Online frustration shows travel companies still not getting the basics right

NB: This is a guest article by Jason Dickson, head of site optimisation at Expedia Affiliate Network.

Recent research showed that travellers in emerging markets were around 30% more likely to be frustrated by their experience of researching travel online than those in developed countries.

With communications infrastructure in these regions often being slow and unreliable, this difference in the report from PhoCusWright and Amadeus should not come as too much of a shock.

However, the actual numbers are a little more surprising. Between 72% and 78% of travellers in Brazil, Russia and India were frustrated by their online travel experience – compared to 42% and 48% in the UK and US respectively.

The fact that nearly half of UK and US travellers going online come away frustrated should worry online travel retailers, in what is a fiercely competitive industry.

With high speed broadband, intelligent search, fast browsers and high-quality screens now commonplace, web browsing is now able to offer an unrivalled experience for the traveller researching their trip online.

The business opportunity here is clear – the site with the most helpful browsing experience will likely be the one that becomes the regular traveller’s default option.

By far the biggest complaint expressed by travellers using the web in the UK and US was being forced to sift through too much information.

That includes both searching the web and searching within a site, but with both SEO techniques and sorting and filtering tools advancing all the time, these frustrations really are needless.

Tailoring content so users can easily find it using search engines is relatively simple. It goes a long way to tick the boxes of: personalised and well organised search results, relevant links and keywords, and rich, multimedia content.

In addition, ensuring that your site has fresh, unique and regularly updated content is no longer difficult, and will do wonders for its discoverability.

Once visitors are within your site, allowing them to define relevant search parameters is crucial.

For example, if they searched for “hotels with fitness centre”, they should be able to filter immediately to see only those hotels with proper gym facilities.

In addition, being able to offer deals and packages based upon a traveller’s previous choice of products can take a great deal of the hassle out of booking a trip.

For example, BMI recently reported a marked upturn in their hotel sales, after implementing technology which infers a traveller’s profile from their choice of flight, and then automatically offers an appropriate selection of hotels.

Other frustrations reported included being uncertain that information was up to date, and that it was difficult to search based on a preference such as a secluded location. There shouldn’t really be any excuses for these.

After all, it’s very easy to date your content and update it regularly.

Allowing visitors a greater range of options should also be relatively straightforward – with current technology this simply means ensuring that you have access to a sufficiently large product inventory to guarantee that even the travellers with the most demanding criteria can return a choice of relevant results.

The PhoCusWright-Amadeus survey draws attention to the fact that, as the online travel industry continues to mature, a great many travel sites are still not doing the basics right – and are missing business opportunities as a result.

NB: This is a guest article by Jason Dickson, head of site optimisation at Expedia Affiliate Network.

NB2: Smash laptop image via Shutterstock.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. Ian R Clayton

    The problem in a nutshell is that travelers are looking for an experience and the traditional approach finds hotel by location price and amenities. These attributes cannot describe an experience – That’s why AccorHotels and Marriott are implementing new persona based search that uses personality, mood and ambiance to match travelers with hotels and holiday Experiences see

  2. J Pullen

    Recently I have been planning my holiday, I did what most people do and turned to the great all knowing internet. A couple of hours searching and bingo I’ll have it all sorted, one fantastic holiday!

    The two hours turned into something of a marathon, which ended with me quitting in the early hours of the morning. The problem was that I didn’t know where I wanted to go, and travel websites do not cater for people in my situation.

    Try it, go to any of the big travel sites, what is the first question you see? ‘where do you want to go’. I know when I want to go,but other than a few choice countries I haven’t a clue ‘where I want to go’.

    Now ditch the internet and go to any high street travel agent. What is the first thing you see?… Everything! Shelf after shelf of holiday brochures. This is something that internet travel sites just don’t do. Many sites make the token effort of the obligatory inspiration page, presuming to know what the customer wants. None of these worked for me and I’m sure that they won’t work for most.

    I needed to find that property and location that I would fall in love with, and without repeating the same search over and over for all the locations that I would like .

    It’s sad that most of the travel industry seems to neglect a good portion of their customer base. Believe me, I would much rather book my holiday online, than make the journey to a number of travel agents.

    Discovery is the key for customers who don’t know where they would like to go. If you don’t show what you have, how do customers know what they want?

    Travel site owners, share all of your stock! and across many countries, let your customers see the great selection you have, let them filter on criteria that they want, not what is dictated to them. Only then will they discover and fall in love with that one special holiday, hotel or villa.

  3. Removing the Frustration from Online Travel Booking | Deem™ Blog

    […] Tnooz recently published a piece by Jason Dickson, citing recent PhoCusWright research covering the levels of frustration travelers endure when booking trips online. PhoCusWright found that 48% of travelers in the US have been frustrated by their online travel experience — with the leading complaint (not surprisingly) being “I had to sift through too much information.” With this, the author states, “The business opportunity here is clear — the site with the most helpful browsing experience will likely be the one that becomes the regular traveler’s default option.” […]

  4. How OS Travel Buttons (iTravel, Google Travel) Will Change the Mobile Travel Landscape | Travel Technology Consulting Inc.

    […] the consumer’s unhappiness with the current UI for Web-based travel such as this recent TNOOZ article. A major weakness in the way many travel companies have approached mobile is to simply bring Web […]

  5. Matthew Niederberger

    In defense of the author, Jason Dickson, I have to say that saying how an experience should be compared to how it really is are two separate things. Many people involved in the business of user experience, online optimization or whatever the buzz-word-of-the-day is, creating change is hard. The larger the company, the more difficult it gets to change functionality.

    In travel & tourism, this turns out to be the hardest. The old fashioned way of doing things, the legacy mainframes processing the availability requests and bookings are just not up to standard. Connecting legacy-anything to the www will always result in poor performance and detrimental experience.

    As I am sure Jason will admit, just like I would do myself here at Thomas Cook (Netherlands), we have the ideas, we often know what is wrong, but try matching your ideas to a platform (often 3rd party platforms too) that was still made to handle offline processes… it just won’t work the way you want it.

    So in respect to experience and performance, yes, the user is more often than not presented with a poor excuse of a service, but making the changes is a long long road. The biggest change to online travel becoming more profitable and more of a better experience to users will only come when backend systems are brought up to par of the OTA business in general.

  6. RobertKCole

    I can’t agree more that online travel sellers should be focused on eliminating traveler frustration.


    Let’s use searching on Expedia for an air/hotel/car package as an example (to be fair, I will provide examples using different browsers)

    A) Using Chrome (Desktop share – 18.9%):

    My first annoyance is that if I enter preferred flight times into the home page search widget, the search results page ignores my selections and returns flights that appear to be based on price as opposed to my flight preferences. Oddly, if I elect to “Choose a different flight” a sort criteria option exists for “Preferred departure time” but the “Price” button is selected by default. This adds at least three unnecessary clicks to the tally.

    To make matters worse, if I subsequently decide to change dates by selecting the “Start search over” link that returns me to the home page, I find that the search widget has indeed retained my origin and destination as well as party composition, but has changed the search to the default air/hotel search (forcing me to click the same radio button for a second time,) wiped out my dates, and reset my preferred flight times to 12AM – requiring me to re-enter the information for a second time.

    For this particular real-life example, I wanted to search flights departing the following morning. As opposed to changing one single search parameter, Expedia has me change five parameters – a particularly painful process as I had previously entered the exact same information moments earlier.

    B & C) Using Firefox & Internet Explorer (Desktop shares – 20.92% & 52.84%)

    I don’t run into the package type or date issues, which is an improvement, but the preferred times are again ignored in the search results.

    Again interestingly, the preferred flight times are again reset when starting over, but this time they are set to “Any” instead of 12AM – sort of an improvement… but still not what the user had initially explicitly selected.

    While some of these issues are undoubtedly related to cross-browser usability issues involving cookie or browser cache, some other issues relate to the fundamental search processes employed by the site. One can argue that is a user makes the effort to alter a default search option, that parameter should be considered in the search results, perhaps with an appropriate notification similar to “lower priced flights are available during non-preferred flight times.”

    In my search example, the non-stop flights I desired at my preferred flight times (unfortunately, there is no non-stop option or an advanced search option available on the booking widget) were only $30 more than the lower priced flights requiring connections at the wrong times.

    Employing a Hipmunk-esque “Agony” algorithm could be a useful enhancement to filter and sort the thousands of available package permutations. Tuning the search results to select the best combination of shortest/lowest priced flights during preferred flight times would positively impact the vast majority of package travelers.

    Additionally, looking at the content of past trips – particularly those made to the same destination (for example, approx. six Expedia packages to Dallas alone over the past 18 months) – should provide valuable insights for preferred car types (I have yet to book anything lower than a mid-size car on my Dallas trips) or hotel preferences (I always stay in the same general neighborhood.)

    Jason, you are right, a great number of online travel sellers are missing out on the basics and are not employing technologies or business processes that can significantly enhance the travel buying experience.

  7. Chicke Fitzgerald

    One big issue is that 85% of travel is by car versus by air ( and all OTAs (as well as travel agency desktop apps) are geared at the air traveler. Another one is that people go to see people and companies, to events and to places. OTAs assume you are going to an airport or a city center.

    This works for corporate travel and for the top 100 destinations, but it breaks down for the other types of travel. Corporate travel represents just 25% of all trips in the US. Vacation is just 8%. The rest is what I call “Life Travel”.

    Until the OTAs respond to how people really travel, the travelers will continue to be frustrated.

  8. Jeff Shaw

    Customer frustration with sifting through too many results is the foundation a new OTA By taking a more scientific approach and simplifying the process volunium is perfectly poised to be the next big thing.

  9. Robert Gilmour

    One of my continuing frustrations is that (i work in the travel space) hotels and travel businesses aren’t even getting the basics of on line marketing, channel management, customer service and distribution right, far less venture into pastures new. Many businesses I talk to say that they think social media can change the business, win more revenue &c; – when even their own website is substandard or not even properly built or optimised.. I think we need to watch that social media doesn’t promise more than it can currently deliver, and that businesses get their priorities right, One new customer asked if i was a social media expert, i politely said no – then i asked why he was asking, he said he had heard it could grow his business revenues by 25% – then i looked at his website – – – –

  10. DJ

    Ha! So I wonder if the writer can explain why Expedia’s own Ski offering doesn’t (currently at least) “do the basics right”?

    These supposedly simple problems are harder to fix than the writer makes out. Why? Because the travel business model – for tour ops and for OTAs – is based on high volumes and low margins.


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