Accuracy, relevance and intuitiveness are key, says Dave Cruickshank, chief executive of ATCORE Group
When we think of holidays, we tend to think of having a break from the stress of everyday life, be it relaxing by the beach, strolling through a new city, or an action-packed adventure holiday. Unfortunately, booking a holiday can sometimes add to the irritations of normal life, rather than giving us a taste of calm and relaxation – whether that’s because the booking site won’t allow the right combination of travellers, the unnecessary add-ons and extra options that mean the trip ends up costing significantly more than the price initially advertised, or finding that the holiday actually isn’t available at all.
In the first quarter of 2018, 81.1% of visitors to travel booking websites left without completing a booking. Travel sites have the highest abandonment rates of any industry – and for over 50% of these visitors, it was problems with the booking process or website that led them to abandon.
Clearly, travel websites that are not able to optimise the booking experience are losing valuable customers – this is becoming a serious problem in the industry. So, what are the things that online booking companies are doing that are turning visitors off, and how can they address them?
1. Inaccurate availability being shown
You would hope that an online booking platform would be able to keep itself updated in real-time, with accurate flight and hotel information available – this is, after all, one of the biggest benefits of booking over the internet. However, sometimes after navigating all the pitfalls and pain points of booking a holiday, you still find that when you get to the last stage, the website refreshes itself to find that there is no availability.
Not all websites have this problem; some use platforms that allow them to give live updates that there are “only 3 seats left at this price!”, or put a temporary hold on the seats and rooms that visitors are looking at so that they don’t have to make a panicked decision. Embracing technologies that can help avoid such frustrations for users can help keep customers returning again and again.
2. Giving results that don’t meet the search criteria
It can be confusing and irritating to be presented with results that don’t meet your requirements, offering different dates, location, number of travellers, or board level to your criteria, without the differences being clearly marked.
Many travel booking websites simply present visitors with options that meet their criteria, but will also suggest, for example, that they might want to try slightly different dates for a cheaper price – because visitors feel that the website is offering better suggestions, rather than simply not taking their requests into account, they will be less likely to abandon their booking.
3. Non-optimised websites
Having an over-complicated website is another common mistake that loses custom for travel booking companies. There is so much competition in the industry that customers are spoilt for choice – if they are struggling to navigate your website, they will simply opt for a more intuitive one instead.
Making sure that your website is well-designed, and optimised for both mobile and desktop, rather than badly sized, cluttered, and full of pop-ups, is a necessity in this day and age. Don’t let yours be the site that is so eager to sign up new customers that it actually becomes very difficult for returning customers to login and review a previous quote!
4. Offering only certain combinations of travellers
Sometimes your hopes of an easy, pain-free booking experience for your family holiday are shattered at the first hurdle, when you find that the booking website you are trying to use will only allow you to book online for ‘two people sharing’.
It doesn’t make sense for booking companies to add to the stress of customers who are holidaying with their kids, by making them phone up to book, or even to check availability. Providing additional flexibility on your booking platform will reduce the number of visitors who simply go elsewhere when they find that they can’t book for the more ‘unusual’ combinations of travellers.
5. Making promises that you can’t fulfil
Holiday bookers often find that the hotel they chose because it promised ‘interconnecting rooms available’ can only actually offer adjoining rooms if the visitors call to book, and even then, it still can’t guarantee them until arrival. And some travel operators offer holidays ‘from £349 per person’, but the visitors then find that offer is valid only for holidaymakers travelling in 12 months’ time.
Instead of making offers that can’t be fulfilled (even if they are cleverly worded so as not to actually promise anything enticing), many holiday booking websites find that the best way to attract customers is to be transparent and clear in what they are offering.
Overall it is clear to see that the key to customer satisfaction in online holiday booking can be summed up in 3 words – accurate, relevant and intuitive. Travel companies face the challenge of balancing commercial drivers with the customer experience and brand values they want to be known for. Yet in 2018 it appears some travel providers still have a fair way to go.