Online Travel Sites Set a High Bar

high jump athlete track and fieldMany industries leverage websites to engage consumers, build relationships and of course sell goods and services. The online travel ecosystem is diverse, including suppliers (such as hotel chains and airlines), third-party sellers that sell or at least let consumers compare multiple brands (including online travel agencies), advice and commentary sites, and many others. The diversity reflects that billions are spent on travel each year. The downside is that travel is often a discretionary purchase, so the industry’s websites—by definition—need to be more alluring and effective than sites for many other industries.

Compete asked nearly 800 online consumers to compare travel sites to non–travel websites across several attributes. Respondents were general online population rather than experienced travelers to control for any bias associated with online experienced travelers.

Travel Sites vs. Non-Travel Sites

At a high level, travel sites were better than non-travel sites on all measures, with is a solid positive for the industry in general. And, consistent with continued growth on use of online for travel, the biggest advantage for travel sites was “prices vs. the same products offline”: 40% reported than online travel sites offer better prices than do offline locations, vs. 10% for non-travel sites. The magnitude of this advantage may reflect the diversity of traditional travel agents and the level of discounting now common in the online travel space.

comparing travel sites to non-travel sites

“Accuracy of information” and “ease of purchase” were also solid wins for travel. Accuracy may reflect some of the fixed elements associated with travel. For example, hotels are fixed locations and everyone has a pretty good idea what an airplane seat is and what extra legroom means.

Ease of purchase and ease of navigation, however, are most likely results the industry has earned on its own, driven by years of experience and the competitive nature of the travel industry. Ease of purchase results are also notable because of recurring focus on extra changes and “hidden” fees. Logically, the strength of travel including “accuracy” and “ease of purchase” should set the stage for better conversion of shoppers to buyers.

Consumer Volume

But what’s the potential? One of Compete’s hundreds of behavioral categories (grouping of behaviors, such as visits to a set of related sites) is “Travel Enthusiast.” The category averages about 30 million unique visitors per month (not clicks or sessions, but unique people—as ascertained by leveraging several of Compete’s patented normalization elements). Each one spending just $500 on travel equals $15B per year, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg: The Bureau of Economic Affairs reports $791B of direct travel and tourism spending in Q3 2010 alone.

unique visitors for travel enthusiasts behavioral category

Next Steps

The results are positives for the travel industry overall, and suggest that other industries have something to learn. As noted above, the online travel ecosystem is very diverse and it’s not realistic to think that all sites in the space perform at such high levels. Additional granularity and context would help reveal true best practices from generalized results. Means to get that include:

  • Enhance the Survey
    • Compare results for travel with a subset of non-travel sites, such as those that also focus on higher-priced discretionary spending (such as the automotive industry)
    • Quantify results for suppliers sites vs. OTAs vs. other sites
    • Compare results by industry (air, hotel, rental car, cruise, etc.) and by brand
  • Add Digital Context
    • Correlate perceptions with actions, notably booking and loyalty. This can be done by correlating survey results with booking effectiveness to reveal which attributes have the greatest influence on driving consumers to book.
About Lincoln Merrihew:
Lincoln Merrihew is the Senior Vice President of Transportation at Millward Brown Digital. At Millward Brown Digital, Lincoln is responsible for steering the Transportation Team, which encompasses the automotive and travel practices. Before Lincoln joined the Millward Brown Digital team, he worked at TNS Custom leading the Automotive team, and then continued on there to lead business development for 10 different industry verticals. Lincoln's career aspiration is to create game-changing solutions and insights. Connect with Lincoln on LinkedIn.