Improving the Online Travel Experience

Deepend Design Director, Noel Smetanig, has created a vast range of innovative design solutions for leading tourism brands, including the likes of P&O and Hamilton Island. Here, he delivers a one-way ticket to a better online travel experience for brands.

The tourism and travel industry is booming but with competition fierce and the online world the go-to place for dreaming, planning and booking, brands playing in this space need to ensure their digital footprint not only caters to consumer needs, but exceeds them.

Below are four things travel operators should consider in order to sharpen up the experience of taking a break.

1. Put your audience on holiday, before they’ve departed

Tactics to help achieve this include the use of the following:

Beautiful Images

Dazzling images are the key ingredient for the online travel experience. And unlike many other industries, travel and tourism don’t have to walk too far to get great imagery. Pictures tell a story and give the user an anticipatory mental image of what experiences they might be able to have at a destination. This mental image is an incredibly important part in guiding a mouse to the ‘Book Now’ button.

Strong Copywriting

Words get to the heart of what a traveller wants from their holiday. If they find these words on a website, it can be the clincher in putting up the ‘Sold Out’ sign. Well-crafted copy complements the imagery and helps further convey the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of a place.

Video

Nothing brings a destination and its potential experiences to life better than a video. The insights and excitement if can provoke make it a vital tool to funnel potential travellers through to booking.

Virtual Reality
 Increasingly popular in the tourism industry in particular, virtual reality experiences let potential travellers step into the videos they are watching. It can recreate sensory experiences including virtual taste, sight, smell, sound and touch, and trigger an emotional response, which is the key to prompting action.

Key heavyweights embracing the experiential enhancement that virtual reality allows include:

· Destination BC offers potential tourists a preview of what the province has to offer with a 360-degree video using Oculus Rift virtual reality technology. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SkHdRvPbv4

· Qantas provides guests with insights into the inflight experience.
 http://www.flightcentre.com.au/travel-news/travel-news/qantas-samsung-unveil-virtual-reality-experience/

· Marriott Hotels uses virtual reality to connect consumers with technology and travel innovation. 
 https://www.yahoo.com/tech/s/marriott-hotels-vr-connect-consumers-113002571.html

Design
 
The best travel websites are designed with a user experience flow that gently guides users to purchase. A bold and consistent style for ‘Book Now’ buttons also makes path to purchase clear and simple, regardless of where the user is on the site.

Additionally, keeping colours for content subtle, and introducing bolder colours for headings and calls to action can ensure imagery remains centre-stage.

2. Make it social

Most people have an innate desire to travel and naturally we want to tell the world about it, particularly when in the process of researching a trip. There are any platforms that encourage the sharing of plans with the aim to build upon itineraries or collect suggestions from like-minded friends or travellers, including:

· TripAdvisor — provides an easy Facebook connection through which information can be shared and accrued via ‘your friends’

· Tripoto — allows users to share trips with other travellers.

· Hamilton Island — provides the opportunity to share every part of their website

· Expedia — adds every step you take during your site visit to ‘My Scratchpad’, from which users can jump back to everything viewed during the research phase and share it with others

Encouraging sharing has a powerful effect on brands in the online travel and tourism environment. Indeed, the research team at Twitter HQ found “One in two users say Twitter content is influential in their consideration of a travel brand”.

User-generated reviews and ratings are also helping future travellers make decisions with confidence. According to traveller research studies from Google, both leisure and business travellers are more influenced by each other, as opposed to information from travel brands, so encouraging the sharing of photos post-trip can help improve loyalty via user-content.

3. Prioritise performance

Brands have 250 milliseconds to capture the attention of a user online before they decide a site is too slow and head to a competitor site. Here, given the rich and large imagery used on most travel websites, performance can be an issue. The goal must be to find a balance between performance and creative direction, while also being respectful of the user’s time and bandwidth.

Research also shows that 31 per cent of smartphone users research travel on their phones on their way to work and amazingly, 94 per cent of TripAdvisor’s traffic is via mobile. This means optimising for mobile must be a consideration.

Here’s a comparison of major holiday experience booking websites in terms of performance.

4. Make booking easy

Making it fast and simple to book online is the most crucial aspect of a travel website, and this relates back to having a streamlined user experience during the booking process.

A recent global survey by SaleCycle showed that eight in 10 travel website users have abandoned their online travel bookings. And of them, one in 10 abandoned the process because it was just too complicated[1]. Simple tactics to improve the booking experience include:

· Reducing the amount of fields to fill out by enabling pre-fill. For example, if there is a choice of room A, B or C, then A is preselected as it is the most popular

· Minimising the number of immediate decisions required, allowing a return to indicate preferences after booking. For example, informing a user that they can come back and choose seats later.

· Implementing a progress bar to give the user a visual cue for how far through the booking progress they are.

While providing a good online experience is clearly key to converting potential customers into new ones, many brands are still lagging behind or in a state of transition. As such, a strong opportunity exists for savvy operators to lead the market and gain buy-in from experience-focused consumers with a digital roadmap carefully crafted for their benefit.

Sources

· https://blog.twitter.com/2014/three-new-insights-for-travel-brands-on-twitter

· http://ssl.gstatic.com/think/docs/2013-traveler_research-studies.pdf

· http://www.salecycle.com/the-reasons-for-booking-abandonment/