Consumers require a wealth of information before booking and they are demanding even more before they leave. Webcredible asked consumers to keep a diary to chart these emerging habits. Travolution commissioned a qualitative piece of research with Webcredible to try to understand more about the requirements of consumers during the planning, booking and taking of holidays.
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The results of the diary study are broken down into a number of key areas, including how participants use reviews, booking and post-booking habits, media consumption, security, impact of global economic situation and challenges they face when arranging a holiday.
The following is a summary of each category from the study:
Roles and information sharing
For all holidays researched and booked during this study, there was always one main organiser among a couple, family or group of friends. A quarter of the people interviewed said this was because they didn’t trust their partners to follow through with booking. Partners were involved in most major decisions and were kept up to date with the progress of research and booking, but most of these discussions happened face-to-face at home. Very few participants shared their findings using the ‘email this page’ functionality, which seemed to be either absent or not prominent enough in most websites.
When and where is research and booking done?
Holiday research and booking competes for time with other work and household activities. People have limited time during lunch breaks at work and evenings at home, which means that they’re likely to be frustrated if it takes too long to find information or to complete a booking. Mobile websites could help people save some time by researching holidays on the go, but no participant used their mobile phone for such purposes. This was probably due to lack of awareness of such websites and difficulties with accessing the mobile web.
Many participants started their booking and research from a few major travel websites e.g. Expedia or lastminute.com. However, almost all of them sometimes needed more general ‘destination guides’ than they could find in those websites, and turned to local tourist information websites that they found through Google. If such information isn’t incorporated in major travel sites, there is a risk that people will leave these sites to continue their research and perhaps do their booking elsewhere. It’s also worth noting that not all research was done online. Guidebooks are still a popular source of travel information and can be easily carried around and annotated for future reference.
Planning a holiday involves a large amount of information e.g. alternative choices for flights and hotels, interesting attractions and booking confirmations. Participants had different strategies for aggregating and tracking this information while researching holidays and during the trip, but this was generally a tedious chore that could be automated to some degree by travel websites.
Recommendations from friends and family were an important source of inspiration and information for participants. Almost all took recommendations into account while planning their holiday, especially when they came from trusted, like-minded people. Although most recommendations were given face-to-face, there is a potential for online recommendation services as people can connect with like-minded peers through social networking. The design of such services should take into account why people trust certain recommendations.
Reviews were often an important influencing factor, especially when participants were looking for accommodation. Participants liked that they could get an objective view through reviews and could find details that were not available elsewhere e.g. which rooms had the best view. If reviews are to be trusted, people need to be convinced that they are independent and impartial, which means that negative reviews should be allowed. Most participants would ignore the negative points if they find them irrelevant to their taste.
In general, all participants were looking for a holiday that fitted in their budget and was available for the dates they’d like to schedule it for. These were the most essential criteria and when they weren’t satisfied participants would shop around for alternative arrangements.
In addition, there were many other individual preferences and needs that influenced participants’ decisions. Some of these preferences should be accommodated within mainstream booking website, e.g. hotels with wireless internet or rental cars with satnav. Other preferences could inspire niche travel booking services, e.g. holidays for people with an interest in local food or exotic cultures.
Although almost all participants did their booking online, there were still cases where it was necessary to call a hotel to check some details. A few participants also managed to negotiate a discount by booking directly with the hotel instead of through a booking site. Travel agents were sometimes consulted, and their expertise was appreciated especially for complicated bookings. However, some participants just got suggestions from travel agents and then booked elsewhere. If online booking sites offer some sort of holiday advice and consulting service, they could attract those people who’d use travel agents. Booking was sometimes delayed while participants were trying to make up their mind or collect money for their holidays. One concern in this case was whether deals would still be available later or whether prices would go up or down over time. This is an opportunity for sites to either press visitors to book earlier or reassure that prices will stay at the same level.
One of the first thoughts of some participants after booking was to buy things relevant to their holidays e.g. clothes, accessories, cosmetics and weight loss products and services. There is a large, currently untapped, opportunity for travel sites to cross-sell such products and services as part of the booking process.
It isn’t clear if special offers and discounts are an efficient way of attracting people to a site. Some participants were actually frustrated when they found that offers weren’t available for their desired dates and destinations, and others still shopped around for cheaper prices despite having a discount for some sites.
Advertising and newspapers
Travel-related advertising was sometimes noticed, especially while people were planning holidays, but it seemed to be more of an inspiration than a major influence. Participant would more often read travel features in newspapers e.g. travel supplements in Sunday papers. Some got a lot of ideas from these features and a few even went to featured hotels or destinations.
Some participants, especially those on a budget, had started feeling the effects of the credit crunch and were trying to spend less on holidays or take fewer holidays. Other strategies for saving money included booking self-catering accommodation and cutting down on holiday activities. Some of those booking luxury holidays didn’t worry about the credit crunch due to their large incomes. However, several in the luxury holiday group didn’t have such large disposable incomes and were trying to make everyday savings in order to fund their holidays, or relied on work bonuses.
This summer’s weather has inspired many participants to go on holidays abroad, and most of them either chose a destination they knew would have warm weather, or checked the average weather for a destination. A few also checked the weather forecast for their destination a few days before their holidays.
In general, most participants didn’t research the security conditions in their destination specifically but relied on mainstream news coverage of major security incidents.
Holidays with friends
Organising group holidays with friends posed some additional challenges in comparison to travelling as a family or as a couple. First, it was sometimes difficult, especially in more loosely connected groups, to get people to agree on holiday dates and destinations. Also, communication in large groups was done through group emails, which can get cumbersome. This is something that could potentially be improved by linking travel planning with social networking websites.
The main concern of those travelling with children was to book a holiday that wouldn’t make the kids too tired, and where there would be enough activities to keep both children and adults occupied. When some participants with kids weren’t sure if a holiday would be child-friendly, they quickly looked for something else. Travel sites should make sure that information about child-friendly holidays and activities is easily accessible.
Budget versus luxury
There was one main difference in the booking and research behaviour between those who were looking for a budget holiday and those looking for a luxury one. Budget participants seemed to have a harder time finding a good deal and had to shop around more. Those booking a luxury holiday generally went through a more straightforward process, used fewer websites and completed their bookings quicker than budget participants.
Webcredible carried out a series of diary studies with two groups of consumers, ‘budget’ (spending £500 or less) and ‘luxury’ (spending £1,250) between July 9 2008 and July 22 2008.
- Interviews were conducted with each individual after the diaries were complete.
- Both sets were asked to book a one-week holiday in Europe.
- Participants arranged holidays for themselves and partners, entire family, or a wider group of friends.
Ideas for new features
- Shortlisting: adding a number of flight and hotel options to a shortlist that can be accessed when visiting the site at a later time, without having to start searching from the beginning.
- A way to allow those booking group holidays to pay for their share of the booking directly to the booking site.
- A website with a comprehensive user-contributed list of things to do at a destination from a parent’s perspective – something like netmums.com focused on travel.
- A website to help aggregate and organise all trip information before and after booking. For example, such a website would automatically keep track of bookings and information about selected attractions. It would also propose additional useful information such as a few basic phrases in the destination language or a currency exchange guide.
- Cross-selling relevant products and services after booking a holiday e.g. clothes, beauty products, weight loss programmes, guidebooks and airport transfers.
Download the full results from the survey – Webcredible Diary Study
Trenton Moss, director, Webcredible
What are your influences? This is the age-old question that is always fired at a new brand, but this question is just as important when it comes to online travel customers. For today’s time-poor and cash-rich (although the credit crunch is taking its toll on many) consumers, booking a holiday can be a tough and time-consuming process where the slightest assistance can help no end.
With the diary study Webcredible carried out, naturally a few major travel sites seem to be the most popular to begin the research and booking process. However, consumers are often looking for more ‘general’ destination guides than those provided on these sites and are likely to get frustrated if it takes too long to find the information they require. By not offering this extra level of information, travel sites risk people leaving and possibly booking elsewhere.
Recommendations from friends and family were identified as an important source of information as almost all consumers took these into account when booking. Reviews are also an important influencing factor, but consumers need to be sure that they are independent and impartial, which means that negative reviews should be allowed.
So, what can travel companies do to help their customers? Well, budget participants have a harder time shopping around for a good deal, so the more information on deals they can get, the better. Holidays involving groups of friends often bring difficulties in agreement on destinations and communication between the group. This is something that could potentially be improved by linking travel planning with social networking websites.
In addition, one of the first thoughts of some participants after booking was to buy articles relevant to their holidays, for example clothes, accessories, cosmetics and weight loss products. There is a large, currently untapped, opportunity for travel sites to take the lead of sites such as Amazon and cross-sell such products and services as part of the booking process.
The bottom line is information. To continue to compete in today’s online travel market you must research and know your users and offer them every possible assistance during the booking process. Whether this is an objective online destination guide or a suggested excursion complete with a review from a previous customer, the smallest gestures can make a huge difference.