November 3, 2009
This post has been moved to my new home on the web www.steve-e.co.uk. The post itself can be found here. 23Musings is going to remain dormant for now and some of its more popular posts will be transferred to the blog at my new site.
My reason for moving and not taking the years of posts with me is the need for a fresh start, 23Musings had been dormant for long enough for me to feel it was time to start my blog from scratch.
Don’t forget to check out my new blog! www.steve-e.co.uk/blog
September 21, 2009
This post has been moved to my new blog and can now be found here.
February 21, 2008
Detail is here at Hotelmarketing.com but in a nutshell this seems to suggest that the old model of ‘booking engine only’ websites is losing favour as users want a richer, more immersive and customer focused experience rather than simply a one size fits all approach to buying travel online.
The online travel industry has dropped 1.3% as a whole, Expedia lost 3.8% and now scores 75 (the highest).
The next generation of travel websites can’t be far away, hopefully the advances in technology will allow customer satisfaction to be dramatically improved through the use of advanced usability techniques, customer profiling and tools which enable rather than just sell, sell, sell.
January 23, 2008
So says the usability guru Jakob Nielsen in his latest article.
He says that the returns from usability have lessened in recent times due to the fact that websites just aren’t as bad as they used to be. Big pat on the back for all designers and developers out there but don’t get complacent! Usability is hugely important and should never be underestimated, small tweaks to the user experience can often result in huge returns.
Another reason he gives for slowing ROI is that usability budgets have not grown in line with other budgets and that there still isn’t enough importance placed on usability studies and testing.
December 19, 2007
Great post from Jakob Nielsen on the dangers of going web 2.0 crazy from a usability point of view!
Highly poingant as we’re implementing a lot of AJAX at the moment. Overkill is deadly and could trash your conversion rate. Keep it minimal, useful, effective (AJAX is great for some things, pointless for others), simple, usable and give clear instructions where needed.
I agree with his pitch on user generated content as well. Pointless if your audience/customers aren’t ready for it or if you have nothing interesting for them to talk about (that said, great in an emotive environment such as online travel if used wisely).
November 26, 2007
One of the things I found really strange when I started in the travel industry a few years ago was where in the year the peak booking periods occur. I’d been used to working on e-commerce projects in industries which either had steady purchase patterns, peaks prior to christmas in retails or really pronounced peaks in B2B markets (renewals periods etc). Travel however peaks at two times of the year (as far as I can tell anyway) and is fairly steady the rest of the time.
It’s not the the fact that it peaks twice that I found strange, rather it’s when those peaks occur.
The first peak travel booking period I encountered was in July and August. This was mainly late bookings for the autumn and winter period and consisted of a lot of people looking for bargains and breaks to the sun. This struck me as an odd time to have a peak in bookings. It’s perfectly understandable for people to be booking such holidays at that time of year, a lot had just come back from holiday and were looking forward to the next and others are in the midst of the school holidays and wondering what to do with the kids during autumn half-term. I just didn’t expect the volumes that occured.
The second peak I encountered is the more pronounced one in January and February. Now this seemed really odd to me. Christmad just out the way, major expenditure has happened in nearly every household and yet here were consumers planning and purchasing holidays for next summer with price tags in the thousands. I can understand the winter blues effect but it still seems alien to me that this is the period which can see an online travel company make it through the year if bookings are succesful at this time.
So what to expect this year?
Economically it’s not looking so good this year. Consumer confidence has been dented by the current market instability and disposable cash is not going to be as readily available to some. This could result in some companies seeing less growth year-on-year than in previous peak seasons. This could work in the favour of tour operators who take deposit payments to secure bookings and allow consumers to pay the rest off in installments. The online travel agents will be the ones who feel the pinch (if indeed there is one) as they expect full payment up front for all bookings.
Traffic is well up though. Currently, traffic to online travel websites is up 15-20% year-on-year, that trend should continue into the peak months and could be more evidence of the continued shift to online booking channels in the travel marketplace. It’s also testament to the maturing of the online marketing activities of travel companies. I hope you’ve got your infrastructure sorted out or the rush of visitors to your sites could make them grind to a halt unless you’re prepared!
Bookings so far this year are also up with the industry as a whole seeing far more bookings going through on their websites. Again, this should continue into the peak months.
So all in all we should see a decent peak period again this year. It’s at this time of the year that e-commerce teams in the travel industry are optimising their websites, performing last minute usability, launching new functionality and expanding their hosting capacity in order to be in peak condition for January. It’s a really busy time for us but the effort will be well worth it when January comes and you can reap the benefits.
A succesful January can make or break a travel company and preparing your online channel for this could be the activity with the single highest ROI that you undertake this year!
November 6, 2007
Less is more it would seem when it comes to search interfaces. Just look at Google to see the less-is-more approach at it’s best. Their minimal approach to the search homepage works really well, although I do think a big reason for that is that their algorithm is much better at returning relevant results with minimal input from the user.
Prof. John Maeda of MIT Media Lab had put together an interesting image showing the development of both Google and Yahoo’s homepage over time. It’s really interesting to see how Yahoo lost their way and Google stayed true to the minimal approach. Click the image below to see a full size version:
October 30, 2007
So online travel is motoring along as ever. Sales are rising and the number of participant websites is growing all the time. However, in the U.S. the word (courtesy the NY Times) is that 9 percent fewer people booked travel online this year than in 2005. This has come from a Forrester research survey of 60,000 U.S. web users. It is the first time since Forrester began tracking Internet spending a decade ago that a category (in this case online travel) has lost shoppers.
Another survey (results coming soon) from PhoCusWright shows that the percentage of travel shoppers booking online has dipped while the percentage booking offline has risen.
Is this something to be concerned about? Maybe. There’s a few reasons this could be happening. Perhaps customers are looking to book more and more complex trips, and therefore aren’t booking online as they feel the confidence instilled by a travel agent is necessary before parting with money for an adventurous trip. Or perhaps users are beginning to backlash against the standard online travel functionalities that haven’t changed much in the last ten years.
Henry Harteveldt, Forrester’s online travel analyst says “Customers are tired of spending two or three hours trying to find the airline or hotel or vacation package that meets their needs.” He says (like I do) that sites need to step away from asking for specifics in order to complete a search. He says “Nowhere can you say, ‘I have this amount of money to spend on a trip. These are my interests. This is where I live. Show me my options,’” he said. “Whereas online retailers have done a much better job of improving the shopping experience in recent years, the travel industry has been standing still.”
The NY Times article goes on to discuss the lack of innovation that is due to outdated reservation systems and mentions the Travelocity Road Trip Wizard I discussed earlier. Yes, lack of functionality in reservation systems is a major issue, also the technological complexity of querying multiple bed banks and GDS’ makes user intuitive searching almost impossible to create.
So, who is going to be in a position to benefit from this trend of user/customer decline? It could be the tour operators. Many of them are in the process of upgrading their systems to new dynamic package capable ones which will interface much better with intelligent search functionality. Also, they don’t need to query the bed banks as often as they have contracted bed stock so can cache availability and present it in a much more usability focussed manner than the likes of Expedia with their multi-connections to other suppliers. Of course the only problem is the lack of innovation generally at tour operators and also the desire they seem to have to become the next Expedia. That’s not the way forwards anymore. Rather than trying to emulate the online travel agents, tour operators should be trying to become the next big thing.