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The Reality of Online Innovation


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Sapient's travel experts tested leading European travel websites.
The advent of the Internet and e-commerce has forced travel and hospitality industry players to change their sales and distribution game plans in recent years. Due to the nature of the travel industry, the change has had more impact than in most of the other industries. Some of the symptoms of this change include heavy investments in online technology, the exponentially growing number of direct connects, emergence of the zero-commission model, meta-crawlers and alternative content aggregation providers.

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The Reality of Online Innovation

  1. 1. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 1 The Reality of Online Innovation Sapient´s travel experts tested leading European travel websites © 2007 sapient corporation
  2. 2. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 2 Table of Contents Introduction 3 Matter of research and report highlights 4 Main deficiencies and best practices that 6 were found: Six key features of website usability Customer experience 7 Customer service: Supporting the customer in completing the sales process Search: Customers benefit from usability improvements for data entry Travel Planning: Consumers are shoppers Internationalization: Multi-lingual destination names 13 are not fully implemented User-generated travel content: Some players are 14 leading the way for making users heard Mobile services: Most customers user their mobile 15 phones – most travel companies do not Cross-selling: Hotel sites do not offer cross selling 16 products Desktop tools: The forgotten heavy users 18 Conclusion 20 © 2007 sapient corporation
  3. 3. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 3 Introduction The advent of the Internet and e-commerce has forced travel and hospitality industry players to change their sales and distribution game plans in recent years. Due to the nature of the travel industry, the change has had more impact than in most of the other industries. Some of the symptoms of this change include heavy investments in online technology, the exponentially growing number of direct connects, emergence of the zero-commission model, meta-crawlers and alternative content aggregation providers. The underlying drivers of business change have also shifted. Initially, technology was driving the business, but it is now the change in consumer behaviour that drives online distribution of all travel products to reach 50% by 2010. While some players in the industry have adapted well to the changing environment, others are falling behind. Where the ultimate acceptance of the online channel by the consumer is labelled with buzz-words such as Web 2.0, we have asked ourselves how major European online players are keeping up with hot trends, and whether there are new things to learn across different sub-segments of the industry. © 2007 sapient corporation
  4. 4. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 4 Matter of research and report highlights The research study conducted by travel experts from Sapient´s Interactive Service Group and Business Analysis and Research Team examined twelve leading European travel websites at the beginning of 2007. We found out that while most of the analyzed websites have mastered the basic requirements of the online booking process, only few have embraced the evolution in consumer behaviour. These deficiencies can quickly drive potential customers to other options – a shift that is difficult and expensive to reverse. Our research objectives were to understand how online travel trends are evolving and what best practices and areas of improvement could be identified by looking at how leading travel websites are responding to these trends. Based on the results of the research we identified six key opportunities that are critical for best-in-class travel organizations. • User experience: Websites can still improve the shopping experience. This will increase the chance of a look that may actually turn into a booking. Opportunities include the deployment of modern functionality to support the basic search of destinations and itineraries, as well as the prominent placement of support options if and when a customer struggles with the self-service process. • Internationalization: Choosing the language according to preference is a regular feature of travel websites today. However, not every traveller is familiar with destination names that are made available in foreign languages. Multi- lingual city, region and country names help customers avoiding incertitude with the spelling. © 2007 sapient corporation
  5. 5. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 5 • User-generated travel content: Rating sites have become a standard in e-retail, and are finding broad acceptance in travel. While many companies tremble at the thought of a negative review, some industry players have adopted Web 2.0 to drive their own business. • Mobile services: Consumers love their mobiles. As a result, this medium can be used to increase loyalty through new services delivered at mobile touch points. Introducing mobile services such as SMS based itinerary alerts or targeted location-based offers to customers are examples of how this can be done. • Cross-selling: Once a customer has decided to book, additional revenue streams can be generated with little effort. Interestingly most players make use of this, except for the hotel segment, where the cross-sell functionality is rare. • Desktop Tools: A small but attractive segment of consumers can be reached through this channel. The escalating spend on online marketing is an indication of how much companies continue to fight for consumer attention. Exploring with the implementation of the opportunities mentioned above will improve return on investment. The scope of companies that were assessed in this study included the sub-segments airlines, hotels, online travel agencies (OTA) and tour operators. The following chart shows the companies under assessment. © 2007 sapient corporation
  6. 6. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 6 Airlines Hotels (rather language than British Airways country specific) Accor (Language - English, Country - UK) (Language – English) Lufthansa Intercontinental (Language - English, Country – DE) (Language – English) EasyJet (Language – English, Country - UK) (Language – English) Online Travel Agencies Tour Operators Expedia TUI (Language - English, Country - UK) (Language - German, Country – DE) Last minute Kuoni (Language - French, Country - FR) (Language - English, Country - UK) Travelocity Thomas Cook (Language - English, Country - UK) (Language - English, Country - UK) Main deficiencies and best practices that were found Six key features of website usability Sapient´s travel experts developed a catalogue of six features that were regarded as essential contributions to website usability. These features include: customer experience, internationalization, user-generated travel content, mobile services, cross-selling and desktop tools. The results of the research study demonstrate profitable opportunities to implement and best practices for each feature in the catalogue. © 2007 sapient corporation
  7. 7. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 7 Customer experience Customer service: Supporting the customer in completing the sales process Ultimately, the service that a customer experiences will determine whether they complete the purchase, and whether they will come back the next time. While consumers are increasingly Internet- savvy, new users sometimes struggle with the self-service process. Also, there are times when the system may not provide the expected or desired outcome. While improvements to site usability are a key driver to increase the number of self-service transactions, there will always be times when the customer needs help and support with the online process. At such times the availability, convenience and effectiveness of other support channels can make the difference between a loyal customer and one that would switch to a different site. All surveyed sites offer email support and provide a call centre number for queries during the business hours. However, the ease of locating this number varies on the different sites. Expedia, Lastminute and Travelocity make the numbers easily accessible during the booking process, whereas Lufthansa keeps the number under the Help/Contact section. It is evident from the findings of this survey, that EasyJet has carefully weighed the cost of providing offline support against the cost of customer acquisition. The company’s web support call center charges £1 per minute, and their published email response time of up to 20 working days (see the following chart) is a clear indication that EasyJet prefers a shopper to discontinue the booking process over the cost of providing support. © 2007 sapient corporation
  8. 8. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 8 Call center number needs to be found by going to the Help section Customers are urged to resolve queries via online help as web support calls are charged and email queries have a standard response time of 20 working days None of the sites surveyed made use of the technical improvements in IP-based voice communication by offering an option to chat with an agent online, a call-back service or more advanced tools where call center agents can remotely control the user interface. Search: Customers benefit from usability improvements for data entry Most shopping and booking processes start with the search for a destination, then follows the itinerary, package or offer and the selection of travel dates. Deploying technology in these areas improves site usability, helps users avoid errors and enhances site interaction from the beginning. It is a well-balanced combination of usability tools that will cater to consumer needs. For destination entry, a mix of drop-down lists (dynamically generated) or the use of an interactive Ajax wizard which prompts useful options after the first few letters improve the © 2007 sapient corporation
  9. 9. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 9 user experience. In addition, the use of maps for visualization of the selected entry, or as a means of selecting the destination is convenient for the visual-minded. Date entry is a basic function that all sites should have mastered by now. Best practice elements include the option of typing a date or the use of clicking an interactive calendar, prevention of invalid date inputs, and meaningful default values. All surveyed sites support calendar entry for dates and blank out past dates. Only Accor, Lufthansa, EasyJet and Lastminute provide default dates. Lufthansa sets both outbound and inbound, and automatically corrects the return date on changing the outbound date. Apart from Lastminute and Accor, all other sites allow incorrect date entry by either typing or choosing invalid options from the dropdown. The error is flagged after submitting. The finding of the research study show that interactive support across all the sites can be improved. Only the best-in-class British Airways and Kuoni have Ajax wizards to prompt destination names after the first three letters (see the following chart). Ajax wizard for destination name prompt appears after typing three letters Date input via calendar or text box. Past dates are blocked out on the calendar. Incorrect dates can be entered manually, and result in an error being displayed on submit © 2007 sapient corporation
  10. 10. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 10 Accor, Intercontinental, Kuoni and Expedia provide interactive maps to choose destinations and to visualize search results. However, good search technology is not only a matter of useful features but also of content quality. Searching “Bretagne” on the Intercontinental website does not show hotels in the region but rather lists hotels which have the term in their name - sometimes located in an entirely different area. It would be interesting to observe an international customer’s expressions upon arrival. Even with the availability of data entry tools, errors do happen when the user entry does not correspond with system expectations. It is therefore imperative to have clear and understandable error messages. The same applies to the provision of assistance, user guidance and meaningful correction for typing errors. Most sites provide helpful error messages and meaningful correction of typing errors. Expedia displays the error messages on a new page, showing only fields with input errors, and offering corrections where feasible. This puts Expedia in the best-in-class category (see the following chart). Error messages are displayed prominently and along with the error fields Typing error assistance – possible location options are provided for incorrect location entered © 2007 sapient corporation
  11. 11. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 11 Travel Planning: Consumers are Shoppers Consumers use the web for shopping – a process which is often not streamlined, but rather sees users compare different options on the site, follow different click paths and doubling back. That is why iterative navigation in a session is very useful. Iterative navigation means that forward and backward navigation should be allowed, without losing data already entered. Online Shoppers get frustrated when they have to enter data multiple times. Customers prefer to be able to personalize their personal profile, resulting in pre-population of forms with the settings according to the profile. More features that would make the shopping experience better include: adding a selection to a “shopping cart”, the possibility to email the itinerary or the search results to someone else, and the basic feature of being able to bookmark a specific selection (see the following chart). Users can personalize the profile and searches are prepopulated based on the settings. Web check-in and online seat selection are available – seat selection is allowed only for certain passenger categories. Iterative navigation using the “Back” button is only possible until the price page. It is not possible to email the itinerary or search results to friends, prior to booking. © 2007 sapient corporation
  12. 12. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 12 Except for Kuoni, Travelocity, and Thomas Cook, all other sites allow some level of personalization of the website profile. Typically, name and address details can be stored and pre- populated during the booking process. There is therefore no need to insert them more than once. However, none of the surveyed sites pre-populate a preferred departure airport for flight search. Lastminute (France) only allows the storage of payment details tied to an email address to enable rapid booking and does not have registration or account functionality. Travelocity creates an account based on the email address supplied during booking. As evident from our research study, most sites support some iterative navigation until the itinerary or passenger details stage. After this stage this functionality becomes unavailable. In most cases, when the customer tries to go back after this stage, all previously entered data is lost, the page expires and details need to be resubmitted. Intercontinental is an exception as it allows the user to go back from the payments page and does not require a page refresh. Lastminute allows the user to press the back button during booking, only needing a refreshing of the page after the passenger details have been entered. Users of Travelocity benefit from iterative navigation without having to refresh the page, but there is data loss in some cases. The book-marking feature is offered only by very few sites. The same also applies to the feature that allows the customer to email their itinerary to someone. Expedia and Lastminute offer both of these features. © 2007 sapient corporation
  13. 13. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 13 Internationalization: Multi-lingual destination names are not fully implemented In a global business, major international travel websites should ideally allow users to choose the language of the site according to their preference and independently of country location. In most cases the assessed websites offer several languages to their customers and fulfil this demand to a certain extent. However, a big challenge though is the support for multi-lingual processing of destination names. Almost all websites offer this feature at some level. Flight searches, for example, support multi- lingual city names and sometimes country names and most hotel searches support multi-lingual city, region and country names. Available dropdown lists help international customers to choose a country while avoiding uncertainty of foreign spellings. In the worst case scenario, travellers will experience processing problems if they are not familiar with the English name of their destination, if strictly required by the web interface. When it comes to multi-lingual destination names the website of Accor is in the best-in-class category. It allows the identification of cities, regions and countries in different languages and also offers a list of sample translations (see the following chart for an example). © 2007 sapient corporation
  14. 14. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 14 Site language depends on country, Offers change depending on the country, Prices always in Euros There is multi- lingual support for destination names. Searching for Deutschland, on the English site, gives multiple destination options in Germany User-generated travel content: Some players are leading the way for making users heard With the advent and consumer acceptance of experience sharing communities - also referred to as social computing - travel companies need to decide whether to ignore these rapidly growing forums, whether to integrate external offerings or to build their own offerings with the chance of controlling content and increasing loyalty. User-generated content like reviews, communities or blogs serve as reference and allow customers to talk about their experience with a company. Customers can post travel reviews and view reviews posted by others and by that contribute to the content of a website. At this time only Expedia, TUI and Lastminute offer user- generated travel content on their website. Expedia offers hotel reviews and ratings. They have partnered with which offers reviews and opinions. TUI has recently launched a section on its site, which allows users to enter reviews and browse reviews entered by others. TUI UK, also known as Thomson Holidays, has a travel blog on its website. © 2007 sapient corporation
  15. 15. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 15 Lastminute is best-in-class and uses Web 2.0 technologies most comprehensively. The website includes features which allow users to rate and enter comments about any site product. The French site has a section called “Meetic” which serves as a starting point for people looking to meet others. Users can enter profile information for themselves and also the kind of people they are looking to meet and look at profiles of members. There are events, where Meetic members can participate and meet face to face. An example of this is MeeticLive (see the following chart). Throughout the site there is a link to entering reviews saying “Votre avis nos interesse” On clicking this link users can enter ratings and corresponding reviews or notes for each product in a popup window Mobile services: Most customers use their mobile phones – most travel companies do not The vast majority of customers use mobile phones for their daily communication. Sending SMS alerts when changes occur is one way to increase customer interaction and reduce operational cost. Providing SMS based value-add services, such as itinerary alerts or targeted location-based offers to customers is a good way to build customer loyalty. © 2007 sapient corporation
  16. 16. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 16 However, very few sites provide SMS alerts. It is primarily the airlines that have this functionality. The best-in-class example, Lufthansa, uses SMS to provide auto alerts, and many other functions like account balance, flight information and so on, for its loyalty program (Miles & More) members (see the following chart). Lufthansa also allows its senior Miles & More members to check-in using SMS. British Airways has teamed up with Vodafone to provide text alerts on rates and offers. Accor Hotels also provide reservation confirmation by SMS. Cross-selling: Hotel sites do not offer cross-selling products Cross-selling is an easy way to generate additional revenue, as a result of the existing relationship with a customer. Dynamic packaging functions (for example, hotel + flight, flight + car rental, etc.) and order integrated cross-selling (for example, links to offers or other products, after selecting one product) simplify the buying process for customers. © 2007 sapient corporation
  17. 17. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 17 This is because easily-accessible complementary products and services save time and sometimes also save money, especially when there are special package rates. Although cross-selling has been widely adopted across the industry, interestingly none of the hotel sites assessed provides this feature. Expedia, TUI, Travelocity, Thomas Cook and Lastminute offer integrated dynamic packaging on their sites. They provide flexible combinations of flight, hotel, car and insurance. British Airways is in the best-in-class category when it comes to this, as it offers dynamic packaging of flight and non-flight items on its site and only non-flight items via The company also allow the user to add other products to the itinerary once one product (British Airways-flight only) has been chosen (see the following chart). This feature also applies to Expedia, Travelocity, Thomas Cook and Kuoni. After selecting a flight it is possible to add multiple hotels/ cars/ sightseeing/ transfers Cross-sell of non- flight products is integrated into the flight booking process © 2007 sapient corporation
  18. 18. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 18 Lastminute offers trip financing with the booking, but requires the user to choose the type of trip (flight, flight + hotel, etc.) before the search and does not cross-sell other products during the booking process. EasyJet allows the user to purchase multiple flights and insurance within one booking process. It has links to partner sites to cross-sell other products, but these are not integrated with the flight booking itself. Desktop tools: The forgotten heavy users Initially pioneered by US-based low-cost carriers, normally desktop tools are usually used by customers who travel frequently and do a large number of their travels with the same company, such that it is worth installing the tool. This action requires a certain amount of trust by a customer, and also confirms a certain level of interest. However, among the European travel sites assessed, airlines were found to be the only category of travel suppliers which offer such downloadable tools to strengthen the relationship. British Airways offers a downloadable timetable tool where users can build offline itineraries. Unfortunately it is not integrated with the user profile. EasyJet is in the best-in-class category with its alert desktop tool called “AirMail”. This tool is located in the system tray, and based on profile information, it provides customers with alerts about offers. Users can set up preferences for home airports and specify the kind of holidays they are interested in. Customers who download the tool also receive targeted alerts for EasyJet offers, and can recommend these offers to friends via Email. Furthermore they can use direct links to get to the EasyJet website to book their travel (see the following chart). © 2007 sapient corporation
  19. 19. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 19 EasyJet AirMail desktop tool Users can • Install tool and set up preferences for home airports and kind of holidays in which they are interested • Receive targeted alerts of EasyJet offers • Send Email offers of interest to a friend • Use links to get to EasyJet website to book Travelocity offers a desktop FareWatcher tool on its US site which is compatible for the Windows Vista platform only. Users can install the tool and set up preferences for home airports and three travel destinations to track. There are alerts when fares involving a greater than 20% saving become available. Customers can also use the tool to search for flights, hotels, holidays, car hire etc. The usability of such desktop tools can be greatly enhanced by integrating them with the customer profile on the website and storing search preferences, trips and so on. Enabling the customer to go from “looking” to “booking” more easily, without needing to login/enter data multiple times will also encourage the use of desktop tools. © 2007 sapient corporation
  20. 20. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 20 Conclusion The Internet is continuing on its path of revolutionizing travel product sales and distribution. Consumers are accepting the Internet as a way of life, and with that acceptance, are becoming more sophisticated users. To be relevant players in this market companies must provide a highly-usable shopping platform which gets all the basics right, and then invest wisely into newer trends to maintain their positioning in an evolving market. The twelve sites assessed in this study get mixed ratings against the criteria. None of the sites clearly excels in all categories, but for each category there are individual highlights and best practices, including the adoption of recent trends. Opportunities for improvement exist in particular: • For Airlines: By continuing to improve the usability of the booking process, through internationalization and tools such as Ajax or map visualizations. Airlines also have yet to adopt user content and social computing elements. • For Hotels: By introducing cross-selling to drive additional revenue, and deploying mobile services for value-add features such as booking confirmations or driving directions. • For Online Travel Agencies and Tour Operators: opportunities exist to increase customer loyalty through desktop tools, such as agents that support the search for a particular trip. For Tour Operators in particular, the adoption of mobile services could also increase customer loyalty. © 2007 sapient corporation
  21. 21. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 21 About Sapient Sapient helps clients innovate their businesses in the areas of marketing, business operations, and technology. Leveraging a unique approach, breakthrough thinking, and disciplined execution, Sapient leads its industry in delivering the right business results on time and on budget. Sapient works with clients that are driven to make a difference, including BP, Essent Energie, Harrah’s Entertainment, Hilton International, Janus, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Sony Electronics, the U.S. Marine Corps, and Verizon. Founded in 1990, Sapient is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and operates across North America, Europe, and India. More information about Sapient can be found at Sapient is a registered service mark of Sapient Corporation. © 2007 sapient corporation
  22. 22. Sapient Travel Site Assessment 22 Your Notes © 2007 sapient corporation