In this article I’m going to share with you a ‘innovation checklist’ on your travel website.
Why? Because travel ecommerce is a tough business. Lengthy marketing funnels, complex search parameters, complicated checkout processes, multiple forms and massive personalisation all contribute to the challenge.
Worse still, rising consumer expectations make it even tougher. The perennial consumer expectation of affordability that we associate with the internet is now coupled with the expectation of customer experience.
Like many trends, this is both threat and opportunity. Organisations that don’t innovate will die. Organisations offering great experiences – from marketing to delivery to post-delivery – will thrive.
Consumer research driving innovation
The ‘customer experience’ challenge is driven by consumer research behaviour. A poor first impression, lack of clarity or hidden information can result in loss of business. Your competitors are only a mouse-click away.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, the proliferation of reviews has completely changed the game. With the explosion of TripAdvisor, TrustPilot et al and increasing stock in the concept of ‘trust’, consumers are prepared to walk away if you can’t reassure them.
Once again, opportunity abounds. The concept of trust goes a long way to enhancing your online value proposition. You don’t even have to do too much with your marketing. Just make the reviews accessible. Conversely, an absence of trust indicators can remove you from a consumer’s mindset.
What does online innovation look like in Travel?
Your business is unique (if not, why are you in business?). But there are common patterns that I see my travel clients facing:
1. Site search
In no other industry is the search function as critical as for travel websites. In the case of eCommerce stores, visitors operate in the ‘browsing and finding’ mode. They may or may not search. But when it comes to travel sites, search is critical. Only when a visitor selects a location and date, will s/he find relevant results to make a choice. Not only should your site search be extremely fast and accurate, it should be as intuitive as possible.
There are four key search parameters — date, location, budget and number of people. Use best-in-class drop-down menus for calendar and locations, and pre-define different budget categories for visitors to choose from. You can also save their booking history and populate past search parameters for convenience.
2. Seasonality and managing the shoulder period
Travel is a seasonal game. Depending on your business, revenue can swing wildly between the peak- and off-seasons. How do you mitigate for this? How do you ride the highs and lows?
Many businesses run discounts to carry them through the ‘shoulder’ period. During my time working with Avis, we ran sale campaigns in the Spring and Autumn to encourage users to purchase at bargain prices during the downturn periods.
Other businesses try to diversify. For example, if you’re in the skiing industry, you might offer a summer business equivalent. Big companies like Neilson and Club Med have summer and winter segments to their business, and I have worked with smaller companies that diversify by rebranding the website to offer near-identical travel services for different target markets in different seasons.
3. Last minute bookings
New consumer behaviours are driven by mobile. According to Booking.com, 1 in 2 traveller journeys starts on mobile. And, mobile behaviour trends show that travellers who book on a mobile device are more likely to book last minute, with three-quarters of same-day bookings happening on a mobile device.
The challenge for the travel leaders is how to leverage mobile to take advantage of last minute behaviour. One way is to launch Google paid search click-to-call ads (perfect for mobile) – something very few marketers do. Another is to make it expressly clear on your website that consumers can book very close to their actual travel date. Go one step further and tell them when is the absolute latest time they can book.
4. Bridging online and offline behaviours
It was once thought that the internet would finally answer John Wanamaker’s famous utterance: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.
The trouble is, people still buy offline! If you accept phone bookings and your website features your phone number, then you have an attribution problem. How many phone bookings were referred by the website? Call tracking software and data integration that ties website leads to bookings remain a core technological challenge.
5. Product complexity
Many travel products are complex. For this reason they can solicit significant pre-sales questions. I have worked with a yachting business that suffered from considerable volume of customer queries. How many berths? Gas Refrigerator? 220 Volt Socket? Manual Windlass? Outboard Engine? GPS? And so on!
In the tour and activity sector, many products suffer from product complexity because there are so many variables: flight time, number of passenger, pickups, drop-offs, number of children, and the rest.
These challenges can result in very detailed product pages, and it can be a challenge keeping product descriptions up to date.
If you have good customers services, then enhancing the website with human support can be the solution. For example, implementing live chat or displaying the phone number prominently.
Best practice is to keep a record of common questions and include them on the site over time, to reduce the burden on customer services.
6. Product diversity
It’s critical not to be over-reliant on a single product or destination. It surprises me how many websites have a healthy revenue stream, but when I deep-dive into Google Analytics or other system, 80% of the turnover comes from one product/destination!
If your business is dependant on suppliers, then you’re effectively betting your salary on a third party. Same goes if your business is dependent on weather; you’re playing chicken with God. And the same goes if your business is susceptible to wider geopolitical circumstances (and what business isn’t?!).
Reduce risk by diversifying your product portfolio.
7. Reviews can make or break you
Reviews are a great form of social proof in any online business. But if you’re in the travel business, they are critical. The sobering fact is that around 70% of travelers look at 20 reviews in the trip planning phase.
Whether it’s services like TrustPilot and Feefo, or 800-pound gorillas like TripAdvisor, reviews can be a blessing or a curse. One bad review can really hurt you (until enough time passes that people don’t see it anymore!). Conversely, when you’ve got a really great product or service, you’ll be rewarded with a string of positive reviews that create a virtuous circle.
Online shopping behaviors can certainly be complex, especially when it comes to travel purchases. For consumers in this category, the purchase path tends to be longer, with greater emphasis on browsing, comparing deals, and interacting from a number of different touchpoints. These complex booking behaviours present a challenge that many of the travel industry leaders are tackling head-on with smart and intuitive website experiences.
If you aren’t applying innovation to your website you have a huge opportunity waiting for you.
I work with travel businesses to maximise website revenue. True innovators have a structured approach to optimisation that increases conversion rates and marketing ROI. Get started by scheduling a 30-minute FREE call with me.