Alf Saggese, managing director EMEA at Moxie
The travel industry is changing as a result of the mobile revolution.
Gone are the days where holiday shoppers would sit at only their desktop, spending hours browsing online for an exotic locale that provides not only comfort, but also places you in close proximity to a vendor of colourful drinks with tiny umbrellas poking out.
Now, thanks to increasingly advanced mobile technology, more and more customers are booking travel while on the move and through different means (mobile, tablet, laptop), foregoing what was once a ritual, and instead opting for ultimate convenience.
As a result, the need for companies to provide mobile-optimised sites has become more pronounced.
It was recently found that mobile now accounts for 23% of all travel bookings globally, twice that of last year. This growth is being mirrored in other industries, with banking and retail also seeing a fundamental shift in consumer habits.
Yet booking travel represents complications not seen in other industries – connecting flights, additional baggage and an array of other options need to be considered, and this can become extremely stressful online, with a lack of support and guidance often leading people to set aside their mobile devices and heading to the nearest travel agents in frustration.
While there has been growth, 23% is still low when considering the advancements made in mobile technology.
A clear issue with online mobile booking is a lack of personalisation. For some, booking a holiday is becoming as routine as ordering a takeaway; however, for others the booking process is an opportunity to ensure that very specific needs are met.
A travel agent, for example, would be able to advise a customer that was very tall as to which seats would be likely to offer more legroom.
It is this level of personalisation that ensures that the online booking experience in some ways still suffers when compared to using a travel agent.
It is due to these issues that mobile booking’s growth is not quite as rampant as expected. Customers are attracted to the speed and efficiency of mobile booking, but are turned off by the lack of engagement.
Indeed, research conducted by Moxie found that 70% of British adults who booked travel online in the preceding 12 months believed that being able to connect with a company representative would be more personal and effective.
A mixture of a hands-on approach whilst retaining a light touch is a seemingly potent mix when meeting travel customers’ needs.
Also, while this preference for online engagement was found to be the case with young adults (85% of those aged 18-34 agreed), the older generation also demonstrated their desire for a more hands-on online approach.
Research in 2012 found that travellers over 55 were actually more likely to book whole trips online than those under 45. The online booking experience, and its challenges, is one that spans generations.
The research also found that 64% of Brits would do more business with a company that offered intelligent, tailored support; providing the personalisation that can be offered by a flesh-and-blood travel agent.
By essentially “staffing” online stores through live chat and other channels of communication, travel companies will be able to provide personalised, digital engagement to customers – addressing them with useful information when they hit a snag in their booking, whether it’s confusion around check-out times, or issues with cancellation policies.
Indeed, it is this approach that has proved so successful for Unique Vacations, Ltd., an affiliate of the worldwide representative for Sandals Resorts.
Unique Vacations found that its customers were increasingly making their travel arrangements to its destinations and resorts online and recognised that, in order to better assist customers, it needed to turn to technology that met their expectations and offered the in-branch experience online.
By implementing tech that allowed Unique Vacations to connect in real-time with its digital customers just as it does when they are guests at its resorts, the company’s conversion rates and total customer value have seen significant improvement.
The growth in online booking is due to changing consumer habits, and it’s important to change with these rather than be left behind.
However, by taking best practices of in-store service – personalisation and support, and applying it online, travel companies can ensure that they provide customers with the speed they are accustomed to, as well as the engagement that they may miss.