By Nick Sharp, vice president and general manager, EMEA & Australasia, Webtrends
In recent years overall travel bookings have seen flat growth while online bookings have been rapidly growing to become the main channel for flight and travel purchases.
In fact, Forrester Research predicts that spending by leisure and business travellers online will reach nearly $143 billion by 2016, an increase of 41%.
Standing out in this crowded marketplace is not easy, so keeping visitors and customers engaged on a website, Facebook page or mobile site as they shop for their next holiday or business trip is vital to maximise revenue opportunities.
To do this, travel and airline retailers need to know who their customers are, what they want and how they purchase, so that they can make sure every visit to a digital channel counts towards a conversion.
However, travel and airline retailers face different challenges to other brands online.
Most bookings have a large research element attached to them which leads to long, fragmented sales combined with low customer loyalty.
On average, a consumer visits four different travel sites during the research and decision-making process, and doesn’t have much loyalty to a particular brand.
These retailers are also faced with a split customer pool – those who book in advance and those who book last minute (which tends to be business trips).
Some of those last minute bookings are often people looking for the cheapest deal they can find.
These particular customers don’t necessarily come back for future bookings, which makes it hard to provide them with the best customer experience during their visit based on limited knowledge of their habits and expectations.
This is where analytics and optimisation through A/B and multi-variant testing can play a huge role. Gathering data on how visitors interact with the website or digital channel is the best way to understand the behaviour and habits of visitors.
What pages did they view? What search terms did they use? Did they watch video content? How long did they spend on certain pages? At what point in the booking process did they leave?
By observing this behaviour, testing to prove optimal interactions and displaying the most persuasive and relevant content, travel companies can lift conversion and engagement regardless of the type of customer.
Making subtle changes like changing action buttons from ‘Buy Now’ to ‘Select’ or ‘Get Info’ can help lure browsing consumers into purchasing their flight or hotel.
A customer of Webtrends, Alitalia, optimised its website by making changes based on customer intelligence. It resulted in an increase of 500 extra online bookings over three weeks, equating to about €220,000 per month uplift in sales.
As the global economy continues to struggle, it’s more important than ever to identify opportunities to up-sell to customers and get as much out of each transaction.
Retailers should look at creating more personalised, relevant offers for add-on sales that tap into the preferences and habits of individual visitors.
Retailers should also look at the abandonment of purchases during the booking process.
Travel and airline retailers need to implement solutions that improve the online customer experience in order to reduce abandonment and increase add-on sales – a customer might not purchase what they originally intended but they might buy a different product or service.
Then there is the smartphone and tablet side of it.
Travel companies still have little visibility into mobile and social interactions and need to start tracking point of entry, drop-off and browsing behaviour across all digital touch points, so that the user experience can be optimised to the highest quality across various mobile devices.
Mobile optimisation is seen as expensive, and tight budgets have been keeping it out of reach. However, businesses have woken up to the importance of mobile browsing and we are now seeing more and more budget invested into these platforms.
There is some interesting behaviour to consider, such as whether consumers prefer to browse on their mobiles then book via the website from a laptop or PC.
Every month, Alitalia’s website receives over five million visits with 12% of that traffic coming from mobile devices – of which 80% is from tablets.
By 2016, eMarketer predicts that the number of mobile consumers booking travel on their devices is expected to more than double to 36.7 million.
And for consumers who continue to research, but not book, on their mobile devices, this number is expected to rise to 74.3 million by 2016.
Testing and optimising based on customer data may seem a daunting challenge to achieve alone, but by working alongside optimisation experts, airlines and travel retailers can achieve direct uplifts in conversions.
Testing, however, is not a one-time activity.
It needs to be done consistently with tweaks made to the digital channels based on the results. In this tough market, retailers really can stay ahead of the competition and optimisation is a way to do this.