Hotel Online  Special Report



Hotel Industry Web Site Study; 
Expedia, Travelocity and Sheraton 
Delivering Best Online Customer Experience

SAN MATEO, Calif. - June 30, 2003 - Vividence, the leader in customer experience market research, today announced the results of its comparative study of hotel industry Web sites, Vividence® Customer Experience Rankings* for Lodging.

Measuring the behavior, thoughts and attitudes of thousands of travelers attempting real-life tasks online, Vividence uncovered significant variations in how users experience different travel sites. 

Hotel sites like Sheraton are creating stronger brand experiences online, while online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity are converting more browsers into buyers. Despite the tremendous success of online travel, the lodging sector only performed average compared to Web norms for customer experience.  Virtually all sites studied caused frustrations for customers.  On average, study participants encountered problems every three minutes. Despite the differences between hotel and online agency sites, users encountered approximately the same number of frustrations on both types of sites. 

Drawing from real user feedback and behaviors, Vividence ranked the top lodging industry Web sites on a series of factors that drive business success and customer satisfaction. 

Top Overall Customer Experience 

  1. Expedia 
  2. Travelocity 
  3. Sheraton
"With the rapid growth and strong profits of the hotel aggregator sites, most industry observers believe these sites are more successful than the branded hotel sites. The Vividence data show that this conclusion may be an oversimplification," said Greg Jones, founder of WorldRes, a leading online hotel reservation network.  "On one hand, it's clear that hoteliers need to improve their booking processes and price/value positioning to drive better conversion. On the other, the online agency sites need to learn a lesson or two about creating memorable and satisfying online experiences to gain more brand loyal customers.  For both parties, the Vividence study promises to provide invaluable feedback on competitive 'best practices' and individual strengths and weaknesses."

"The online travel agencies hit the ball out of the park, taking the top positions in Overall Customer Experience as well as Conversion," said Jeff Greenberg, Vividence CEO. "However, every site revealed an Achilles heel. For instance, we identified six essential drivers that determine hotel Web site success. Expedia was one of the lowest-ranked sites on two of these drivers, but it ranked best overall. There is clearly room for even the most user friendly sites to improve."

Study participants perceived Orbitz as the site with the best deals and promotions, and they appreciated the site's clear display of price options. "As the Vividence data demonstrated, many travelers rely on the Web to make informed travel purchases, so it's important to understand how customers perceive us in that area," said Eliah Kahn, Vice President of Customer Experience at Orbitz. "Vividence's research will help us to sustain a unique value proposition for the customer looking for a better travel booking experience." 

Of all sites evaluated, Sheraton posed the fewest problems, leading it to score well in Customer Satisfaction.  "The depth and quantity of information in the Vividence CE Rankings provided an insight into our site performance that we did not previously understand," said Mark Koehler, VP of Interactive Marketing at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, owner, operator and franchiser of hotels and resorts including Sheraton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Westin, Four Points by Sheraton, and W Hotels. "We were pleased to see that users found easy to use and hassle-free, but we're not going to stop there. We'll be using the future Vividence studies to take a regular pulse of our online customer and identify ways to make our sites even more useful to business and leisure travelers." 

Vividence® Customer Experience Rankings for Lodging
Key Findings: June 2003

Hotels Sites
General Travel Sites

Overall Rankings

Expedia hit the ball out of the park with Vividence® CE Rankings, taking the number one Customer Experience Ranking spot. The site tracked well on all indices from Brand Impact, Customer Conversion and through Customer Satisfaction.Features such as the persistent total, the ability to add additional travel services, and a clear and easy booking process won approval from customers and enabled a high degree of success on the evaluation tasks.

Customer Experience Ranking

  1. Expedia
  2. Travelocity
  3. Sheraton

When it comes to conversion, itís the hotel aggregators that know how to move a customer across the site and make a reservation online. With their specials, deals, and easy booking processes, Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz took the top spots in the Vividence® Customer Experience Rankings for Lodging conversion metrics.Example: We asked panelists to book a hotel, and we followed where they went. We found that 91% of the users were successful in completing the task on Expedia, but on average, users were successful only 67% of the time).

Customer Conversion Index

  1. Expedia
  2. Travelocity
  3. Orbitz

Hotel chains Wyndham and Sheraton know how to make a good impression online.
Commended for their positive brand images, superior customer support, and trustworthiness, these sites ranked on top for the effect that their sites had on customerís brand impressions of the hotel company.

Brand Impact Index

  • Wyndham
  • Sheraton
  • Expedia
Expedia, Sheraton, and Wyndham placed at the top of the Customer Satisfaction Index for being relatively easy, free of frustrations, and meeting customersí needs.  Factors such as site organization and helpfulness of the home page helped Expedia land the top spot here.

Customer Satisfaction Index

  • Expedia
  • Sheraton
  • Wyndham
Common Lodging Pitfalls

While some sites scored well on many of the customer experience metrics, nearly every site offered challenges for users. On average, participants encountered problems every three minutes.

Most Common Lodging Site Problems

  • Did not feel I found the best price 27%
  • Site made me register before booking 26%
  • Difficult to make comparisons between hotels 23%
The most common obstacles preventing consumers from making their reservations online included concerns about potential errors or problems with their arrangements, concerns about the security of their credit card information and personal information, and inability to do price and facility comparisons.

Other Noteables

Sheraton posed the fewest problems per visit than any of the other lodging sites examined.

Travelocity was perceived as most innovative and original, with consumers scoring features such as customer reviews and ratings very highly. Consumers noted that they were most likely to register at Travelocity and visit the site again in the future.  Orbitz was perceived as the site with the best deals and promotions. Users appreciated the siteís offers and praised its clear display of price options.

Vividence will conduct the CE Rankings study every six months to identify longitudinal trends across the industry. "The hospitality industry was relatively slow to embrace online distribution, and the hotel companies have been playing catch-up ever since," said Jones.  "Will the hotels learn how to better convert their visitors? Will online agencies develop lasting brand relationships with their users? We'll soon know which sites are embracing this study to attack their weaknesses and extend their competitive strengths."

About Vividence® Customer Experience Rankings(tm)
Vividence® Customer Experience Rankings* is a syndicated research product that provides key information to understand target customers and competition on the Web. 

About Vividence Corporation
Vividence is the leading provider of customer experience software and market research for the customer-driven enterprise.  By capturing and interpreting the behavior, thoughts and attitudes of customers on the Web, Vividence custom and syndicated research yields business insights that improve profitability.  More than 250 customers, including Citibank, Compaq, Dell, FedEx, Macy's, Microsoft, Pfizer, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, Wells Fargo and more than 150 of the Fortune 1000 use Vividence. 


Vividence Corporation
1850 Gateway Drive
Suite 500
San Mateo, CA
94404 USA
Phone: 650.645.5000

Also See: Hotel Website Optimization - The Blueprints for a Robust Direct-to-Consumer Online Distribution Strategy / Max Starkov and Jason Price / February 2003
How to Turn Lookers into Bookers- Recommendation Engines in Travel and Hospitality / Max Starkov / Aug 2001

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