By Brendan Jones, director of travel and leisure at Ve
We’ve all done it – sat there staring at the computer screen willing it to give us the right deal, with the right airfare, for the days off that we’ve already secured from management.
But then something goes wrong, whether it’s a website hiccup, a poor user interface, or even the less-than-ideal ‘distant airport’ scenario.
There are all manner of reasons that travel customers abandon a booking before reaching payment stage. What are they, and as a provider how can you limit the number of abandoned bookings?
Let’s look at the five stages – or key pressure-points – that can have an impact on the customer’s journey, and ensure they don’t walk away without completing the booking:
Stage 1: Inspiration
Allow me to paint a familiar picture. You’ve created an attractive travel website – a winning set of imagery, a slick rotating carousel and enticing offer-led deals all arranged and displayed so that everything is a mere mouse click away and easy to find. What can impact upon this phase of the journey?
A poor inbound experience can have a definite negative impact.
If I type in “houseboat holidays Cote d’Azur” and I am then taken to a site landing page that only deals with houseboat offers in Costa del Sol, I could instantly be annoyed as a prospect.
Improperly targeted SEO, PPC campaigns and display adverts might also harm a good introduction to your prospective customers.
Stage 2: Planning
Unseen booking fees or add-on costs are arguably the quickest and most sure-fire way to aggravate your prospect. We all know certain hotels can have unexpected add-ons, but that doesn’t mean you as a travel or tour operator have to.
Normally these take the form of booking charges, foreign or airport taxes or the surreptitious ‘handling fee’. Taking on these additional costs at the initial checkout phase could permanently scupper your chances of securing a booking.
Of course some of these charges, particularly foreign taxes, are warranted. Making these changes transparent at the beginning of the booking journey will mitigate any feelings of mistrust and nudge the prospect further along.
Even if most of us feel comfortable entering our credit card and personal details with the behemoth OTAs and hotels, smaller bespoke outfits can also be met with a fair degree of scepticism.
Fear of fraudulent behaviour is enough to spook even the most naïve and trusting customer into abandoning a travel cart.
If your team is in the late stages of employing new functionality or integrating with new services such as Apple Pay, do not roll out without completing proper testing first.
Integrate new payment services properly before doing a site-wide rollout. You don’t want to fail at the final hurdle when someone’s already got their card details out.
Stage 3: Deliberation
At some points in a person’s travel decision-making process, they just aren’t ready to secure a booking. Many tour operators work under the assumption that every booker is automatically prepared to share their credit card details, when they simply aren’t quite there yet.
There’s often family to consult, the school calendar to look at and the process of getting the go-ahead from line manager to go through, to name just a few of the Is to be dotted before a booking can be completed.
Industry standards tell us that on average, travel bookers will check close to 40 different sites over a six-week period before they stump up the cash for the right getaway.
Using intelligent display advertising or targeted offers can be your greatest ally here, bringing traffic back to your site to convert, when the time is right.
Stage 4: Booking
There’s a fair bit of information required, boxes to tick and T&Cs to review when making travel arrangements. Most people accept that, but it doesn’t excuse poor site functionality.
Whether it be arduous forms, an unclear user journey or slow loading times, these all cause friction for the customer.
We know that tolerance levels for poor digital functionality are not exactly sky high, so limit form fields to the absolute necessary, ensure simplicity for your mobile UI, have clear calls to action at every turn and ensure your site loads faster than you can say “site time out”.
Expedia led by example when it saved $12 million by taking out one unnecessary field from its forms.
We’ve also seen many travel companies make increased investment into ‘scratchpad’ functioning, which allows a traveller to save a journey or itinerary and return to it. This could be one to investigate if you haven’t already done so.
Stage 5: Checkout
A total of 75% of online travel bookers are said to regularly switch between devices to conduct their own travel planning, so ensuring you have omni-channel functionality at this stage is imperative.
Also, the re-assessment phase can start all over again if you don’t win a user over with trusted experiences. Ensure sites are working properly for each device and that saved searches or scratchpad technology is all up to speed so you don’t risk losing the customer just as they reach the crucial stage of preparing to buy.
Sites that are poorly converted for multi-device functioning are far less likely to do well, so it is well worth investing in the development talent pool to make sure that your mobile sites, whether smartphone or tablet, really do sing.
By taking the time to clearly understand what bookers’ needs are and where there are gaps in your site performance, you should always first put yourselves in the customer’s position.
Making even the most incremental changes to functionality can have a massive positive impact on site views and conversion rate. It can also mean the difference between a prospective traveller making a return journey or walking away from your site for good.