Travolution Journeys – Talking and testing are key

Stephen Dunk, UK commercial director, Travelzoo


When I worked at the Telegraph in 1988, I sold the call-centre manager of a leading travel company a half-page ad in the paper. Unfortunately, the sun came out that day and the call centre didn’t receive many calls.


Later, however, I found out that walk-in customer traffic increased significantly. “Success!” I thought. But the chap buying the media was responsible for call-centre bookings, not high-street bookings, and told me that despite this ‘good news’, he was in the dog house. 


The Foviance White Paper seems to indicate little has changed. At many travel companies, the e-commerce manager or online marketing manager is only responsible for online bookings, so despite the fact that this survey and a dozen like it say ‘let the customer call’, online advertisements, websites and emails rarely have telephone numbers. Why? Because if the customer does call to book, the call-centre manager gets the credit and, like my friend, the online media buyer is in trouble.


The good news is that this organisational incongruence doesn’t seem to be evident everywhere. Foviance’s survey says that lastminute.com has got it right, and I would agree.


But if you want to look at some other impressive leaders in the ‘let ‘em call and let ‘em click’ school, cheapcaribbean.com does a great job in the US.


Founder Jim Hobbs offered online and 24/7 direct telephone bookings from day one. In the space of five years he built up a business turning over $100 million.


In the UK, TravelRepublic takes a similar course; visit the homepage and you will see a useful online booking engine as well as a huge telephone number.


At Travelzoo, we have been aware since we started in 1998 that our subscribers get frustrated when they can’t find offers where they expected. We coined the term ‘e-cholesterol’ – the journey between the published offer and the advertiser’s business can get clogged up, leading to lost bookings.


We launched the Test Booking Centre, to tackle e-cholesterol. We test every offer we publish. We test in four languages across six markets. And you might be surprised by what we find.


Yes, we get the occasional ‘404 not found’ and ‘du-de-du, the number you have dialled is no longer in service’, but we have also seen yield management systems automatically close out inventory on empty hotels because they were set up to respond to demand spikes.


We have had hotel reservation centres tell our test bookers that the offer they are calling about does not exist and that they should book with their favourite OTA, simply because the call centre didn’t know about the promotion.


Foviance’s summary of tips hit the mark. It prescribes breaking down the silos and, taking a leaf out of the Travelzoo book – test, test, test.


The Travel Journey Experience Survey data certainly correlates strongly with the feedback and behaviour of our one million UK subscribers. It is apparent that online does not mean last minute, indeed the survey reveals that only 11% booked two weeks or less from departure.


The median, 35%, book three-six months out and 15% book seven months to a year out. Given this knowledge, it will be no surprise that one of our most successful promotions was a fjords cruise we ran in October 2007 for travel in July 2008 – some 400 passengers booked a full nine months out.


Contrary to popular belief, the two-week holiday may not be dead either. The survey reveals that of those travelling abroad, 46% will travel for 11 days or more. The package holiday also looks like it still has legs. Of respondents holidaying overseas, 39% took a package holiday last year.


The survey confirms that travel websites are now the number one place where consumers research destinations – more than twice as important as a friend’s recommendation, and five times more important than magazines or newspapers. However, the holiday decision process takes many people up to two months. 


This is important to understand when setting cookie tracking windows. It seems the industry is settling for a 30-day cookie. We recently ran a campaign for a major airline that used session-based cookies, only measuring behaviour and sales impact over a few minutes, not two months.


It is quite clear from the explosive growth of sites such as TripAdvisor, CruiseCritic and FlyerTalk that consumer reviews are important; the survey data confirms this. The message, however, should be that we don’t all need to create review sites, but rather, we need to ensure that consumers are getting the best experience.


The Travolution Journeys project is sponsored by Travelzoo


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