Staying one step ahead of its competitors has won Fleetway Travel our latest Sm@rt Agent award. Ed Robertson talks to advertising manager James Clarke
When launching a website in conjunction with your business it is always worth asking: “What is it for?”
Although it sounds obvious, it is this basic question that will not only show you what is needed for the launch of your site but also how it will be driven forward.
And while site owners will always have to respond to the changing demands of the market and the suppliers they are working with, without adhering to a basic philosophy behind your site you can quickly lose control of it.
This is a notion that Fleetway Travel advertising manager James Clarke has always subscribed to, with the creation of the agency’s website four years ago after almost two years of discussion and development. And, for the agency, there was one very simple route for it to take.
He says: “When designing a website you need to design it around what you want to do. The first product we did was flight-only and then a month after that we moved on to accommodation-only.
“On the web we wanted to challenge our rivals, take the fight to them by being the cheapest we could be.
“We get the flights with the latest prices through every supplier we can. We feature scheduled, low-cost and charter flights and have live XML feeds with all the key accommodation suppliers, as well as direct deals with some hoteliers,” he adds.
“The best part of our website is when consumers make their booking they get immediate confirmation as well as their flight or accommodation voucher e-mailed to them. Everything is done immediately and that is why we get such good feedback from all our customers.”
Of course, the desire to create a one-stop shop competing online on price has its added advantages for Fleetway Travel too.
Clarke says: “From our point of view, by competing online it reduces staffing and reduces administration fees, which means we can lower our costs and pass on the difference to the customers who we know are using the web to find the best deal.
“Many customers are web savvy and if they think the best deal is available on the web, they’re quite happy to hunt around.”
Since it launch the site has been given three new templates – at a total cost of around £50,000 – and is now attracting 10,000 visitors a day and generating 100,000 page impressions each day – although Clarke would not reveal the revenue it is generating.
It’s been hard work, Clarke says, to keep up with the new systems being introduced by suppliers as well as integrate the latest technological innovations available on the web.
The site has now grown into a complete dynamic packaging tool, offering customers the chance to build their own holiday with full IATA and ATOL protection.
The latest redesign, whose launch was imminent at the time of going to press, will see customers able to organise an entire dynamic package using all the site’s content on a single bookable web page, as opposed to the many different pages most sites require customers to visit.
Clarke adds that even after the relaunch work will continue on the site to ensure the customer experience is the best it can be, saying: “We want to make our website a lot more current, we want it to flow. We want to make the user process a lot easier and make the whole business as user-friendly as possible.”
While the agency advertises the site’s address on Teletext, digital and analogue, Clarke is in no doubt as to what is the key driver of traffic to the site.
He says: “Over the past three years one of the biggest changes in the market is the effect that Google is having; around 70% of all traffic is going through Google so we really have to take note of its rules.
“When the site was designed four years ago textual content was not that important. If you wanted to be on Google all you had to do was pay it some money to come out top on the searches – now, of course, it is reliant on search engine optimisation.”
To this end the agency has dedicated the past six months to rewriting all its web pages to ensure the content can be easily picked up and it is hoped the job will be completed by the end of the year.
Clarke adds: “Now, with textual content, it has to be good quality and make sense to the client. You don’t want someone to be bored on the website because they are reading the same sort of copy over and over again just to heighten its search status.
“Doing this been a huge investment, but if you want to make good returns then you need to do it.
“You have to think of your website as your shop window, as it is very often the first time a customer will have encountered your business – you need to pull them in and then keep them.”
Meanwhile, as the landscape changes in the travel market with the mergers of the big four to two, Clarke believes there is still plenty of opportunity for business to develop further online.
He said: “It is going to change the way we sell, with fewer brands available, but we’ve known it was going to happen for some years. We’ve got good relationships with all the operators and the mergers don’t affect us, although it will make the customer more savvy in looking for deals.
“The independent operators will still control much of the market – it’s the niche operators that are facing possible acquisitions by the bigger players.”
While on the whole the site has proved an excellent addition to Fleetway Travel’s business armoury but Clarke admits it has led to one unforeseen issue.
He said: “It has driven call centre business. We get a lot of customers who do everything online but then finally want to speak to someone before they book.
“It definitely raises the number of calls – when what we actually wanted to do was reduce the number of people calling.”
From the Sm@rt Agent sponsor:
When I was advised of this month’s winner, I was delighted that one of our key supporters had been rewarded for its innovation and creative use of technology.
Albere Rouach and his excellent team at Fleetway have created a state-of-the-art website that is constantly being refined and updated to ensure a fresh and motivating experience for their many customers.
The XML links established with Hotels4u.com and other enterprising partners make effective use of technology to reduce costs and expand choice while making for a customer friendly experience. These two elements are fundamental to successfully driving any online business forward.
Over the past two years, enterprising companies such as Fleetway have used the time effectively to forge new links with customers and retain loyalty to their product. Customer retention is now key to developing the business. Careful choice of partners, be it for flights, accommodation, transfers or other ancillary products is a necessary part of the process.
Reputations are hard to establish but easy to lose and the testing of new links and services is now more important than ever to eliminate any gremlins before launching any ‘improvements’. It is also necessary to create good relationships with the IT departments of suppliers, to keep in touch with any new developments planned that may be useful in the future expansion of the business.
During these two years, a lot has happened in the traditional package sector, creating opportunities for Fleetway (and others) to benefit and build successful businesses. However, the big two are investing very substantial sums to regain their market share and dominance of the new dynamically packaged market.
The established ‘new order’ players (both suppliers and retailers) have already set the standards and criteria for successful participation in the current market and it will not be easy for the old dogs to learn new tricks quickly enough to overturn the new regime successfully trading in today’s market place.
Well done Fleetway for keeping your eyes firmly on the ball – and good luck in the future.
John Harding is sales and marketing director at Hotels4u.com