For many people, booking a holiday is one of the single biggest expenses of the year. A holiday offers an opportunity to escape daily routine and indulge, but it is not without cost. For Brits, the average family holiday costs £3,450, and with many having an average of two holidays per year, they can become a significant financial commitment.
This expense is, for many, mitigated entirely by the experience of the break itself. For some, this is represented in adventure, engaging in activities and exploring the sights and cultures of far-away places. For others, the ideal escape is about white sand beaches, spending lazy days cocooned in luxury, or enjoying quality family time in a chalet in the Alps.
Once you have decided on the type of holiday you’d like to go on and settled on an approximate budget, the next step is to begin researching transport, accommodation and extras which start to piece together your long-awaited trip.
With technology continuing to transform the way we live our lives, many of us begin our research online. Seemingly endless options are available at the click of a button to travellers, so knowing where to start and which holiday to choose can be a daunting task.
72% of holidaymakers now conduct research online before making a booking, and with more holidaymakers than ever before using digital channels to research and book their holidays, it’s important that OTAs (online travel agencies) are optimising their websites in line with growing demand, and differentiate themselves from their competitors.
In light of this, Talkative wanted to explore the ways travel companies are using their websites to improve their customer experience and maximise conversions. We surveyed over 140 travel websites in the UK, and have derived the following statistics from the data. The websites were compared across multiple areas, including security, booking options, customer communications, payment plans and more. Here’s what we discovered…
In terms of website security, 86% of travel websites are secure. This means that any information a user submits to the website is encrypted. The easiest way to tell if a website is secure is if the URL is fronted with https (rather than http) with the additional ‘S’ standing for ‘secure’.
Given that many travel websites, particularly those which have online booking available, require users to submit personal data, it’s good to know that the majority of travel companies are taking security on their websites seriously.
Moving away from website security, we also wanted to see how many travel websites offered protection for the customers themselves. 85% of holiday websites are ATOL or ABTA protected. Both of these schemes offer customer financial protection in the event of a travel company ceasing trading, meaning that the customers don’t lose their money or aren’t left stranded abroad.
It was interesting to note that almost the same number of travel websites offer website security and customer protection, which suggests that travel companies who take security seriously are likely to do so across multiple areas. It is also reassuring to travellers that a large majority of travel companies are taking appropriate steps to ensure the protection they offer their customers.
Of the 140 travel websites we surveyed, 55% offer some form of chat on their website, be it live web chat or chatbot. For clarity, in this report we will use the collective term ‘chat’ when referring to both live web chat and chatbots together.
Given the rising popularity of chat, the anticipation was that this number would be higher. It does however provide an interesting correlation to the number of websites which offer an online booking service, which we will look into deeper later.
77% of travel websites which offer chat have it available of every webpage, with 23% of the websites requiring the customer to delve deeper into the website before a chat option was offered. This usually required the user to visit a product page or contact page, but not exclusively.
It was also interesting, though not surprising, that travel companies favour human-powered live web chat over chatbots. 75% of chat services available on travel websites are human-powered, and the preference for human communication is most likely linked to the necessity of personal, in depth conversations.
Holidays are complex purchases, which often means that customers have several questions that need answering before the customer is happy to proceed to booking.
In the past, customers would make an appointment at a physical travel agency to discuss their options with a consultant. The travel agent would be able to have a real conversation with the customer to discover exactly what they were looking for in a holiday, before carefully selecting the most suitable options for their wants and needs.
But with more people preferring to begin research online instead of making an appointment at a physical store, this creates a problem for travel companies: how do OTAs give their online customers the same personal consultations as they give their offline customers? These conversations are harder for OTAs to facilitate through a website, but the customers’ need for them is still there. It is widely accepted that chatbots simply do not yet have the capability to offer complex and personalised support to customers in this way, which propels need for human-powered live web chat.
Differences between sectors
• Adventure, touring and activity holiday websites are the biggest chat users, with 72% of websites offering chat
• Conversely, the ski market are the lowest users, where only 45% of ski holiday websites offering the service
• The luxury market was split down the middle, with 50% of luxury holiday websites offering chat, and the cruise sector was left trailing slightly behind at 47%
Phone calls and Call Backs
As you might expect, every website we surveyed provided telephone support, many of which had their number displayed in a prominent position on every webpage. However, there was variation in the types of phone numbers provided to customers. On aggregate, 59% of travel websites offer customers local phone numbers which mainly connected directly to agency branches, but this varies a lot between different holiday sectors.
A huge 92% of luxury travel websites sector offered customers local telephone numbers. This overwhelming preference for local phone numbers could be down to the higher expectations set by more discerning clientele, who expect a more personalised and exclusive experience throughout the entire booking journey. After all, the high-end travel sector can see customers spending well into five figures on their getaway, so it is easy to see how expectations for customer service and experience will also be higher.
By stark contrast, the majority of phone numbers provided by cruise websites are 08 numbers or 03 numbers which aren’t tied to a specific location, which could possibly indicate a tendency towards remote call centres. Only 29% of cruise websites offered a local telephone number to customers.
It was also interesting to find that only 29% of travel websites offer a call back feature, where customers can submit their name, phone number and details of their enquiry for an agent to call them back at a later time.
Call back services are beneficial in reducing contact centre waiting times, as it means fewer calls enter the queue in the first place. It is also convenient for customers, because they have the freedom to submit a request and carry on with the rest of their day without having to wait on hold.
For this reason, you might expect a majority of cruise websites to offer call back features, as it appears they make the most use of contact centres where long call queues are the most prevalent. Along the same lines, it could also be anticipated that cruise websites would be the most likely the offer live web chat, which is proven to reduce call centre waiting times and boost customer satisfaction. In fact, only 35% of cruise websites offer a call back and only 47% offer live web chat, which uncovers a big opportunity for this sector to improve their contact centre efficiency.
Customer journeys in the travel sector are becoming increasingly digitised. More people are choosing to use online channels to research and compare holiday options, so it stands to reason that more customers will also want to complete their journey by booking online too. With this in mind, we wanted to discover what booking options UK travel websites currently offer to their customers.
51% of travel websites allow holidaymakers to book online, which is a lot lower than expected. According to ABTA, 83% of holidaymakers choose to book online. This shows that people are ready to accept a fully digital booking experience, provided all questions are answered and support is available should they need it.
Differences in markets:
• Only 28% of luxury holiday websites provided an online booking option, scoring the lowest when it came to booking online
• The skiing websites were the most online-booking friendly, with 64% offering customers the option to book online
It appears that travel companies still focus on encouraging phone bookings, with 85% of travel websites allow customers to book over the phone. A possible explanation for this is that OTAs understand the importance of human to human communication in the customer journey, and the most established channel for facilitating this is over the phone.
However, in an age of convenience and digital communication, these conversations can and should be taking place across multiple channels, such as live web chat or web calling, which offers customers the opportunity for meaningful and helpful assistance, but also enables the travel companies to manage their customer enquiries in a more efficient manner.
If a more in depth consultation is required, video calling and cobrowsing solutions can provide customers with face-to-face appointments anytime, anywhere. This is also highly useful for overseas customers who may not be able to receive in person communication with the travel company any other way. These channels are becoming more widely available, and we can predict that the trend for online booking will continue to increase in the travel sector. As online bookings increase, this raises a question: what exactly are holidaymakers able to book?
Of those websites which have an online booking feature, 70% allow customers to book accommodation and flights simultaneously. Being able to book various elements of your holiday at the same time makes the customer’s buying journey more seamless and less convoluted, so it is easy to see why OTAs are offering this to improve their customers’ experience.
Nowadays, customer experience is as much of a key differentiator as price, and offering a convenient service is key for boosting online customer experience. As such, an additional benefit of offering simultaneous booking of flights and accommodation is that it decreases the need for customers to jump across to competitor websites by offering an ‘under-one-roof’ service.
OTAs are expanding their services to reflect the growing demand for an online one-stop-shop. In the spirit of convenience and improving customer experience, some travel websites are offering additional services which add value to the customer and boost average spend through the website.
18% of travel websites allow customers to book hire cars and 29% allow customers to book trips and excursions. This creates an online environment which is genuinely helpful to the customer, which helps to foster brand loyalty and repeat custom. For travel companies, it also provides the added benefit of generating excitement, which helps to encourage positive association towards the travel brand.
Although the numbers are small, the increasing integration of multiple services into websites coupled with increased proclivity to buy holidays online suggests that the number of OTAs offering these services is likely to increase.
One of the most effective ways of reassuring customers about the quality of your service is by showing customers honest reviews. Studies have shown that reviews affect consumer buying behaviour, with the most powerful reviews being single reviews which discuss an individual’s personal experience with the product or service. To compound this, the more recent the review, the more influential the review is to the customer’s decision. In many cases, a single, well written review, be it positive or negative, is more influential over buying decisions than an average review score.
Of the travel companies we surveyed, 66% display customer reviews on product pages.
Much like with other expensive purchases, such as cars or electronics, payment plans and financing options can help to spread the cost of a holiday. This is particularly important for those who simply cannot afford to pay for the trip upfront.
Recognising that this provides a greater revenue opportunity, **43% of OTAs have payment plans and financing options available **to customers and highlight this on their website.
It’s also important for holidaymakers to consider the overall financing of their trip, not just flights and accommodation costs, but spending money and exchange rates. Therefore, it was surprising to learn that only 17% of travel websites provide information or services about foreign currency exchange.
Considering this is a top consideration for most holidaymakers, compounded with the idea that OTAs are trying to make their websites as valuable and sticky as possible to customers, this seems like a squandered opportunity for many to boost overall online customer experience and increase website visitors.
As well as financing the trip itself and budgeting travel money, the other financial consideration for many holidaymakers is travel insurance. We found that 25% of OTAs provide information or services for buying travel insurance. This number was roughly equal across various holiday sectors… with one particular spike.
Half of the skiing websites we surveyed offered customers travel or skiing insurance on their website. This is most likely due to the increased risk involved with the nature of the holiday, so it is a more pressing consideration for their target audience and more likely to be considered a top priority.
Weather and geographic information
Depending on the type of holiday you choose, the local weather can have a big impact on which destination to choose and at what time of year you should travel there. This is particularly important if the success of the holiday is weather dependent, such as a summer beach holiday, for example. It is safe to assume that most Brits who book a holiday at a beach resort in Cyprus in July are doing so expecting the weather to be hot, sunny and stable.
Surprisingly, only 30% of the travel websites surveyed provided weather information for destinations in any form. Of those who did, many offered detailed weather calendars which gave customer advice on the best months and times of year to visit a destination, and also offered average temperatures and even times to avoid travel. Offering customers valuable information regarding the weather of the location they are viewing is a quick and simple way to build trust, yet so few OTAs appear to be doing so.
We also found that some websites promote cheaper costs on packages during off-peak seasons. In general, this is no bad thing as it provides value if the holidaymaker is budget-conscious or wanting to avoid the busy season. However, this can be viewed as disingenuous if the package offered is promoting a beach holiday in Barbados in September… without explaining that this is also in the middle of Barbados’ hurricane season.
Travel websites fare slightly better when giving customers an idea of the local area, with 48% of travel websites providing maps on product pages. In the same vein as providing local weather information, being able to show customers how close they are to the beach, local amenities, distance to public transport or significant landmarks can be a deciding factor in choosing the right resort or hotel for their needs.
To summarise, British travel websites are incredibly varied when it comes to the services and information they provide to their customers.
Despite the demands of a growing online market, the general consensus seems to be that the role of a travel website is still weighted towards the beginning stages of the buying journey. Our research suggests that customers are invited to research and explore holiday options on the website, and then book through a combination of online and offline channels. Half of British travel websites still only allow customers to complete their purchases offline, whether this is over the phone or in a physical travel agency.
As the online travel market continues to grow and as modern life become increasingly digitised, it is important that OTAs adopt a multichannel approach to maximise the support they can offer online customers and in turn, boost online conversion rates.
Although many travel websites are already doing this by focusing on improving online customer experience and facilitating online bookings, there is still much opportunity for OTAs to offer more value to their customer and maximise their growth.
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