Dave Cruickshank, Chief Executive Officer, the ATCORE Group
Unfortunately, booking a holiday online rarely seems the easy, stress-free experience we hope for. We’ve all experienced the frustration of clicking on a holiday offer “from £399pp”, only to find that once you’ve finished going through all the options, the total price ends up significantly higher, finding that the travel site in question simply won’t allow the combination of travellers you’re looking to book or the holiday actually isn't available at all.
Online travel booking sites have the highest abandonment rates of any industry, with 81.1% of visitors leaving without completing a booking in the first quarter of 2018. Granted, many of these were just browsing or researching, but critically, more than half of the people who leave without booking do so because of issues with the booking process or the site.
This is becoming a serious problem in the travel industry. In a world with so many different options for booking holidays, companies that haven’t optimised the booking experience are losing valuable customers. So, what specific things do people really dread about booking a holiday online?
1. Over complicated websites
Booking websites that are excessively complicated can lose potential customers almost immediately - why would you bother struggling to navigate a site that can’t make it easy to book flights and a hotel in the same place, when you could just go to a more intuitive website instead? Similarly, some websites are cluttered, not optimised for mobile, or so eager to sign up new customers that they actually end up making it very difficult for returning customers to login and review a previous quote.
2. Search results not matching search criteria
When you have painstakingly input all your required criteria, including dates, location, number of travellers, price, and board level, it can be infuriating when the booking site comes back with results that don’t match these - particularly when these changes aren’t clearly flagged up as such. Just because a different date range or board level might be more popular doesn’t mean it will be a viable option for you.
3. Not being able to book the right combination of travellers
Some booking sites are so inflexible that they simply can’t handle the idea of ‘unusual’ combinations of travellers beyond “two people sharing”. Having to phone up and explain to the operator that the site won’t allow you to book for two adults and three children, for example, is far from the easy online booking experience you were expecting. If you’re already having to deal with the idea of holidaying with three kids, added difficulties in the booking process is the last thing you need.
4. Separating groups who are travelling together
Whether you’re travelling as a family or with friends, one thing that can be really frustrating is when the booking system automatically splits you up from your travel companions - allocating rooms on different floors of the hotel, for example, or seats at different ends of the plane. It would be safe for travel operators to assume that travellers will want to be close to their friends and family,especially when the bookings are being made months in advance.
5. Unexpectedly being pushed offline
There are times when you know your booking is not the norm and expect to speak to someone to confirm the finer elements of a complex trip. The frustration arises when people are trying search and display prices, confirm availability or flight times only to be directed to a telephone number - importantly, with many people confirming details with friends and family in the evenings, it becomes even more annoying if that phone line is only open 8am-8pm.
6. Unforeseen extras pushing the price up
All too often, visitors choose a holiday advertised at a certain price, which turns out in the end to be unachievable. Although the government has been cracking down on hidden charges and costs, booking websites still can decide that some things are ‘optional extras’ and charge more money for them. By the time you’ve added everything you need to your booking - including some things that are necessities rather than add-ons, like hold luggage, airport transfers, and wifi in your hotel room - the price can end up significantly higher than the original offer.
7. Additional options not relevant for your trip
Whilst people like to book as much as possible in one place, flights, hotels, transfers etc., many people simply don’t need all the various extras available (think car hire, priority boarding, extra legroom seats). It can be overwhelming to have all these aggressively offered at every stage of the booking process. Even worse is when the extras aren’t relevant to your trip - not everyone needs watersports cover or oversized luggage allowance. It's important to have the technology that can provide the capability to sell these additional elements but in order to optimise the customer journey these need to be personalised and not simply trying to sell everything to everyone.
8. Lack of clarity about what you’re actually getting
It is surprising how unclear it can be what you are actually buying when booking a holiday. For example, working out what food is included with what board level? Sometimes certain meals in certain restaurants or bars in the hotel are included, but others are not, despite being advertised everywhere you look on the site.
9. Availability not being updated
Surely one of the biggest advantages of booking holidays online is that everything should be updated in real time; meaning that flight and hotel availability is completely accurate. Some platforms are really good at this, with live updates letting you know that there are “only 3 seats left at this price!” Frustratingly, however, this doesn’t always seem to be the case - only too often you can finally manage to get through the whole booking process, just to find that when you click “book”, the page refreshes and lets you know that the options you chose are now sold out.
10. The reality not living up to the expectations
The worst thing about booking a holiday is when, sometimes, after you’re satisfied with your choices and you arrive at your destination, only to find that it doesn’t live up to your expectations. Photos can be very misleading and sometimes it’s only on re-reading the cleverly worded description after you’ve arrived that you realise it didn’t actually promise a sea view and private balcony with your room, but rather access to a shared patio and a view of the ocean from the local beach cafe.
Overall it is clear to see that the key to customer satisfaction when booking a holiday online can be summed up in 3 words - Accurate, Relevant and Intuitive. Travel companies have the challenge of balancing commercial drivers with the customer experience and brand positioning they want to be known for. Yet in 2018 it appears some travel providers have a fair way to go.