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The future of online travel

The latest trends in online travel and key strategies to help travel brands flourish online in 2016 and beyond.

Online travel is probably the fastest changing, most innovative industry in e-commerce. Amongst the first to recognise the power of the internet were the likes of Travelocity (1996), Priceline (1997) and Lastminute.com (1998). Since then technology has revolutionised the travel industry and offline has moved online, putting the consumer in the driving seat.

lastminute.com page

Screenshot of Lastminute.com from Dec. 1998

Technology continues to evolve and the top brands have to look ahead if they want to stay out front. We’ve all heard the buzzwords… mobile first, big data, personalisation, wearables… however, these terms are actually very relevant to online travel.

As a member of our Client Success team, with a focus on creating competition-smashing strategies for our travel partners, I have been paying close attention to the latest trends in online travel to stay ahead of the curve.

 

Mobile First

As you try to while away the winter blues, what device are you using to search for your next sunny escape?

Studies show that, not only are consumers researching on mobile, but increasingly, they are booking on mobile too. In fact, this year will be the first time that over half of all US online travel bookings will be made on a mobile device.

Travel and mobile go hand in hand. Increasing mobility and connectivity mean that you need to have, not only the ‘always on’, but also the ‘always on-the-go’ consumer in mind. The stats speak for themselves: US travellers took an average of 4.7 trips over the last 12 months.

So, how can you cater for your increasingly mobile-first, on-the-go customer base?

From the growing popularity of larger screened mobile devices to micro-screened wearable technology, travel booking sites need to work hard to identify behavioural trends specific to each device and design the content accordingly.

Apple Watch

Image credit: Skift.com

As well as segmenting users by device, you need to make sure that your mobile user has a smooth journey to the checkout. One of my clients, only too aware of the challenges that customers face when content isn’t adapted to the device, told me that they were “genuinely proud” of those that had managed to book via their old mobile site. So, it’s really clear that travel sites need to match the booking process to the device, in terms of convenience and relevance.

This means, at the very least, simplifying payment options. If you know your UX is bad on mobile, why not give your users the option to book on another device? A simple cross-device campaign will improve your customer experience and increase conversions by directing customers to a platform where it’s simpler to complete their booking. If you’ve got an app, test a one-touch payment solution, like Apple Pay. Finally, why not ask your users what’s holding them back from completing their booking by running a survey.

P&O mobile site

Examples of how Yieldify helps travel sites create a smooth user journey, from research to booking.

With so much competition, and new entrants arriving to the travel retail space all the time (even Tripadvisor now offers ‘instant booking’), websites that eradicate booking engine pain points will be the winners.

 

Experience is Everything

Customer feedback was another one of the themes repeatedly mentioned by the execs. Travel retail is, after all, about selling great experiences. So, why not start their journey by giving your potential customers a first-class service from the moment they arrive on your website? If you want your website to stand out for offering a great experience in 2016 you should:

  • Ask your customers questions and use their feedback to build the right content.*
  • Thoroughly test your conversion channel to identify the optimum user flow.
  • Add value at every stage of the booking journey, even after the booking.

Yieldify website overlay

*Be careful not to interrupt the user journey. We find that the best time to ask questions is when they are leaving.

Get Personal

Obviously, to create the ultimate customer experience you also need to consider personalisation, and this is much more just than adapting the content to the device. You need to look back – to where the user has come from (traffic source? first time visitor?) – and forward, to where they are going, literally: what is their destination, when do they want to travel, the number of people, if they’ve been before, etc.

The list of segmentation criteria in travel is endless, but it’s crucial to hone in on each individual user. You need this information to be able to speak to them in the right language, ask them the right questions and show them the content they’ll be interested in. Overall, aim to:

  • Identify patterns of behaviour and create user profiles.
  • Test different strategies for different user segments.

Research shows that travel retailers are still falling short and not delivering the personalised offers that consumers want:

Statistics on travel e-commerce

This Tnooz survey question shows that current personalisation activities aren’t effective.

The travel industry’s failure to get this right, might be attributed to the fact that personalisation attempts aren’t seen as genuine and thus, fail to connect with the user. A recent study by BCG paints a picture of how travel companies of the future will leverage data to deliver bespoke recommendations to their customers. Your ability to do this well will impact whether your visitor is likely to stay on site and complete their booking, or whether they’ll go elsewhere.

One word of caution though, raised by several execs: use data to guide you, but don’t get bogged down focusing on the past, you need to look to the future as well. Unfortunately, no quantity of data analysis can accurately predict how the 2016 traveller will behave online.

The landscape in which online travel operates has shifted significantly since the first players entered the market. With change come many challenges for online travel marketers. Technology is both creating and solving those challenges, forcing us all to become more innovative. Step out of your comfort zone, and try something new in 2016.

If you’d like some more travel tips, check out our free Travel Marketer’s guide for simple strategies to optimise your travel brand’s online journey.