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How Can Travel Websites Continue to Enhance the Overall
Planning and Booking Journey?

An Interview with Jo Briody, Head of Marketing for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

By Ritesh Gupta
April 2011

IN-DEPTH: Travel websites need to look beyond the traditional search criteria and not only need to demonstrate the product offering but also share all the other facets associated with booking holidays
 
Travel sites today offer more consumer information than ever before. At the same time, they have become more complicated to use and have alienated those that not be as online savvy.
 
Consumers research travel online but end up frustrated with either the deluge of information or lack of details that they need to make a sound financial decision. At times, they want to take their findings and send it off to a travel professional that can make sense of all the requests and create a customised itinerary. 
 
Going by one of the major developments, social media is expected to become one of the driving forces in holiday decisions.
 
Hoteliers believe they need to find a way to capture the best of this trend and be cognizant of what the consumer is saying about them. One also needs to be aware of the impact that the convergence of data of friends from sites like TripAdvisor and Facebook will have on travel decisions moving forward.
 
From a company of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s stature, its head of marketing - UK & Ireland, Jo Briody, says consumer behaviour has changed when it comes to booking holidays.
 
“I have seen research recently that suggests that the Internet has overtaken word of mouth in influencing purchase decisions within the cruising sector. With this in mind travel websites of today not only need to demonstrate the product offering they need to show all the other facets associated with booking the holiday, rather than just a simple destination and price,”  Briody told EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta. “Social media and the Internet have fuelled the ‘review’ taking this away from the travel writer and bringing back to the consumer which inspires confidence as the reviews are and have become very honest. Previously the closest consumers got to their holiday was the photos in the glossy brochures – now consumers upload pictures directly to platforms as soon as they arrive which can spread very quickly. Consumers demand to see content that shows them exactly what they can expect to see, from inside the rooms to the view from the balcony, the better the quality/richness of content the greater the desire,” added Briody, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2011, to be held in London (May 10-11).
 
Content delivery
 
Delivery of content is empowering and critical, but should be tied back to the business objectives that one wants to achieve.
 
“All content can be tracked on a site from number of views to the number of times it has been shared. Conversion path analysis needs to be reviewed regularly to understand what elements contributed to the action, and if there are any difference to the end goal. i.e. when video is part of the path did average order value increase or were any additional items purchased as a result of viewing the blog? That way value or contribution models can be formulated for features feeding into overall business and site goals/performance,” says Briody.
 
“Additionally part of a websites goal would be to create engaging/ sticking content resulting in deeper interaction and greater dwell time which should be considered are part of the overall metrics.”
 
What about measuring UGC?
 
From RoI perspective, like any other piece of content on the site, UGC should be measured and tracked to understand the impact it has on a company’s brand. A company like Expedia.com say since the site generates more bookings than any other online travel site in the world, it is able to examine the impact of qualitative reviews on booking behaviour.  A|B tests are very useful for testing reviews, allowing one to see page and transaction conversion with or without the content on the page, or testing where the content appears in the booking path.  Blogs are more challenging, but those can be monetised with advertising or limited paid content.   Consumers do a lot of research prior to booking, and having a better understanding of what content is most useful at every stage in the trip booking lifecycle can help companies more effectively make that content accessible at the right time.  One can also measure customer engagement by tracking when and how they generate or interact with the content, by linking, sharing, etc.
 
On another note, it is recommended that employees of a travel company, be it for hotels or any supplier, need to be briefed on the advantages of taking a collaborative approach to e-commerce. For instance, in case of a hotel, the front desk staff, needs to understand the correlation of stellar customer service on online guest reviews and the ability of a hotel to sell its products online. Traditional sales departments need to understand the advantages of using e-distribution channels to aid travel agents and offline sales and get involved in the process. Various sales departments can embrace the reach of e-commerce efforts.
 
Format
 
Travel planning websites have started focusing on video in a big way, in addition to travel reviews, photos and travel comparison tools. 
 
It is being underlined that travel videos are the most important and fastest growing trend in travel planning today and users want more visual options to help them plan the perfect trip. Recently, online travel community IgoUgo predicted that more than half of travellers will use video to plan trips by 2012.
 
Briody said, “There is a saying, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ so you can imagine what video could do to the user experience.”
 
Video allows the consumer to visualise their holiday so they know what to expect.
 
Briody added, “More often than not in the time we live the holiday is limited to one a year and is large commitment so one needs to be sure and confident with their purchase. There would a need to balance both corporate video mixed with UCG as there will always be an element of ‘mistrust’ - was the video staged? Has the sea colour been edited, post production etc?”
 
Preference
 
Do customers like pre-made packages or not?
 
“It’s very hard to generalise,” Edward Perry, senior director of e-commerce, WorldHotels, said in an interview with EyeforTravel earlier this year.
 
Perry said, “There are some types of travellers in some markets in which pre-made packages thrive. If we look at the Canadian market just as an example, there are a number of companies that successfully sell pre-packages vacations to the Caribbean and Mexico. At the end of the day, client needs prevail over our own. Some travellers simply want to have a quality experience without any surprises and relish the opportunity not to think about any details of a trip. Other travellers demand an active role in the trip making process. As travel professionals, we need to understand both types of clients and offer them services that will attract them to our companies.”
 
Briody added, “There will always be those looking for package holidays as they take the hassle out of planning, equally there will always be those that like to plan different elements of their holidays. There is also the security around booking the whole package with one company and therefore the responsibility the travel company has for the whole process which has become much more relevant in recent times with challenges with strikes and ash clouds.  They key will be pleasing both types of consumer in an engaging and efficient way. Many travel companies are hindered by the back end booking systems and their ability to create an intuitive and flexible booking engine and resolving this is a key starting point.”
 
New options
 
Travel sites are connecting more with their customers through social media and interactive website features, including mobile applications or offering a Live Help feature.
 
How sites are starting to move beyond the traditional price/ date/ destination search criteria to provide more flexibility to customers?
 
“There are two questions here,” said Briody. “The benefits of live help are to help improve, increase the conversions and keep the consumer on the site as opposed to dropping out and picking up the phone – thus increasing business costs.”
 
“No two consumers are the same, some will start their search with destination, some date and there will be others that want to see all holidays available under a certain price – the key is to provide a flexible search functionally that caters for all, the change to this might be recommendations based on interests i.e. love walking, history, 5 days max – recommendation might be a city-break to Rome,” Briody said.  
 
Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2011
  
EyeforTravel is scheduled to conduct its flagship event, Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2011 in London (May 10-11).
 
For more information, click here

About EyeforTravel
EyeforTravel is a leading media company specializing in business intelligence for the travel and tourism industry. EyeforTravel provides a series of senior executive travel conference on a diverse range of topics including travel distribution, online marketing, social media, mobile and revenue management.  EyeforTravel also provides some of the most in depth research into global online travel markets and trends. For more information visit www.eyefortravel.com
 
Contact:

Rosie Akenhead- TDS Director
Phone: +44 (0) 207 375 7229 (London, UK)
Email: rosie@eyefortravel.com


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