Back in the bad old Internet bubble days, we used to talk about ‘eye balls’ as a way of measuring how many visitors a site had. The origin of this unfortunate use of phrase is likely to rest with the use of ‘footfall’ in the retail industry.
In that particular industry it does make some sense as you are at least guaranteed to have their full attention for a while. But using that analogy on the Internet is dangerous as the next store is not a 10-minute walk away, but a half-second click.
Things got marginally better as the bubble started focusing on registered visitors.
I say marginally, because although people left their name and address, many sites took this merely as a license to flog the poor user anything it saw fit.
Now, I’m not suggesting that getting customers to register on a site is a bad thing, on the contrary. However, as a main measure to evaluate the worth of online companies, it was severely lacking.
So the early Internet years were not a great environment for learning to measure or deal with customers. But, thankfully, we have moved on.
The travel industry deals with travellers, full stop. It’s either about people who are thinking about travelling, are actually on a trip, or have returned and are now sharing their experience.
However, in an echo of the ‘eye balls’, it’s surprising the number of current industry forums that mainly concern themselves with implications of reach through search, the cost of keyword inflation and the like. I’m glad to say Expedia Inc and Hotels.com take a different view of the world.
Yes, it is an increasingly online world. And Expedia Inc is indeed the global leader in online travel. But ultimately, we are here to satisfy the needs of travellers.
And rather than online being a confusing, challenging and increasingly competitive environment, Expedia sees it as an enabler for better travel.
So the ‘online’ traveller that was previously ‘offline’ is not a different traveller, he or she just has many more tools at their disposal now in order to research, construct and buy the travel combination that best suits their needs.
What this means for travel companies is we raise our game even further and respond with a better service.
How do we do this? Unfortunately for some firms, it’s going to be the old-fashioned route through innovation, focus and hard work.
We are firm believers that travellers appreciate efforts to make their travel buying a more tailored and individual experience. This is especially true in Europe, where travel needs often lead slightly off the beaten path, and ‘interesting’ rates above ‘popular’.
Over time, holidaymakers and travellers will increasingly demand the ability to exchange their views on destinations, transport and hotel providers.
The success of TripAdvisor, for example, now the second most-visited travel site on the Internet, is ample proof of this.
And it’s not a question of whether this is a good or bad thing for hoteliers, for example, it’s an expression of traveller power, so it’s here to stay.
Furthermore, the need for holding the traveller’s hand diminishes as their confidence increases in packaging their own components for their break.
However, this in turn will also increase the need for content to be easily found, reviewed and compared. Accommodation and transport providers who ignore this will get left behind.
A world where traveller demands become extraordinary will require extraordinary travel companies.
Patrik Oqvist is marketing director for Hotels.com