perfect category to apply these tactics.

We decided to head up to Belfast the morning after the concert. Again, we didn’t have plans but it was exceedingly easy thanks to all the available digital travel tools. We could easily book train passage via mobile app, and retrieve tickets from a kiosk at the station. We had moved hotels closer to a district we had passed while walking Dublin, and HotelTonight made it simple once again. A quick check of Apple Maps showed we were too far for an early morning walk to the station, so we scheduled a cab pickup with the front desk (no rideshare in Ireland). An easy ride and we were at the station and on the train. We booked a hotel again using HotelTonight and decided to spend the day visiting the Titanic Museum at the H&W shipyard.

Drawing Office Two at the Titanic Hotel
The search also uncovered the lovely Drawing Office Two at the Titanic Hotel which was the original drafting room for the shipyard where the Titanic was designed. It’s now a restaurant and bar that had amazing content online. After our museum visit we had a leisurely lunch at the hotel, and wandered around looking at the history including Thomas Andrews’ office. The hotel recommended a very enlightening tour of the city’s political murals that was an educational masterpiece. Our driver dropped us at the train station and we were on our way back to Dublin. We booked our final night while on the train via the HotelTonight app at the Portmarnock hotel, a beautiful golf resort just a stones throw from the airport.

This trip was filled with by the minute activities informed by social content, confirmed with digital support tools, and transacted with a minimum of friction. The travel path to purchase will never be the same.