At the age of 25, I finally made it to Walt Disney World this past weekend! Outside of experiencing the wrath of Tropical Storm Faye, technical difficulties with the roller coasters, and the hibernation of the beloved Disney characters, it was an unforgettable experience. As I roamed the streets of Disney with my husband, I was fascinated by the English accents that I was surrounded by. It seemed that everywhere we turned; we were meeting people from England- probably due to the decline in the value of the Dollar. As I considered that for a moment, I wondered how each visitor actually booked their vacation. My husband and I booked our hotel online, but called and actually spoke to a customer service representative to purchase the tickets to Magic Kingdom. Did everyone else book their vacation this way as well? How is the online travel industry changing?
According to EMarketer, this year’s online US travel sales will reach $105 billion, a 12% increase from 2007. Yet, it appears that people’s online booking habits are changing. Fewer people are choosing to book their vacations directly through an online booking engine. With the boom of travel sites such as Expedia, the online traveler was in search of the lowest price. It wasn’t about loyalty to a particular online travel agency; it was all about which engine could offer the lowest price. In today’s economy, the lowest price is often a deciding factor, but the value of great customer service is still priceless. As we see the online travel industry expand, the importance of merging customer service with the convenience of the online booking engine is vital to growth.
I predict that we will see more travel sites such as www.tripadvisor.com appear. Trip Advisor has been a great success, due to its unbiased customer feedback. I also predict that we will see new travel sites emerge, such as www.tripology.com. Tripology allows you to set your destination and desires for your vacation. It then puts you in contact with a travel specialist who can find you the best deal.
If you are in the travel industry, there is no better time to start making improvements to your site. The site should be user friendly, the content should be fresh, but most importantly the site should offer booking convenience and customer service. If it doesn’t, the visitor will go elsewhere. I recommend incorporating a “Live Chat” into your site to give your visitor the option of communicating with someone directly. I also recommend having a blog or forum to give your customers the chance to provide feedback.
A change is happening in the online travel industry. Are you on board?