When making a purchasing decision, every customer goes on a journey. Each step through this journey brings them closer to making a choice. This journey is important for marketers to understand because it can help them predict what the customer could do. Understanding this journey can also show marketers how to help the customer get closer to a decision through each step of the way. While customers act differently across different industries and organizations, the customer journey is generally broken down into three phases: before, during and after conversion. Specifically, the traveler’s journey can be defined as dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing and sharing. We are currently starting to see a shift from the dreaming phase into the planning phase.  

Customer Journey: Shifting from Dreaming to Planning

COVID-19 Impact on the Customer Journey

COVID-19 has presented a unique set of challenges for the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. The pandemic extended the first phase of the traveler’s journey, or the dreaming phase, significantly. Travelers have been stuck in this inspiration phase for months because it hasn’t been safe to travel. They have been dreaming and picturing what their next trip could be through consuming travel content.  

Now almost a year later, with opening borders, regulation lifts and vaccine rollouts, people are starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of bringing their travel dreams into reality.  

What does this mean?

Dreaming to Planning

After COVID-19, we can see that this journey is shifting from the dreaming phase into the planning phase. While most travelers are still in the dreaming phase, Americans are more open to travel inspiration now than at any point during the pandemic. According to Destination Analysts, in January 2021, 38% of travelers admitted to daydreaming about leisure travel. Additionally, 33% talked to a friend or relative about a future trip.  

Planning Has Changed

As travelers move into the planning phase, it is important to think about how the pandemic has changed planning.  We know that travelers have started this phase, in fact, according to Destination Analysts findings, in January 2021, 31.4% of travelers have already begun planning or booking 2021 travel.

But it is also important to consider that the planning phase has been shortened significantly for many people. Travelers have had a year to look at travel inspiration so at this point, they know what they want and won’t need as much time as usual to explore their options. Americans are easing their feelings of travel avoidance for the future and their travel  readiness mindset has grown.  

There is a pent up excitement for travel in people right now as well, so many are not willing to wait another year for a far away vacation. They don’t need as much time to plan since many travelers are finding road trips, or other trips that do not require air travel, to be safer right now. As a result, travelers can “hit the road” as soon as possible. 

How to Respond

We know the customer journey is shifting from the dreaming phase to the planning phase. So what does this mean for your business? How do we market towards a group of people who are partly dreaming and partly ready to plan their trip? Well, that’s just it. It is time to target marketing materials to both the dreamers and the planners. 

Marketing materials should not just aim for inspiring at this point. While this can still be a major focus, it is important to note that people are entering a very short planning phase. Trips will be planned very last-minute and it is likely that travelers will need some kind of added value or incentive to pick your destination or product over another. Marketing materials can begin to focus on transportation and budgets as travelers will be ready to jump on these deals.