Leader April 2008 – Enthusiasm 2.0

There is a second wave of enthusiasm towards web development and e-commerce by travel companies.

This is not a reference to the dreaded and what now appears to be seemingly overused phrase, Web 2.0, but rather how much emphasis is put on the web as part of the overall distribution strategy of travel brands.

This slow switch – some might call it ‘realisation’ – is manifesting itself in a number of ways.

From an advertising perspective, it seems that the market is awash with rumours of pitches or apparent rethinks about the digital marketing strategy of Company A or Company B.

The rise of social media – though unproven as a reliable advertising model – is asking questions as to how travel companies reach consumers who are more content to spend their digital hours talking to one another rather than interacting with ‘old school’ sites.

Some travel companies – and their agencies – are throwing a reasonable amount of resources into what is effectively a Black Hole of a channel.

Nevertheless, travel companies want to be part of the action and it seems being with the right digital agency (or not) is one of this year’s early hot topics.

The second area is that of website design and usability. Now this obviously includes drawing attention to the Most Tired Phrased in Technology/Media.

A conversation with almost everyone involved in e-commerce or digital strategy in a travel company invariably includes a variation of the following expression: “We have a new site coming online very soon.”

There is a rush towards ensuring any travel site is as up-to-date and cutting edge as possible. And quite right, too.

However, the problem here is that – as we have said on many occasions – the version-based approach to web development is tired, not particularly flexible and inefficient.

But we still continually hear of new web relaunches. Perhaps the idea of a fanfare about a new site still outweighs the practical and obvious benefits of the more agile approach?

Thankfully, the last area is where the industry is seeing the most change and – dare we say it – improvement.

The so-called peak booking period for 2008 is now over. However, there has been an interesting shift in behaviour.

Many senior executives from across different areas of the industry – suppliers, intermediaries and vertically integrated providers – are saying that the online push during and post-Christmas was beyond expectations.

In other words: companies set up to reach customers in a number of channels – offline, online, call centre, etc – are seeing the online channel perform even better than anticipated.

The web is becoming the de-facto entry channel for travel.

This ‘Tipping Point’, to coin the well-known phrase by Malcolm Gladwell to indicate when “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable”, probably hit the UK travel sector in mid-2006.

But what we are seeing now is huge pressure on both the online and offline channels to perform.

This encompasses the idea that travel brands must perform better to meet the requirements of information-hungry consumers but also potential customers with minute attention spans online.

Some are getting this focus right.

Others, however, will soon realise they are not. We hope they react before it’s too late.

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