Guest Post: Travel sites must keep up with rising customer expectations

By Enrique Duvos, Director, product marketing & enablement, Akamai Technologies

Pioneering travel operators made their first tentative steps into the brave new world of the internet over a decade ago. Looking back to the first travel and hotel websites, we can appreciate just how far technology has since come.

As advancements like high-speed connections began to replace the now archaic dial-up experience, travellers adjusted their expectations of the companies they visited online to book their holidays.

Every year, functionality, speed and usability standards have moved forward and travel companies must continually invest if they are to stay competitive in these fundamental service areas.

As part of a mature eCommerce industry, travel websites have evolved mainly to satisfy the demands of online consumers, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Widespread broadband Internet usage has raised expectations and as a result travel customers are now looking for an easy journey through intuitive search and filter functions without having to wait more than a couple of seconds for pages to load. Travel operators deliver poor site performance at their peril.

Interstitial displays are often not enough to keep visitors’ attention, and many will either become distracted from the process while they wait, or worse, abandon the site entirely.

Travel companies devote tremendous resources to attracting customers to their sites, but, ultimately, in today’s hypercompetitive environment, no operator can afford to let the speed or reliability of its site slip behind.

To stay ahead of the game, travel providers need to:

1. Continually invest in their online functionality, speed and usability to stay competitive, satisfy customers and deliver revenue – Standards for travel sites are moving forward, and those that can’t deliver a fast, engaging and reliable experience will lose transactions and customer loyalty.

They need to accelerate their page response times in order to meet the increasing demands of customers. A better website performance leads to less abandonment, particularly amongst higher-value customers such as business travelers and many loyalty program members.

2. Look for solutions that improve web experiences on any device, anywhere – Mobile web penetration is now nearly ubiquitous across Western Europe and in the UK- where one in five online travel bookings are already made on mobile devices – smartphone ownership is projected to exceed 50% of the population for the first time in 2014.

Increasingly affordable smartphones, improving roaming charges and faster mobile data network speeds are combining to create an explosive growth in web and mobile volumes which travel providers must be prepared to harness while avoiding the cost of new infrastructure.

3. Think of new ways to engage and convert prospects into customers – Streaming video is a particularly effective way to inform and engage prospective travellers but providers must use solutions that remove the complexities of delivering rich media to enable them to meet user expectations for broadcast-quality online video.

4. Use a highly scalable edge defence system which can detect potential security attacks before they can reach the data centre – Security is paramount to fend-off cyber-attacks and to maintain site availability, retain customers and protect applications and data against sophisticated attacks – all without sacrificing performance – and to provide guaranteed uptime and peace of mind.

Travel firms need to protect customer data and ensure PCI compliance by integrating advanced security capabilities with their existing security infrastructure.

The progress of technology is rapid, but the fact remains that online travel customers tend to favour a small group of tried and tested websites. This is why first impressions are so important, and ever evolving mobile technologies must be embraced, because they represent the new opportunity for growth and development.

Research has shown an increase in bookings made on smartphones, but despite this less than half of travel companies offer a mobile-optimised site, and a third have no mobile presence at all.³

If travel companies want to be ready to meet customer demands, they can no longer ignore mobile and must ensure that cutting edge functionality, and ease of use is available, not just on their website, but on any device that a customer uses to interact with them.

Only this way will they meet demanding consumer expectations and stay ahead of the competition.

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