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The Power of Word-of-Mouth

By Gary C. Sain
Chief Marketing Officer/Partner
Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell

How consumers perceive various information sources is critical in understanding the best avenues for travel marketing communications. With consumers being bombarded by over 5,000 marketing messages a day, it is a marketing nightmare for travel marketers.

With so much clutter and competition for share of mind, how can travel marketers really know what works and which information source(s) achieve the greatest return on investment? Who can they trust in a marketplace that has either taken them for granted or not delivered on the brand promise?

According to the 2004 YPB&R/Yankelovich Partners National Leisure Travel Monitor, U.S. leisure travelers place the highest confidence in the following information sources:

When Considering Travel Choices 2003 2004
Extremely/Very Confident In: % %

Recommendation of a friend/family member 80 83
Information in travelguidebooks 52 54
Information on a website 41 49*
Recommendations of a travel agent 46 46
Information in travel brochures 34 38
Articles in newspapers, magazines, 34 38
programs on TV, radio

*statistically different from LY

The power of word-of-mouth (recommendation by friends and family) is the most credible for leisure travelers. Some call it “viral marketing”. Leisure travelers will search out information from a variety of sources. These include websites, brochures, newspapers, advertising, TV, radio, etc., however, they rely on an endorsement from someone they trust and know. In most cases this is a friend or family member. This recommendation of a product/service from a friend or family member is the most powerful information source available. It is also the least expensive.

Travel agents are next in line as the most credible “live” source. They should be cultivated accordingly. Their endorsement and recommendation carries enormous weight. After leisure travelers obtain travel information either online or offline, many still need the validation of a travel professional, especially for more complex travel.

Become a Brand Evangelist

It is essential for travel marketers to realize the sale is not consummated at time of booking or final deposit. Rather, it is after the customer consumes the travel experience. How well they enjoy the experience will dictate how well they will spread the “good” word. Too many times, as travel marketers, we rely on the sale and not the end result. Eliminating frustration points for leisure travelers will go a long way after the initial sale is made to ensure customer satisfaction.

Demonstrating sincere respect and concern for your customers at every touch point will in itself create a discernible difference for your brand.

By focusing on the entire travel experience, from start to finish, travel marketers can help to ensure their customers become evangelists of the brand. There is no substitute for authentic word of mouth referrals. Brand charisma is best achieved when customers actively seek you out and not the other way around.



The Internet

The second most credible source of information is the Internet. The Internet is the only information source which increased substantially over last year. In fact, we feel it may eclipse travel guidebooks next year as the second most credible way leisure travelers obtain travel information. Travel marketers should ensure their website is the most user-friendly and most desirable for leisure travelers.

With over 51% of leisure travelers using the Internet to plan their travel, your Web site is your most important marketing tool. It is even higher for business travelers with almost six in 10 using the Internet to plan their travel. Although general travel websites (i.e. Expedia, Travelocity, etc) are visited more than specific branded websites, three in 10 leisure travelers go directly to individual branded websites. We feel this percentage will increase as individual travel marketers market their own websites more aggressively to control the buying process and retain brand clarity.

Word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals for your product/service is the best testimony of your brand’s performance. Travel marketers should ensure their marketing communications are aligned with the information sources most preferred by leisure travelers.


YPB&R, Orlando, is America's premier travel, leisure and lifestyle advertising agency with billings over $150 million. The fully-integrated group is one of the world's most critically acclaimed results-driven marketing companies, delivering innovative strategic, creative and business solutions for some of the world's leading brands. YPB&R mantra: "Sales overnight. Brands over time." Peter Yesawich, CEO, and Larry Tolpin, the new President and Chief Creative Officer, are recognized by industry publications as "the best in the business" and lead clients with their hands on approach. For more information, contact Gary Sain, Chief Marketing Officer, at (407) 875-1111 or gary_sain@ypbr.com. Additional information can be found at www.ypbr.com.


© Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell and Yankelovich Partners Inc., 2004. All rights reserved.