Last week Qubit hosted a roundtable with some of the travel industry's leading experts and practitioners. The aim of the discussion was to unpick some of the biggest digital challenges facing the online travel industry. Attendees included Richard Singer, European MD of Travelzoo, CEO of Onefinestay, Robin Frewer, Director at Google and Greg Marsh the CEO of Onefinestay. The table was moderated by Lee Hayhurst, the Head of News at Travel Weekly.
This is a summary of what was discussed.
Joining the dots: tracing the path to purchase.
One of the first points of conversation was around measurement: how do I effectively gauge my customer’s path to conversion? This is a particular puzzle for the travel industry and can play out in three ways:
1. Marketing Attribution: The first aspect to consider is that travelling involves buying high ticket items. This is not a matter of buying a t-shirt or a new pair of garden shears, this is a matter of spending thousands of dollars on often your one holiday of the year. People will have a much higher session number, they will spend more time weighing the pros and cons, it’s not a quick decision. Being able to mold your user’s path to purchase is therefore a more complex process.
2. Search bar: The second consideration is that travel websites have a tendency to overload their customers with too much choice. The paths to purchase can often be too complicated. In retail, 24% of users use the search bar. In travel, 99% use the search bar. Filtering results in a clear, ordered manner is crucial.
3. Browsing on mobile: The third point is the increasing use of mobile technology for browsing purposes. People often browse on mobile and buy online or even over the phone. There is currently no way of joining these together. The path to purchase is therefore difficult to track and the industry needs to start creating incentives for their user to sign in and identify themselves. On this one, for travel, as for other industries, the jury is out.
Mobile provides new challenges and opportunities
This leads into the second part of the discussion. While everyone agrees that no-one is going to buy a cruise or a $5,000 holiday on a smart-phone, this does not mean that mobile itself is a redundant medium. In fact, quite the opposite. In an ecommerce space that is increasingly prioritizing experience over transaction, mobile has a function that can enhance the buyer’s experience to a new level.
Not only can tablets and smartphones be used as great devices for browsing, they can also be used as a way of engaging your customer after purchase. This can be used in two ways.
1. Mobile optimized web pages: Want to check in before your flight? Want to browse the local area to scour for restaurants, plan local trips or buy travel insurance? These are add-ons that could enhance the experience of going on holiday using your site and could be accessed at any point. A site that is optimized for mobile has proven effects, we found that travel customers, compared to retail, are twice as likely to browse on a mobile.
2. Mobile apps: Mobile apps can be a great way to engage the customer after purchase. It can be a great way to offer customer service, help and advice as well as to keep them updated with weather, tips and ideas of where to go when they get there.
Expedia have a web app which streamlines the purchasing process and allows for easy browsing.
How to create customer engagement
1. Reassurance is key: As mentioned before, it’s a significant purchase and so you need to take ample time to reassure your customer: about the place, the price and cancellation policies. Customer reviews, personalized messages pointing people to your help number and live chat are three ways you could begin to do this more.
2. Editorial content: Now that we have seen a change in customer behavior online there’s a huge opportunity to optimize for life time value. As travel often involves a yearly purchase, advocacy is crucial. Genuine editorial content can help to ensure that your brand stays on top. One example given was of a travel company who sent big, beautiful photographs of the area when you went on holiday. This is a mile away from the traditional brochure, which is basically a sales item. Rather, by offering a coffee table style book, it allows your brand to be connected with a wider experience that the customer has had and allows you to subtly influence their ability to be your advocate.
ATD are a great example of this. They discovered that by serving a layer inviting users to read more about them and see their independent customer reviews, they were able to increase their conversion rate by 5.1%. Read our case study here.
Future-proofing your strategy
The key to ensuring that your travel brand stays on top is to have a future-proofed strategy. The information that any online travel company is dealing with changes all the time: the way people describe destinations, the way they interact with information, and changing search engine filter techniques all mean that we need to use big data techniques to filter the right information, for the right users, at the right stage of their purchase cycle. There is therefore a need to fundamentally change the way we collect information about customers. The travel industry has barely been influenced by this sea-change yet: but it’s going to be a wave they are most certainly due to ride.