It’s well and truly autumn. The clocks have gone back, burnt orange leaves have fallen from the trees and I’ve had to get my scarf and gloves out from the depths of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom.
Like many people, at this time of year I find myself longing for the hot summer days. In fact, I’m regularly casting my mind back to my summer holiday in Greece with friends, lying on the beach and soaking up the rays with a cocktail in hand. Blissful.
Winter is the busiest time for OTAs
It’s no surprise that this is the time of year where I start thinking about my next sun-seeking escape... and I’m not on my own. As the long, cold nights draw in, many holidaymakers begin considering options for their next summer holiday in the autumn, with the most popular month for finalising and booking holidays being wintery January. According to TUI, the busiest days for holiday bookings of the year are Saturdays in January. So, for online travel agents (OTAs) looking to boost conversions and maximise bookings at this peak time, much like your customers, you’re going to have to start planning ahead.
The travel industry has experienced a seismic change in buying behaviour over the last decade or so. The digital revolution has allowed travel to become one of the most highly posted about sectors across online media. This is particularly true of social media; it is hard to go on Instagram at all without coming across stunning photos of a tropical paradise, or a cityscape captured from a penthouse suite. The rise in popularity of social media, and so the prevalence of travel imagery, has a powerful impact on the modern holidaymaker, influencing their decisions in a brand new way.
With a whopping 83% of holidaymakers now choosing to buy online, with only 17% having booked a holiday in store in the last 12 months. Not only that, but social media has also revolutionised the way we shop for holidays. After consulting social media, 52% of people changed their holiday booking in some way, with 33% switching hotels, 10% switching resorts, 7% switching destination country choice and 5% switching airlines.
What does this mean?
A compelling argument is that customers are now completely saturated with choice. With holiday inspiration hitting them from all angles, seemingly infinite choices of hotels, packages, destinations and flights available, customers are becoming so overwhelmed with options that it’s becoming more difficult than ever to make a final decision, and stick with it.
It also doesn’t help that buying a holiday can be one of the most expensive purchases of the year, as well as one of the most complex. Thinking about it, this might explain why the travel industry suffers the worst cart abandonment rates of any online retail sector (at 89%).
As a response to this, many OTAs have implemented live web chat on their websites. Live web chat has a proven track record for reducing cart abandonment and increasing customer satisfaction, but why is this the case?
To answer that, let’s take a trip (pun intended) down memory lane.
Back in the good ol’ days, when you wanted to book a holiday for yourself or your family, you would head down to the high street to have an appointment with your local travel agent. You might have an idea about what sort of holiday you’d like to book, but you would discuss your preferences with your knowledgeable travel agent who would then show you their best suggestions which match your personal wants and needs. After having an in depth consultation with a specialist advisor, you would be left with a handful of carefully selected options, from which you would book your chosen holiday feeling confident, excited and satisfied with your choice.
Despite physical travel agents remaining popular with certain demographics (such as more affluent members of society), this method of booking holidays is for many people a thing of the past- eschewing the physical for the digital. There’s just one problem: have we thrown out the baby with the bathwater?
It’s true that booking a holiday online can be much more convenient than booking in store, as it allows you to carry out research in your own time and can make the booking process faster. Having said that, it has its downsides. Customers are isolated in their buying process, removed from personalised assistance and can often be left with many unanswered questions, potentially not knowing where to start. This leaves the customer lacking confidence in making a final decision (and come to think of it, might explain why so many people turn to social media and review sites for reassurance…).
This is where we turn the conversation back towards live web chat.
One of the reasons why live web chat has become so popular is because it helps to bridge the gap between customer and company. What makes it so popular amongst prospective holidaymakers is that it offers convenience and in depth support, which can be difficult to get with more traditional contact channels.
For example, if you contact someone over the phone, you could very well be waiting in long queues before you get the chance to speak with someone. Phone calls aren’t always convenient because the customer can’t have the conversation anywhere; it’s difficult to have a conversation about your next holiday during work hours, for obvious reasons, so this limits the opportunity to have a phone call with a travel agent. Email goes some way to make this easier, but the average response time for a customer service email is just over 12 hours, so it isn’t a great option for those who want a fast response.
So instead, consider this: you’re at home looking through countless resorts and destinations online, and you have a question about the facilities at a particular hotel. You just want a quick answer and don’t want to leave the page you’re on to find it (opening up 26 different tabs in the meantime). You click open the chat box, you explain your query and the travel agent offers you friendly, clear advice, instantly.
Live web chat isn’t just for quick questions – although this can be a good use of it. The immediate nature of live web chat also enables in-depth, consultative conversations between the customer and the agent.
Let’s imagine you’ve decided you’d like to book a holiday for your young family in Italy. You’ve never been to Italy and are looking for picturesque scenery with good local amenities, after all, you need to find somewhere which is family-friendly. You have a live web chat conversation with an expert who advises you on family friendly resorts, in regions which offer a good balance of picturesque scenery, local amenities and a vibrant local buzz. After narrowing down the options with the agent, you eventually find the perfect resort on the beautiful Amalfi coast.
…You see what’s happened here, right?
The incorporation of live web chat in this situation has created a virtual in-store experience for the customer, through a digital channel. It has enabled the OTA to offer their online customers the same level of high quality, specialist customer support that they would receive if they walked into a physical branch.
This is a pattern which is seeing ripples across the OTA industry. According to ABTA’s most recent Holiday Habits Report, people like to speak with travel professionals whilst booking a holiday online for three main reasons:
- 58% said it makes booking easier
- 51% said it saves them time
- 45% said they feel more confident in making the booking
And for those of you who only care about the bottom line: there’s good news there, too. After all, ‘boosting conversions’ is in the title of this blog post, so it was always coming.
Live web chat can yield a 90% conversion rate for OTAs
Yup, you read that correctly. A huge 93% of those who spoke with a travel professional during the research stages of their next holiday went on to book their holiday through the same company. Which means that if you can engage with your customers during this crucial stage in the buying journey, there’s 9 out of 10 chance that you will convert that into a sale.
If it isn’t obvious enough, allow me to make it a little bolder. Times have changed and the way people shop for their holidays, flights, accommodation or anything else travel related, is changing too. The good news is that the principles have stayed the same as they’ve always been: people want excellent service and a great customer experience.
Booking a break is often one of the most exciting and most expensive events in the average person’s calendar, so it’s important that OTAs are present during the customer’s journey to help them make their decision. Live web chat is one of the best ways you can close the gap between the customer and the travel agent, transforming your website from detached and overwhelming, to supportive and personal.
What’s more, with the busiest period for OTAs just around the corner, live web chat integration is a must to ensure you’re maximising conversions, come rain or shine.
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