The Vacation Should Start On Your Site

The world's best concierges know that matching a guest's experience with their personal preferences and needs is essential to their success as a hospitality provider. And as a whole, the travel industry is often scrutinized on its ability to deliver satisfying customer experiences -- online or in person. In fact, Forrester research shows that nearly one in five US online leisure travel bookers encounter problems with online travel sites. These [frustrated] travelers are young and tech-savvy. They book and research travel often. And they have a low tolerance for poorly executed websites.

Online research and booking is often the first touch point for travelers with your brand. So, when consumers have issues redeeming loyalty rewards, completing or modifying reservation, or finding information on the terms or conditions of a fare or rate, they are much more likely to switch to a competitor, rather than exude patience with a troublesome site.

Ensuring the online experience is easy and straightforward is essential to maintaining high conversion rates, reducing purchase funnel abandonments and keeping customers loyal. Improving your website(s) for reaching maximum customer satisfaction, is an ongoing, iterative process -- but by focusing few key elements, you'll get moving in the right direction:



1. Let your visitors have a voice.
If nearly one in five travelers experience issues with booking online, the likelihood that most travel sites are empowering visitors to give their direct opinion on the flow, content and design of the site is probably rather low. Employing A/B testing and multivariate testing solutions on your site(s) will start to give you some immediate feedback from your visitors on what makes them click, as well as what drives frustration and abandonment. Even simple tests such as button color and copy have been known to have a hefty, positive impact on conversion rates and revenues.

Travel sites can be complex, so knowing where to begin with testing on your site might feel daunting. Try putting yourself in your customers' shoes: visit a similar site to your own. What elements of it do you like? What frustrates you? Compare these finding to your own site and align it with your business goals -- some areas for immediate testing will likely be revealed. Secondly, use web analytics data as a guide. Areas and pages with high traffic or high bounce rates that have an impact on the booking funnel must be tested to ensure the best conversion rates. And always remember: test it, don't guess it.

2. Incorporate non-biased traveler reviews
In the travel industry, both suppliers and intermediary sites are known for heavy price competition to woo consumers into purchasing. But nowadays, most consumers also want reassurance that their precious vacation dollars aren't wasted on a roach-infested hotel. Next to price, a logical research step for many travelers is to consult non-biased traveler reviews. TripAdvisor has established itself as one of the most trusted sources for this type of information, yet many travel sites have not established a successful link with this important part of the booking funnel.

If your visitors are forced to toggle between your site and other review sources, they'll become distracted by other sites and offers, and your booking conversion rates could suffer. Try testing out integration of travel reviews from sites like TripAdvisor or into the booking funnel to increase conversion rates. By giving visitors information they are already looking for (the good, the bad and the ugly), you're more likely to get -- and keep them -- as a customer.

3. Be as loyal to your customers as they are to you.
Loyalty programs can be a travel company's best bet for boosting customer retention and recurring revenues. But traditionally, travel sites haven't fully integrated loyalty programs into the online customer experience. Data from loyalty programs can be used to digitally personalize the experience a customer has when returning to the site -- offers, promotions, calls-to-action, seating assignments, room types, car preference, etc. -- can all be pre-selected or promoted based on each visitor's unique profile. This will ensure they see content relevant to their loyalty level, which makes the entire booking process easier, reinforces their loyalty status and confirms their importance to the brand during the online interaction.

4. Make yourself a relevant brand for every visitor.
While your loyalty programs may be blossoming, you still have a fair amount of non-member traffic hitting your site. However, that doesn't mean that you can't cater the booking experience to this group as well. Regardless of memberships, each visitor that comes to your website has a unique profile with a wealth of data that can be used to personalize their experience on your site: previous trips and travel needs they've re¬searched, destinations they've traveled to in the past, frequency and recency of travel, and ads or offers that they've clicked or bought. This powerful information allows you to effectively target content and offers for each individual, making their visit much more relevant, and helping you increase engagement, bookings and repeat business.

Targeting visitors with a specific experience can be accomplished by defining rules, or a set of conditions that must be met based on the visitors profile or segment. Real-time personalization techniques can adapt the online experience for each visitor based upon data from their recent and previous visits. For example, with a repeat visitor, you may choose to re-target them based upon the prior destination searched, by offering a vacation package that includes tickets to a local attraction, which could result in enticing them to book, or even extending their vacation. This approach enables a broader range of content, such as destinations or travel packages, to be presented to the right visitor based on their unique, predictive attributes.

Providing a seamless and successful online experience to plan, book, modify, and enhance a trip remains a challenge for many online travel brands. But doing so will provide a deeper connection with consumers, as well as drive more online bookings, revenue, and customer loyalty. Don't play guessing games with your website: listen to your customers, give them what they want and make them feel special.

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