19 January 2006

Travel websites need to strike a balance between Lookers & Buyers


I ran into a spate of poorly designed travel websites this morning. It's a fairly familiar experience but made more noticeable today because every other site I looked at seemed to break one of my two golden rules.

There used to be three golden rules, but thankfully these days everybody has realised that the first - do not require visitors to register before viewing your site - was a bad, bad idea.

Back in the late nineties companies - Expedia for example - thought they could easily build up a database of sales 'prospects' by getting visitors to register. What they quickly discovered was that casual visitors simply moved onto the next site. Pre-registration was dropped very quickly.

Why then have so many travel companies, big and small, failed to grasp the other two blindingly obvious 'things not to do' on the cluetrain?

2. Do not force people to confirm a departure date, airport, size of party, and return date, when they are not actually checking availability or making a booking.


3. Do not put anything less than your full product range on the website.


Why?

Because, since the Internet was born - in academia - people have used it primarily as a research tool. Even though there has been an explosion of ecommerce activity on the net, nearly every buyer starts out looking. If they can't look/browse easily, or they can't find what they are looking for, they will move to another site and probably end up buying there.

I don't have statistics for the UK but the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA)'s latest annual survey of American travel consumers shows how defined the two stages - looking & buying - are.

Seventy-eight percent of travellers - that's 79 million Americans - turned to the Internet for travel or destination information in 2005, and 82% of travellers who planned their trips online also booked a travel component online.

Research conducted in the USA by Feedback Research, a division of Claria Corp, between 1 April - 1 July, 2005 breaks the relationship between 'looking & buying' down a little bit. It found that 88% of Americans who planned to travel later that summer, used the Internet to research and/or purchase their travel arrangements. Of those, 61% purchased or planned to purchase airline tickets online, and 52% purchased or planned to purchase hotel accommodation.

Or put another way, of every ten people looking for information on a travel website, four did not, or were not intending to, buy airline tickets and five did not, or were not intending to, book a hotel. IE They were there to research only, or they researched but failed to buy.

Which is why travel website design should not be focused on e-commerce sales alone.

So, to return to rules 2 & 3...


Do not force people to confirm a departure date, airport, size of party, and return date, when they are not actually checking availability or making a booking.

If you are visiting the site to find out if this company operates/sells tours to Sardinia it is very irritating to have to start giving dates for a hypothetical trip, and if the answer comes back 'no', does that mean 'no, they don't go there' or they do go there but just not on the dates you happened to pluck out of the air!

Do not put anything less than your full product range on the website.

After all, it's easy & cheap to do. Just add pdfs of your brochure for visitors to download.

If, for example, in addition to your portfolio of holidays on Mauritius, you also organise tailor-made breaks at one or two resort hotels on neighbouring Rodrigues, then say so on the website. A potential client is not going to visit your website, not see Rodrigues mentioned anywhere, and then phone you or email on the off-chance!

Break either of these two rules and your visitor is likely to leave you and visit somebody else's site, where they'll probably spend money.


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