Opinion Sojern Data Points For hotels, a new reality of booking lead times and path-to-purchase By Kurt Weinsheimer / October 27, 2015 Share 1 -- It's no secret to anyone in the hotel industry that the rules of online hotel marketing have been changing for a few years now. Online travel agencies, travel meta sites, destination sites and tools like last-minute booking apps are so numerous that the average hotel booker uses about a dozen sites before making an online booking. Add to that the fact that travelers increasingly toggle between mobile phone, laptop, iPad and, now, the Apple Watch to research and make a travel reservation. Consumers' changing shopping and purchasing behavior, driven by increased access to online/mobile travel tools, provides both a challenge and an opportunity for hotel marketers. It's harder to break through the clutter, but these electronic platforms provide real-time data to know more, with more granularity, about the actions consumers take online. Thanks to this data, we can now paint a clearer picture of a buyer's path-to-purchase, and that path turns out to be more complex than we ever imagined. At Sojern, we looked at hotel search and booking trends and we found that two major behavioral changes are rising in the consumer hotel world: 1) the path-to-purchase, from first search to final booking, is lengthening and 2) booking lead times, or "book to stay" windows, are getting shorter. Neither of these trends is surprising in itself -- we've had hints of them for years -- but what is surprising is how pronounced they are. Hotels' path-to-purchase is longer than that for airAs it turns out, booking a hotel room tends to gobble up even more time than booking a flight, at least for North Americans, who spent nearly 25% more time on their hotel path to purchase than with their flight path to purchase. That's an additional window of time in which a hotel marketer can reach a consumer on the ever-winding path to purchase and impress an ad or offer a promo.Not only do hotel customers research more, but regionally, North Americans spend 15% more time on average than Europeans researching options before making a hotel booking. Shrinking lead timesAs for booking lead times, they're still shrinking fast, and not only for North Americans but also for Europeans. Americans see high levels of search intent on Fridays as travelers increasingly search for last-minute bookings. That trend accelerated more this last summer, with Fridays in May, June and July seeing between 17% and 67% higher-than-average daily search volumes. While overall consumer search paths are now longer, don't ignore the last-minute searchers.Though only 5% of all hotel searches by Europeans and Americans are initiated seven or fewer days prior to the stay date, these last-minute shoppers represented 11% and 13%, respectively, of all hotel bookings in the two regions. Using data to intercept travelers on their path to purchaseHow do you take advantage of this visibility? The good news is that there are relatively easy steps any hotelier can take to better understand travelers and respond to these new consumer trends. The first order of business is to know your guests, aka "collect data." By understanding as much as possible about who they are, you can keep them coming back and, more importantly, convert others who look just like them. The second step is to embrace the powerful targeting tools available to you courtesy of all that data you just collected. Finally, remember that each customer is a unique person who deserves a unique conversation. Mass marketing had its day; data-driven thinking now allows for effective one-to-one marketing. Big Data combined with smart marketing and advertising might just become your new favorite acquisition tool.