On February 26th, 2014, PASS Business Research invited to the 10th Online Travel Awards 2014 in Frankfurt, Germany. Under a lot of media attention, booking.com was awarded No.1 in several categories.
PASS based its findings on a complex study it had conducted in 2014 about the quality of 27 German travel websites.
Priceline.com which owns booking.com, was also recently ranked No.3 in The Travel Weekly’s 2013 power list, so they must obviously do something right that attracts not only customers to their websites but also keeps them using it over and over again.
So let’s take a closer look at the PASS study
Our experts studied the look and feel of the various online websites in regards to leisure travel, hotel and flight content, usability, multimedia ability, customer service, as well as asked individual users for their personal experience with the particular website they were using at the moment.
The study tried to find out what the actual users expected from the respective travel websites. The majority of the travelers wanted to get inspired about future travels or find information on current travel destinations. Most of the users had been on the websites already several times. Most of the individual website users stated to be mostly satisfied with the information and booking process on the respective websites they were using. Nevertheless stated most users they would welcome more diversified filter options that would allow them to individualize their searches. When prompted, if the travelers used other sources for information on their travels, like pictures or reviews on destinations, many of them stated to enlist the help of search engines and travel blogs or online travel communities.
The findings of our experts, though, varied in several aspects that I would like to outline below.
It was astounding that in general all the online travel websites we analyzed are able to fulfill the ideal requirements for booking applications, service, usability and mobile application only up to 49%. Especially the lack of the individual experience and search and filter options which don’t even meet today’s technological standards to name but a few were named as the top issues in the study.
Hardly any of the analyzed websites offered any innovation in regards to features and display of content. Everything is the same old as it has been for years on many of the websites, with the slight exception of the top hotel booking websites. All of them forego the check for availability and instead work with real time availability which helps to avoid multiple and time consuming searches when the desired trip/date/price is not available in the end.
Another big issue is customer service or the lag thereof. Finding customer service contact information if required or wanted is often hard and confusing. Often the possibility to get help via chat or social media is underused. Also many times there is no way to revisit searches, look up travel documents or itineraries in the form of a log in that would allow the customer to self-service his account by canceling trips or changing customer information without the need to again find a customer service contact that does the changes for him. These features pose a great possibility for the companies to relieve their back offices and attract future customer that like to be more flexible.
Many companies still underuse the possibilities of smart phone and tablets that might exclude a whole lot of future customers. Which leads me to the overall usability of the websites: More or less is the usability on all analyzed websites satisfactory but I still ask myself why is there, ever so often no possibility to save search preferences and filter options? It would save time and be more efficient for the customer to be able to revisit searches and not start all over again every time he wants to change something or is looking for a new trip with the same search criteria. It might even increase customer loyalty.
In the end I see a chance for real growth and an overall need for innovation. In which many of the companies still lag behind. Too much of the same old and been there that doesn’t take the customer experience to a higher level. A couple of the companies which we awarded this year showed a way how it could be done differently and slightly better. Especially the top 3 awarded in the category “Hotels” made the best cut in fulfilling up to 70% of our study criteria. So congratulations to booking.com which ranked highest in its mobile application and in regards to its hotel booking application. Yet, our study also shows that there is still a lot that needs to change. Some of these companies are already heading into the right direction but it is by far not enough make up for a truly great online booking experience.
If you should be interested to find out more about the PASS Online Travel Study 2014, please feel free to contact us. Unfortunately, so far, it is only available in German. We are planning on conducting a similar study for the US market in the near future. So, stay tuned.
Image by nikkytok