The 5 Stages of Travel


Photo: Novy Studios

How Hospitality and Tourism Brands Can Better Market Themselves and Serve More Customers

The travel industry is an exciting field to be in. You get to be a part of making people happy, see them, first hand, experience new things, and join them in lifelong memories. How cool is that?

If you’re like most hospitality and tourism professionals, you’re looking to bring the joy of travel to even more people. That means enticing more travelers to your city, hotel, or experience. But how do you do that?

Through the five stages of travel, that’s how!

Many people assume that there are just two stages of travel: the planning and the booking stages. Not true. The process actually starts before a trip is planned and lasts after it has concluded.

In this post we’ll discuss what the five stages of travel are and how your company can better meet travelers at each one. You’ll learn how to get potential customers dreaming about your offering, booking it, and talking about it long after they’ve safely arrived back home.

We have a lot of great information for you. So without further ado, let’s dive in!

Stage 1: Dreaming

Just about every trip — whether it’s a trek up to Machu Picchu, a summer getaway to Europe, or a return home for the holidays — starts with a dream. The traveler wants to see and experience something. At this initial stage, anything is possible!

But here’s the thing; for a traveler to dream about your city, hotel, or experience, they first have to be aware that it exists. You may own the coolest ski lodge in the Rocky mountains, but if nobody knows about it, you won’t get many visitors.

How can your business attract these future travelers, and get them to start dreaming about its offerings instead of another brands? Great question.

The key to attracting travel dreamers to your business is the creation of amazing content. You know, engaging blog posts, entertaining videos, awe-inspiring social media posts — those sort of things.

This is a simple concept, but takes work and dedication to achieve in real life. That’s why so many businesses in the hospitality and travel industries fail miserably. But don’t worry! We’re about to discuss a few ways you can use content to market your business.


Blogging is a wonderful content marketing tactic due to its SEO implications (more on SEO in the next section of this post) and the engagement opportunities it offers a business.

Your potential customers are out there, right now, searching for information on the trips they hope to take. A consistent blogging presence can help convince them that your offerings are worth the trip. But what exactly should your business blog about?

There are an array of available topics — no matter what corner of the travel industry your business is in.

For example, a hotel could create a post listing the different ways travelers can find great deals on lodging. Those charged with marketing entire cities could blog about the best restaurants in town or under-the-radar tourist attractions.

What about more experience based travel companies like those who offer ocean kayaking tours in Hawaii? You could write about the sea life your customers may see on a tour or a specific paddling technique they can deploy for greater speed.

Like we said, there are a great many things you could blog about. The trick is choosing topics that relate to your business and your ideal customers will find interesting. With a little creativity, we’re sure you’ll be able to come up with more than enough suitable blog ideas!


Just in case you haven’t noticed, video is a big deal — especially in the travel industry. In fact, 64% of people who want to take a trip, watch a travel related video. Crazy, right? But that’s not all…

Video is an important marketing medium for those in the hospitality and travel industries because it allows potential customers to better visualize themselves experiencing what your business provides. It’s also an easier way to rank your business on the first page of Google.

Making a killer marketing video for your business deserves its own post. It’s a big subject! But until we’re able to create that for you, keep these few things in mind:

1. Tell A Story

Aerial footage of your city make for great shots. But don’t solely rely on b-roll. Your video needs to engage your viewers on an emotional level. To do this, speak to the history of your establishment, mention awards your business has won, or spotlight top employees. Make viewers care.

2. Get To the Point

In general, you only have 10 seconds to hook a viewer’s attention. If you don’t, he’ll begin to click away from your video. So get to the point. Cut out anything you don’t actually need.

3. Make it Mobile Friendly

Over half of video content is consumed on mobile. And that percentage is only expected to rise with time. If your videos aren’t optimized for smartphones, you’re missing out on a massive portion of your potential audience.

Social Media

When it comes to marketing a business in the hospitality and travel industry, social media is non-negotiable.

Regardless of your personal feelings on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, the numbers don’t lie: 30% of U.S. based travelers look to social media for inspiration and travel is mentioned on social networks more times than Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift combined!

Instagram, in particular, is proving to be a major marketing platform for destination brands.

When used correctly, social media can greatly increase brand awareness and help companies engage with their followers. Don’t just treat these platforms as one-sided conversations. Truly invest in social and you’ll reap the rewards.

A Complete Content Marketing Strategy

A complete content marketing strategy will take into account what your business offers and the goals it has, as well as the unique customer base you’re hoping to reach and where they like to hang out online.

Once these are determined, a strategy can be implemented to meet all criteria. Then specific tactics — like blogging, video, and social media marketing — can be put into action and your company can achieve marketing success.

Stage 2: Planning

The next step in the five stages of travel is planning.

At this point, your potential customer has a dream trip they’re hoping to take. Next, they’ll begin the process of turning that dream into a reality. If your business successfully met them during stage one, they’re considering your city, hotel, etc. as a way to fulfill their wanderlust desire.

Now they need to research the logistics of a potential trip. They’ll be analyzing the costs involved and deciding how long they want (or can afford) to be away from home. They’ll also be reading everything they can get their hands on regarding travel arrangements, other activities in the area, sights to see.

The statistics tell us that today’s travelers only visit an average of 4.4 unique sites before booking. This is a steep decline from the reported 38 unique sites travelers visited just a few years ago.

Meaning you have a more narrow window to attract travelers and convince them to spend their hard earned money with your business. Beyond the initial attraction tactics we outlined in the previous stage, what can you do to rope in travel planners? A few things, actually:

Nail Your Business USP

Your USP, short for Unique Selling Proposition, is what makes your business different from the competition. To find yours, ask yourself, “what do we do better than our competitors, or offer that they don’t?”

Your company’s USP could be a higher quality experience, lower pricing, better customer service — anything that sets your operation apart. Finding it is crucial!

Once you know what your USP is, you can use it to help convince travelers that your company is the best option for the trip they’ve been dreaming about.

Know Your Customer

One of the first rules of business — any business — is know your customer. If you don’t understand your target audience, how can you expect to consistently and effectively sell to them? The answer is you can’t.

Which means you need to create a buyer persona. An archetype(s) that represents your ideal customer base. Then you can use it/them to better speak to the travelers you’re trying to reach.

A proper buyer persona should include:

  • Demographics such as gender, age, location, and level of education.
  • Psychographics like traveler goals, motivations and fears.
  • Social media habits and content preferences.
  • The time of year they prefer to travel and the way they research locations.

Warning: it will take time and effort to learn all this information. You’ll need to research your market to put together a useful buyer persona. But it will definitely be worth it!

Understand Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a massive and complex topic. If you’re not familiar with the practice, it’s the art of becoming visible in Google (and the other search engines, too) search results. Not the easiest of tasks.

Some would argue that SEO is even harder for businesses operating in the hospitality and travel industry. Why? Because the competition is fierce!

But that doesn’t mean that SEO is a losing game and you shouldn’t attempt to rank well in search engines. The benefits of doing so are too valuable to ignore. It does mean you need to go about it strategically, though.

SEO is especially important during the planning stage. According to Skift, almost half of travel companies revenue can be traced back to organic search. Your business needs to be easily found when travelers look for places to stay or activities to do in your area.

Here are a few things you can do to increase your company’s chances of landing on the first page of Google:

1. Create Great Content

Remember in stage one when we talked about content marketing? Well the creation of great content is the best way to rank high in search engine results.

Google is trying to provide the ultimate experience for its users. That means getting them answers to their questions as quickly as possible. If the search engine believes your piece of content is the absolute best answer to a searcher’s query, it will rank you at the top of the results.

Search engines calculate a piece of contents level of “greatness” using many factors. A few of them are click-through rate, number of inbound links, number of social shares, and conversion rate.

2. Use Appropriate Keywords

Keywords are the words or phrases that searchers enter into Google in order to find answers to their questions. “Flights,” “Hawaii Beach House,” and “Cheap Lodging in Nashville, TN” are all keyword examples.

Keywords can be divided into three groups:

  • The Head: These keywords are one word searches. They tend to be very broad and therefore receive a lot of traffic. But they’re also more competitive and hard to rank for.
  • The Body: Composed of two to three word searches, body keywords are less competitive than head keywords and tend to offer a higher conversion rate.
  • The Tail: Finally, tail keywords are search queries that include four words or more. They often have the least amount of traffic, but are the easiest to rank for and tend to have the highest conversion rate.

To help your business rank well in search engine results, you’ll want to research which keywords your target audience uses and include them in the content your create. As a general rule, we recommend most companies focus on body and tail keywords.

3. Use Vibrant Imagery

Travelers want to see the places they plan to travel to. Quality imagery can help with SEO as it will entice web browsers to both click on your website in search results, and stay on your page for longer.

Studies show that the top 10 results for travel related searches use an average of 38% more imagery per 200 pixels. It’s time to invest in quality pictures.

Stage 3: Booking

The third travel stage is booking. The traveler has dreamed about their trip and researched it thoroughly. Now they’re ready to pull the trigger and book their stay or experience — hopefully with your company!

If the first two stages of travel have gone according to plan, your prospect should, at the very least, be interested in including your business in their travel plans. It’s exciting! But your work isn’t done yet.

Your prospect could decide to go with a different company — or cancel the trip all together — if the booking process isn’t effortless and smooth. Here are a few steps to get this part right:

Make Website Navigation a Breeze

Your website navigation and checkout process needs to be seamless. If booking a stay at your hotel or reserving tickets to your excursion is cumbersome, you’ll undoubtedly lose customers. They’ll go find a different company, whose booking process is more intuitive.

Don’t let that happen!

Also, make sure that your prospects aren’t bombarded with unexpected costs at checkout. They should know exactly what they’ll be paying before they reach the cart. If they’re surprised by fees, they’ll most likely click away.

Make Mobile a Priority

Human beings are growing more and more attached to their phones. You’re probably reading this article on your mobile device right now! The travelers you’re hoping to attract to your business are the same way. In fact, travel queries on mobile have risen 50% in the last year.

Your potential customers want to book now, not later. They don’t want to wait until they have access to a computer. Which means mobile needs to be a priority for your business.

Consider Adding Additional Incentives

Additional incentives aren’t always necessary. But if you have the ability to include one, it may help you close more sales for your travel business. Not sure what kind of incentive you should offer? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Provide a discount on the traveler’s next booking with your company.
  2. Give customers a free ticket to an event your hotel is hosting during their stay.
  3. Upgrade your traveler’s room for free if they book directly on your website.

The options are endless. Get creative and see what kind of incentives you can offer customers for booking. Just make sure the bonus is something your ideal audience will find appealing.

Stage 4: Experiencing

The fourth step in the five stages of travel is the actual experience itself. At this point in the journey, your prospect has taken the leap and chosen your city, hotel, or excursion to be a part of their next adventure. Congratulations!

Now your job shifts from making promises — “we have the most luxurious rooms,” “our river cruise is the most romantic,” “our city’s event center is perfect for your next corporate meeting” — to fulfilling them.

You’ve already won their business. But to secure repeat bookings and ensure they spread the word about your company, you need to capitalize on the opportunity they’ve given you. Give them an amazing experience! Go above and beyond to deliver.

Unless you run a very small operation, the task of customer satisfaction will largely fall on your employees. They need to be trained to deliver the exact experience your customer is expecting in a very authentic way.

It’s also important to remember that today’s travelers are always connected to the world around them through their smartphones. So it’s essential that your company appears on Google Maps.

Who knows? You may be the beneficiary of unexpected business when traveler plans change last minute. Be prepared.

Stage 5: Sharing

The final step is sharing. Honestly, if you’ve successfully guided customers through the previous four stages of travel, this phase should come naturally. People love to share the amazing things they’ve experienced — especially in the age of social media.

One post or tweet can put your company in front of hundreds, maybe even thousands of new potential customers. This is an amazing opportunity! Here are a few things you can do to capitalize on it:

Ensure Their Experience Was Truly Amazing

We just talked about it in the last section, but it bears repeating: the best way to get customers to promote your business is to give them an unforgettable experience. They’ll handle the rest on their own.

Think about it, what did you do after your last vacation? If you’re like most people, you told your friends about the experience. You posted pictures on Instagram. You wrote a glowing Yelp review for the hotel you stayed at.

Put a smile on your customers faces and they’ll reward you with free publicity — guaranteed.

Use Branded Hashtags

Happy customers will spread the word about your business regardless of what you do after their experience is over. But why not do whatever you can to take advantage of the opportunity?

A great way to stoke the word of mouth flame is with branded hashtags. Hashtags are basically keywords for social media. They group like minded social posts together and, when used properly, will allow your company to be more easily found on social media.

Once you’ve chosen a branded hashtag for your business — preferably one that hasn’t been used a million times already — start sharing it with your customers. You can put it on flyers around your establishment, in your social media bios, and on your receipts/invoices.

Respond to Reviews

Finally, travelers also share their trip experiences on review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Trivago and more. This is another chance for your business to interface with both past and future customers.

New prospects want to see that your business cares. Previous customers can give you a gold mine of information regarding what they loved and didn’t like about their experience with your company. Use these reviews as a type of learning process. Double down on the good and eliminate the bad.

Also, it’s inevitable. Eventually someone will post a bad review of your company. We recommend you ALWAYS remain polite and professional in these situations. Don’t be defensive. Apologize for any mistake your company has made and inform the reviewer how your business is working to remedy the situation.

At the same time, if a reviewer is outright lying, don’t let it slide. Set the record straight in a respectful way. You don’t want other potential customers thinking the worst of your business because of one inaccurate review.

Invest In the 5 Stages of Travel

The five stages of travel are important to understand and invest in. If you’re looking to grow your business and reach more tourists, you need to realize that trips start with a dream. They are then planned, booked, experienced and shared.

Businesses that only focus on a couple of these stages of travel are missing out. Don’t let that be your organization. Use the techniques we outlined in this post to reach travelers at all the stages of travel. We know you can do it!

5 thoughts on “The 5 Stages of Travel

  1. Pingback: Creating Buyer Personas for the Travel Industry | CleanPix Blog

  2. Pingback: Market Your Destination with Video: 7 Tips for More Success | CleanPix Blog

  3. Pingback: How to Define Your Destination USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and Attract More Visitors | CleanPix Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *