/ travel

How do travel agencies acquire customers?

Holidays are a high value, discretionary purchase.

Travel agencies have traditionally relied on high-touch, personal service to effectively provide customers with the best holiday package.

What role do websites play in this human sales process?

We analysed 139 travel agency websites.

This is what we found about how they acquire customers.

Areas of Analysis

  1. Calls >
  2. Web Chat >
  3. Lead Capture >
  4. Content Marketing >
  5. User Experience >
  6. Technical >
  7. Methodology >
  8. Conclusion >

Calls

travel-call-stats

The majority of travel websites company rely on calls to acquire customers.

55% of travel agencies only take bookings over the phone.

Most travel websites make it easy for customers to call them. 36% of phone numbers are freephone (mainly 0800), and the majority (60%) offer toll-free local numbers.

4% of companies require you to call a paid number. Fortunately only 2 companies actually make you call a paid number (13p/min) to make your booking!

Only 45% of travel websites have some form of the bookings process online. However, 98% accept bookings over the phone! 37% of companies use call tracking systems to understand how they are generating these valuable calls.

Some travel agencies have experimented with online booking checkouts, but have since withdrawn them from their websites. Phone calls let advisors connect personally with customers. Having a human touch to impart specialist destination knowledge is key for selling complex and high value holidays.

Web Chat

web-chat-stats

55% of travel companies have added web chat to their website in some capacity.

Of those websites, 82% have chat visible to users during office hours. Only 72% of these visible chat windows have operatives able to answer chat requests.

68% of travel companies are not actively using web chat to communicate with customers.

In an industry where calls are vital, web chat perhaps does not represent the same value to companies as live calls.

Web chat is great for segmentation and conveniently answering simple customer questions.

But perhaps less so for explaining complex products and establishing a human connection.

Lead Capture

Most travel companies reviewed typically had two call to actions.

The first is a 'Call Us' or prominent display of a phone number. The other is an offline enquiry form or call back option.

This area of our research was harder to quantify.

29% of websites offer well-placed, quick call back options. More companies did offer call back options, but they were embedded and disguised, behind a variation on a lead capture form.

There was great variation in how these lead generation forms are worded.

Tip: Otherwise excellent websites could be improved by having a clear, singular call to action.
leadgen-cta-1

How call back and lead generation forms are phrased and presented is an area ripe for increasing conversions.

We recommend experiments with different layouts to see what works for your customers.

Content Marketing

30% of websites offered well placed images of their travel experts to impute an personable impression behind the company.

We noticed two broad sets of 'blog' and content marketing strategies. Those that integrated their blog with their main product pages, and those that had a blog as an afterthought.

Tip: Travel companies would do well to consider creating power pages to boost their authority and traffic around their specialist destinations.

Only 32% of companies visibly use video as a marketing tool for their holiday packages. Videos hosted on YouTube can drive SEO gains and provide a lot of positive engagement.

There is a wide variation in how websites presented their trust ratings (e.g. Feefo, TrustPilot) and customer testimonials.

Some of the more luxury agents had no customer testimonials - but given how individual and personalised each holiday is, this makes sense.

User Experience

Today, consumers are more likely to compare different travel agencies’ websites and book their holidays online. To differentiate themselves from their competitors, travel companies need to provide satisfactory online user experience.
The travel arrangement category was the 4th most popular type of service within the UK to be purchased online. In 2017, 48% of the individuals aged 25-34 have used online services to make travel arrangements, and this number is expected to increase:

statistic_id286109_travel-arrangements_-online-purchasing-in-great-britain-2017-by-demographic

Travel websites’ usability has a direct impact on sales and users’ brand perception. Our research on some of the top UK’s travel companies has revealed that a user-centric approach is what works best, when trying to convert visitors into paying customers. The websites of the industry-leading companies prove our point- they have been designed to not only convert visitors faster, but also provide premium UX.

Some of the factors taken into consideration when assessing the websites’ usability include:
-Consistent interface across pages

  • Clearly explained offers and promotions
  • Simple and straightforward search process
    -Properly positioned call-to-action buttons
    -Level of adaptiveness to various devices (desktop, smartphone, tablet etc)
    -Straightforward and user-friendly booking process (clear forms and pricing, secure payment process)

One of the websites we analysed which met our usability criteria was Virgin Atlantic. Their home page engages visitors from the get-go with their newest offers and promotions. Additionally, there is a flowing search bar which follows the user as they scroll through, enabling them to initiate a search at any point of their browsing journey.

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The home page also provides customers with the option of booking a hotel and a car along with their flight- making for a seamless UX that prompts customers to make additional, high-value purchases.

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The website’s interface is consistent throughout the various pages and the call to action buttons are positioned in a way that does not disrupt the customers’ browsing experience. The ‘Search for flights’ and ‘Book’ webpages have a clean design and are easy to navigate- reducing the chance for customers to abandon their purchase due to confusion and unclarity.

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Finally, the website is optimised for mobile use as well, making it easier for customers to engage regardless of the device they are using. This is an important part of a customer acquisition strategy, since mobile accounts for 37% of travellers’ shopping for flights and 43% for accommodations.

Speaking of mobile optimisation, Marriott’s new mobile app offers one-of-a-kind user experience to its customers, by including information about activities and experiences nearby the selected hotel. Displaying personalised features based on users’ customer journey allows the company to build loyalty and drive engagement. Providing personalised experience makes it more likely for customers to share their personal data- according to MDG Advertising, 83% of Millennials are willing to let brands track their online journey, if this means they would be met with personalised customer service.

It is obvious that most travel companies have realised the importance of providing good online user experience for improving their brand’s image and customers’ satisfaction rates. However, despite being one of the first industries to adopt digital in their customer acquisition strategy, only 18% of travel companies’ executives are confident that their organizations are digitally mature.

The most common issue, leading to an unsatisfactory user experience, is inconsistent online pricing. The search results presented by online travel agencies (OTAs) are not sorted by the lowest price. Instead, the top results are the ones "recommended" by the travel agency, and they are determined by various criteria, such as the level of commission paid by the hotel and the conversion ratio a hotel can achieve through the OTA's website.

It’s a common practice for some companies to try and lure in customers by promoting their ‘special pricing’. Oftentimes, however, the discounts are non-existent, since the comparison price presented by OTAs is based on a 30 day window around the selected check-in date.

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Once having realised they are about to pay more than what they have initially agreed to, visitors can quickly abandon their purchase in favour of a competitor, and even go on to social media to complain about being misled.
Overusing urgency and scarcity as vehicles for driving decision making can cost companies their visitors’ trust. While these techniques may help in improving a website’s conversion rates, they can also backfire into a frustrated customer who won’t be returning to your business. Here is an example of how Agoda.com prompts visitors to make a quick purchase:

In terms of good user experience, the main takeaways from our research are:

-travel companies need to optimise their websites to make for a seamless online experience
-personalised calls to action are a must if companies want to improve their customer engagement

  • optimising the website’s functionalities for different devices (desktop, mobile, tablet) can improve customers’ experience
    -transparency and clearly-disclosed information is a must for companies wishing to improve their brand loyalty;

Technical

website-homepage-size

The average home page size is 3.4MB and takes 4 seconds to load. The average product page is 1.4MB and takes 4.4 seconds to load.

Fast page times keep customers happy and help you to rank better.

Holidays need a lot of high resolution imagery - travel companies have an admittedly tight line to tread between graphical richness and page load speed.

Lazy loading is a technique worth investigating that ensures images don’t load until the user scrolls to them, keeping loading times fast.

Tip: The best performing websites used compressed images and leveraged browser caching effectively.

Only 55% of websites used HTTPS. HTTPS helps with search rankings, keeps yours site secure, and can be implemented for free.

Methodology
The research was primarily focused on UK travel agencies. Airlines and venues were not included. Each website was visited several times, with the 'best' result of each visit being recorded. Page load time was the lowest time from 3 separate page loads. The latest version of Chrome was used, in Incognito mode with no extensions, and a high speed office internet connection. Chat requests were made during office hours.

List of stats

139 companies analysed
55% have web chat
82% of those have web chat visible
72% of those visible chat windows have an operator to answer the chat
37% use call tracking systems
45% take bookings online
98% take bookings over the phone
45% have opening hours displayed next to phone
29% offer quick call back options
Average homepage size = 3.4 MB (fresh reload)
Average homepage load time = 4 seconds
Average product page size = 1.4 MB (after caching)
Average product page load time = 4.4 seconds
55% use HTTPS
97% use Google Analytics
30% show photos of agents
32% visibly use video for marketing
36% of phone numbers are free phone (0800 etc)
60% of phone numbers are local number (01633 etc)
4% of phone numbers were paid (0871 etc)

Conclusion
The Internet has been around for over 20 years, so there is clearly a reason why the majority of travel agencies encourage users to book over the phone and offer no online checkout.

AI and self service is on the rise.

But calls matter.

Humans are still better at explaining and selling.

Especially discretionary, high value, complex items such as luxury holidays.