Jeff Kim, chief operating officer at CDNetworks, explains why dusty, old, static websites just won’t cut it any more
War is being waged over the Internet. Retail travel businesses are finding themselves in a competitive battle on every front: for the finite annual holiday wallet of families; for survival against travel comparison sites; against the lure of build-your-own holiday providers and against the online marketing efforts of individual airlines and hotel groups.
The Internet has long been a key part of attracting travel customers. The problem, as online competition increases and gets more sophisticated, is that converting them is becoming harder. Having them return loyally, year-on-year, has become a distant memory.
Consumers themselves have changed – while brochure-like sites and images of a heavenly pool may once have satisfied them: today they are more demanding.
They want a richer, better experience. They demand deeper insights and a higher level of personalisation – that is what other consumer brands are delivering. They want real-time deals, interactive itineraries, high levels of flexibility in booking options and choices, and to share information with friends.
It is driving travel businesses to shape up their online presence. However it is more than simply about adding a Twitter feed and delivering richer content. Increasingly it is about and delivering dynamic content in the form of instantly compiled, personalised pages, built using insights gathered from where the visitor has come from, the search terms they have used, the paths they take.
The ubiquitous search tool that simply helps consumers narrow down their options was enough for a while but cannot do this. In the same way that dynamic booking pages are generated by travel booking systems, such capabilities are starting to be essential within a marketing and sales website.Adding dynamic content to your website is also not enough, however, because having the latest and greatest features, functionality and applications won’t matter if the visitor is kept waiting for pages to load. The more that travel businesses respond to customer demands for interactive and engaging content and tools, the greater another problem will become.
Travel organisations will also need to optimise website performance. Consumers are intolerant of slow performance – they will abandon a site if the page load is longer than two seconds, according to one research firm*, don’t care whether they are making a request at peak times or not, and are sufficiently savvy and cynical to simply walk away if they aren’t catered to.
Slow sites not only mean lost revenue but carry increased costs too, not only for maintenance but also for the higher volume of customer support calls which tend to occur if answers or solutions aren’t available online.
From a business and competitive standpoint faster, more dynamic websites are becoming a must – but that means attention must be paid to how data and dynamic content is delivered. While global travel brands may be able to create data centres and cope with steep hardware and management costs, smaller businesses have different options.
Content Delivery Network (CDN) services offer a way to accelerate both basic website content and dynamically created content. Often, firms invest in a great website bit it takes 12 seconds to load in say Australia, China or Russia – using a CDN you can get it to load in three seconds.
They help manage the data as it moves around the internet and overcome some of the inherent limitations and delays which its structure and underlying protocols create, so that travel providers can focus on their services instead of website worries, and customers simply experience a fast and smooth web service.
The competitive edge that the dynamic web offers is potentially significant. Dynamic web content can unlock the potential of personalisation, automated cross-selling and smart up-selling of holiday options, not to mention pulling unstructured content into the mix, such as social and email content, to create a seamless overall experience for the customer.
There are management benefits too, such as being able to centrally source or re-use content across internal and external websites, to deliver offers that are up to the minute, robust and complete.
The time has come for the travel business to take a leap of faith and face the next stage of competition – which will, inexorably and undeniably, take place online. It sells its customers dreams of escape from the sluggish reality of everyday life – by delivering easy, fast, dynamic experiences its websites and web services must do no less.
* Gomez, Why Web Performance Matters: Is Your Site Driving Customers Away?, February, 2010