Want to know what’s ahead this year in the wonderful world of travel? Someone in the know whose job it is to anticipate what’s on the horizon is Mark Rabe, president and chief executive of the data-marketing company Sojern. “The travel industry is large and fairly byzantine,” Mr. Rabe told The New York Times in a recent article. “But we’ve been able to get really good at estimating when people are in the market for specific travel goods and services.”
To accomplish this, Sojern regularly mines 520 million “traveler intent points” based on search data, confirmations and check-ins, hunting for trends in the domestic travel market.
Here are Mr. Rabe’s answers to questions posed by The Times focusing on these trends, especially the ones most likely to shape domestic travel this year:
Have you seen notable changes in how people traveled in 2013?
People are spending more time online researching. A study conducted by eMarketer suggested that nearly two-thirds of all travelers today research online before they book. Even 10 years ago that was probably in the single digits.
What trends are likely to carry forward into this year?
In the air segment, we’re starting to see longer booking windows. This might be due to the consolidation of the airline market, and the economy’s picking up. There’s been an upswing in leisure travel, especially over the second half of the year, making it harder to find good seats at good fares, so people are buying earlier.
Conversely, we’ve seen the reverse in the majority of hotel reservations, car rentals and activities that take place within the destination. With those, the booking windows are contracting. There’s a great report by JiWire that shows that more than 55 percent of travelers are booking travel-related activities while they are actually traveling, meaning after they’ve taken off.
Could you explain the contrast?
Well, one way of seeing it is that people may view the price of hotel rooms as more stable than airline tickets and so they don’t book them with the same priority level.
Tangentially, we also see a rise in this idea that “other people can do the work for me.” There are a lot of companies taking advantage of and potentially driving that trend. Like Hotel Tonight. [“Last-minute hotel deals. Tonight.”] We’re also noticing an increased use in mobile devices to transact.
Where are the most popular spots to visit in the United States?
New York has been the top destination for years now. The top 10 are relatively consistent and those are the large cities you might imagine: Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas. An interesting way to look at this is to say, well, that’s booked travel. So what are people searching for that they don’t actually book? Here, we tend to see destinations that are more aspirational, like Honolulu and Miami.
Which areas of the travel sector do you expect to grow in 2014?
The consumer-sharing model is interesting. Airbnb has done a fantastic job of progressing on a trend pioneered by Homeaway and VRBO [vacation rentals by owner]. And the fact that this type of model is getting off the fringes and working its way into business travel is intriguing. Also, if you look at ride-sharing in San Francisco, we have a healthy segment of local transportation, which is handled by consumers, who can signal that they also operate as a taxi by attaching a fluffy, pink mustache to their cars. This was brought about by a company called Lyft. So now people can sign up and turn their car into a taxi. Fascinating.