Surveys offer stark message to travel sites

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A common theme emerging from surveys into the use of travel websites is that there is a lot of scope for improvement in the customer experience.

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A common theme emerging from surveys into the use of travel websites is that there is a lot of scope for improvement in the customer experience. Frustrations with planning travel online featured highly in the latest Which? Survey. The most cited grievance was the issue of hidden costs or surcharges not shown in the original price, followed by the fact that booking online took too long.

How a travel company uses its web presence for promotion and selling is hugely influential. As consumers make more and more of their travel decisions online, it is ever more critical for travel websites to be easy to navigate, inspire confidence and be clear about taxes and other charges.

Trustworthiness has also emerged as a key factor for successful online travel. In a study by Yahoo! of 11,000 Internet users in Europe, it emerged that they want and expect more social media and user-generated content. Just over 38 percent said they preferred recommendations and advice from other users when planning a holiday online.

In light of these findings, the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) is dedicating an afternoon seminar to online marketing at their annual conference on November 5 in London. Both the importance of web design and the influential role of social media will be covered. Giles Colborne of CX Partners and Alex Bainbridge of TourCMS will be highlighting the latest techniques for engaging customers and improving bookings. Tripadvisor and Tripbod will offer different approaches to providing the public with the information and recommendations they seek.

In Europe alone, online travel sales increased by 17 percent from 2007 to 2008 and reached about $76 billion. In spite of the economic downturn, it is estimated this will rise by a further 10 percent in 2009.

Yet, half of all travelers have struggled with poorly constructed confusing and inaccurate travel web sites according to a survey for Frommers Unlimited. A third of travelers planning their journeys online were frustrated by a lack of response to email enquiries and the absence of a telephone customer support line.

This survey, conducted by eDigital Research, showed that the online travel industry had some way to go to compete with ‘best in breed’ companies for website engagement and customer service. “In a sector whose customers are particularly promiscuous – switching brands for a better deal, looking for recommendations and picking the purchase channel that most suits them at that particular time – failing to perform well across the board is more than a missed opportunity, it is commercial suicide,” said eDigitalResearch’s Derek Eccleston.

“What customers want is a clear step-by-step process. They want a site that is easy to purchase from but at the same time that has the inspirational ‘wow’ factor to keep them engaged. Add to that transparent pricing, great customer service, and of course a great trip and you’ve cracked it.”

At the recent Travolution Awards several ETOA members were among the winners. isango! won the Rising Brand of the Year and was praised for its redesigned website, while Kuoni won Best Tour Operator Website, which was described as inspirational and classy. Viator, winners in the Best Agent-Only Website category, were praised by the judges for clearly executed and focused design and functionality.

Source: European Tour Operators Association

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.