We’re all familiar with EasyJet and I’m sure that many of us have had the pleasure of travelling with them at some point in our lives, be it for business or leisure. The headline-grabbing budget airline recently announced its intentions to expand its online holiday business, taking it one step further on the journey to becoming a complete holiday provider.
Is this a straight-forward move to snap up a greater market share, or is it more likely a strategic move linked to the growing demand for consumers to book their whole holiday from a single place. In 2017, 87% of Britons took a holiday, either in the UK or abroad – and 83% of them booked their holidays online, compared to just 17% who did it in person.
We’ve seen travel agents all but vanish from the high street in the last 10 years. In fact, those born in the 2000s are unlikely to have ever been in one. For their benefit, let’s take a walk down memory lane: a travel agent’s job would involve taking the time to get to know the customer, asking them about their needs, budget and preferences. At that stage, they would combine these details with their own experience and knowledge. The result? The customer walks out of the shop with a fully booked, personalised holiday, from start to finish!
We’ve moved from the golden age of the package holiday, where the travel agent supported customers through the bewildering range of options to a savvy new generation of consumers who expect to be able to tailor every aspect of their holiday online for themselves. And this is exactly why brands like EasyJet are looking to offer more than just flights.
Front runners in the travel sector such as Airbnb have shown how important authentic, local experiences are to people – with the site not only letting people stay in real homes across the globe but also allowing hosts and city dwellers to build their own experiences on the site.
However, most travel websites have been slow to catch on to this trend and still don’t have the capabilities to offer this level of service, so what do they need to start thinking about?
Make it personal
With more data than ever now at our fingertips, travel websites should be using customer data to create individualised journeys. By collating personal data from multiple channels such as social media accounts, brands can begin to build individual customer profiles. This information can then be used to suggest and guide holidaymakers to relevant content. One word of warning though: brands should be transparent about how they’re using customer data and need to ensure customers opt-in so that they don’t harm the trust in their brand.
Make it easy
When thinking about their website design, travel companies should focus on curating and structuring content in a way that makes it simple for the user to find what they are looking for. Even if a website has everything a customer could ever ask for, having to navigate a complex journey will frustrate consumers and increase the likelihood of them leaving the site.
It’s also important to remember that not all users browse online in the same way – some are focussed bookers who know exactly what they want, and others are looking for a more inspirational, experiential journey.
Make it insightful
The latest breakthroughs in data analysis and machine learning not only make it possible for travel websites to suggest trips based on the data that customers provide, but also to leverage data taken from external sources. For example, if someone is searching for ‘activities in London’ and the company knows they like active experiences – but the weather reports say it will be raining – the website could suggest a number of indoor sporting activities. This insight will help customers pick the right experiences and also help them make the most of their day out.
Make it help retention
Ultimately, a brand wants a customer to book every aspect of their trip on its site; they don’t want them just booking a hotel, then heading to a different website for car hire and another one to arrange additional activities. Designing the website so that it can effectively suggest relevant added extras at the right times will help keep holidaymakers on the site. A great example of this is Booking.com; it has designed a tool that not only maps out the customer’s full holiday itinerary, but also gives examples and suggestions throughout to make sure that the person is staying on the site and booking their entire holiday through Booking.com.
Make it good at upselling
Basket abandonment on travel websites is a real issue, with many online shoppers often making it all the way to the check-out and then exiting. This is likely because they are trying to find out if there are any hidden costs – we’ve all done it! Using chatbots and automated follow ups can be a fantastic way to convert those baskets into sales. For example, a chatbot could pop up and offer customers a discount if they check out in the next 20 minutes to help encourage them to complete, rather than exit and make a decision later.
The opportunities presented to the travel industry by these technologies are huge. But while aspiring to offer highly personalised customer experiences is all very well, getting the implementation right is crucial. The most important thing is that brands use customer data in a positive way. After all, providing a personalised experience is only good if customers find it engaging and useful. Failures in this area can quickly damage trust, and ultimately cause more harm than good.