Generations – Keeping an eye on travel

Consumers respond to questionnaires and verbal stimuli like focus groups in a way – they have time to formulate answers and gauge how their response will be examined.

Part of the Travolution Generations project put a cross-section of regular web users from each of the four age groups in front of computers in order to monitor their behaviour – or eye movement – when browsing the web and interacting with travel brands.

Each participant was given two tasks: search for a product on a search engine/meta-search engine/online travel agency/operator, airline or hotel site; and follow the booking process once a product has been selected.

Usability specialist Foviance carried out the tests on 51 people at its London laboratories in August. Here, we unveil the results and exclusive images in the form of heat maps and direction charts.


  • Unafraid to make up a package holiday themselves by visiting different websites
  • Like to research a holiday and read reviews on other websites to assess price comparison
  • Understand the difference between an affiliate site and a brand site
  • Annoyed by hidden charges on airline websites
  • Sometimes miss messages highlighting extra costs
  • Generally ignore advertising
  • Drawn to the words ‘sale’ and ‘offer’
  • User-generated content is important
  • Will search for advice and reviews on other websites, such as a friend’s MySpace page

  • “This age group searched very quickly through a search engine to get to a holiday/travel site. Interestingly, the keywords they input into a search screen were short and to the point, resulting in a great many results being returned. But they assessed very quickly the ones that they were interested in.
  • “They read less text and ignore ads totally. They are less design-mistake tolerant than any other audience.”
  • “They are quick to look at peer reviews, and read them with interest. They are price-sensitive – as they find it easy to research offers on the Internet.”

Sites visited in order of popularity: Google/Yahoo/Ask, EasyJet, Ryanair,, STA Travel, Thomas Cook, Cheapflights, Travelsupermarket, Expedia and Travelocity


  • Confident enough to make package holidays themselves
  • Start at airline sites before moving to hotels and comparing the pair on a package site
  • Will go straight to unknown site to check out prices
  • Tendency to ignore advertising on right-hand side of a website
  • Will tolerate poor design and error messages if keen to buy
  • Wary of user-generated content
  • Will read more screen copy and information
  • Contact numbers are important for queries
  • Look for special offers rather than ‘sale’ words

  • “This age group is more inclined to search through Google for specific brand names rather than generic search items. They are savvy at reading the URL on a search result.
  • “They are happy to select a variety of different holiday purchases to make up their package. They are less inclined than the younger group to read all of the text of a page, but are more likely to read reviews of destinations on other sites.
  • “They are distrustful of peer reviews, these did not interest them.”

Sites visited in order of popularity: Google/Ask, EasyJet,, FlyBMI, Travelocity, and various package sites.


  • Inclined to search for a destination, possibly a recommendation
  • Skim read content on sites
  • Spend longer researching trips
  • Lose faith in sites with overwhelming advertising
  • Return to trusted and known sites
  • More risk averse than younger users and less adventurous when searching
  • Search quickly by keyword
  • Spend time looking for brand names on search results
  • Read reviews but only from trusted brands

  • “This age group has had to ‘learn’ the Internet on the job – and therefore is far more cautious than other groups. They have less time than any of the other groups.
  • “They are less tolerant of invasive advertising than the other groups by far, and quite happy to leave a site if they receive too much push advertising.
  • “Expecting to see a telephone number, this groups needs a cross-channel experience to ensure their holiday is booked.”

Sites visited in order of popularity: Google, EasyJet, BAA, Ryanair, family holiday sites, sports holiday sites, Holiday Inn and Marriott.


  • Unafraid to self-package own holidays
  • Use lengthy phrases in search engines
  • Do not recognise difference between affiliate or brand websites
  • Google listing associated with trust
  • Ignore URL on search results – use header as indicator of content
  • Read most copy of any age group
  • Look at advertising – often without realising it is marketing
  • Will e-mail peers to ask for advice
  • Images act as a reassurance method for products
  • Want e-mail confirmation quickly and access to telephone numbers

  • “This age group has the most disposable income of any group we tested. They are the most inclined to research a holiday online, and are the audience that most sees the advertising on websites.
  • “They search in a bizarre fashion – by typing in strings of keywords, expecting that the more they type in, the more exact the search will be.
  • “They are the group most likely to go through an affiliate site by mistake.
  • “They need to see confirmation immediately after a purchase, or will call the helpline.”

Sites visited in order of popularity: Google, Opodo, Flight Centre, Virgin Holidays, EasyJet, Ryanair, Travelsupermarket, FlyMonarch, Travelbag and Kelkoo Travel.

Catriona Campbell, director of Foviance, the specialist customer experience consultancy, is an expert on generational differences in adopting and using technology, and conducted the research featured in this issue.

It’s always fascinating to have the opportunity to see multiple age groups conducting the same tasks on websites. With the latest eye-tracking technology, we’re able to see the differences in what they do and how they form their opinions.

The young (16-24) use search engines, employing generic short search strings to begin their search. They use peer reviews as their main source of further research.

The next group, 25-34-year-olds, tend to include brand names in their search – indicating the continued importance of brand recognition in the travel sector.

As we get older, we tend to be unwilling to give our trust as freely. It’s worthwhile noting the need for a multi-channel approach – customers in this age group use contact information as evidence there are humans behind the site.

Seniors use very long, precise strings when they’re searching, in the belief they will get better results. Given this, it’s likely that affiliates are going to play a key role if you are targeting a mature audience.

It’s also essential that travel companies provide clearly signposted journeys – too much information or advertising and these users are off to another site.

As expected, the research shows that travel sites have to meet a wide range of requirements if they want to target different age groups. But the rewards of getting it right are felt right across the board – better customer experiences lead to higher sales.

Visual examples of eyetracking behaviour


Gens - statravel


Gens - lastmin1


Gens - flightcentre


Gens - lastmin2

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