It is increasingly apparent that travel consumers love the internet when it comes to travel planning and booking, and it’s safe to say that online marketers play an influential role in their decisions to book trips online.
The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) and interactive marketing agency USDM.net recently issued one of the travel industry’s most in-depth research surveys focused on the evaluation and measurement of travel consumers’ online habits. The annual Travelers’ Use of the Internet report shows that the internet continues to grow as a dominant channel for reaching and transacting with today’s travel consumers.
While 2005 results show that the number of Americans using the internet (120 million adults) appears to have reached a plateau, those who plan and book trips or vacations online continues to climb rapidly. A majority of these online travelers (78 percent of respondents, translating into 79 million Americans) turned to the internet for travel or destination information in 2005 -- much higher than the 65 percent of online travelers in 2004.
But, every year, users indicate that they’re doing more than simple research online. For example, in 2005, survey findings indicate that online travelers are booking more of their travel arrangements via the internet:
- 82 percent of online travelers book online
- 78 percent of online travel bookers do at least half of all their travel booking online
- 34 percent of online travel bookers make all of their travel purchases online.
With more and more Americans planning and booking their travel online, TIA and USDM.net expanded this year’s research to better gauge the influence various media channels have on consumer decisions and, more specifically, how consumers respond to the various forms of internet-based travel marketing communications.
Of particular interest to online marketers: Report findings show that, in the travel space, the most effective online marketing techniques that trigger a consumer response are not the often ballyhooed “paid media” channels (such as pay-per-click search listings, banner ads, pop-ups and email) but rather the “interactive marketing” communications such as unsponsored search engine results (36 percent); email recommendations by friends or colleagues (34 percent); links on websites (26 percent); and opt-in emails or enewsletters (21 percent). In fact, the top four most response-effective communications are all strategic tactics that savvy online marketers implement.
The survey also indicates that 44 percent of consumers proactively responded to interactive marketing tactics in the past year by either requesting a travel guide (52 percent), registering on a travel website (47 percent), opting-in for an enewsletter (46 percent) or registering to win a prize from a travel site (21 percent). This signals a need for travel marketers to further integrate interactive marketing strategies and tactics into their 2006 planning.
Other key trends and data to emerge from the Travelers’ Use of the Internet 2005 in terms of strategic planning include:
- When it comes to leisure travel, women are more likely to be online travel planners (56 percent) and bookers (55 percent) than men
- More than nine out of 10 online travelers used the internet to plan a personal trip last year, and a quarter of trips planned online were related to business travel
- Nearly half of online travel planners also use destination websites -- such as those maintained by convention and visitor bureaus -- to plan trips. In addition, 27 percent (12.6 million) of these travelers use destination websites for booking their travel online (up from 4.4 million in 2004)
- Leisure travelers spent an average of $1,288 when booking their most recent trip online in 2005 and business travelers spent an average of $1,357.
Strong growth and significant changes in the travel marketplace continue to affect how travel companies and their partners do business online. It is critical that marketers develop mechanisms for managing these changes in online travel.
There are many effective methods used by interactive marketers to reach their target audiences. Marketers must give consumers control offering direct, personalized incentives that increase consumer retention and purchase follow-through. As marketers, we must recognize evolving consumer trends and re-adjust our marketing strategies to reflect consumer tendencies to research, plan and purchase online.
For more information or to purchase the full results of the Travelers’ Use of the Internet 2005 report, visit the TIA.org web page.
Leah Woolford is founder and CEO of USDM.net, an interactive marketing agency for the travel industry. Woolford has been an online marketer and technologist since 1993 when she founded her first internet company to market travel clients and clients in the telecom industry. Today Woolford is a sought after speaker and trainer, published author and recognized authority on interactive marketing and technology in the travel industry.
You're just looks
After the initial attraction, looks alone won't get you to the next round -- nor will they bring you new business. To turn a visitor into a prospect, you need to create a truly beautiful web experience that pays as much attention to the perceived credibility of your site as it does to the usability and function of your design. According to a 2010 study conducted by Equation Research for Gomez, the rate of users permanently abandoning a website after the first bad experience is as high as 17 percent. What factors make for a beautiful web experience? Page length, navigation, and structure -- to name a few.
Pages that require users to scroll more than two screen lengths are asking for a considerable amount of engagement. So if it's a must for your site, make sure that you're paying close attention to the structure of those pages. Is there a logical order to the content being displayed that will encourage the visitor to scroll? Are you balancing an appropriate amount of white space and imagery with text so that the page doesn't seem overwhelming? Navigation also plays a crucial role. Remember that your website should be designed for your users. Be sure your site carries them logically and intuitively through the information on your site that they're there to find.
CherryBayOrchards.com is aesthetically pleasing and still manages to deliver vital information on the homepage. It provides easy-to-read tabs (1) for further information on products, company history, current news, and more. A search field (2) is displayed appropriately in the upper right-hand corner for the convenience of visitors. An accessible checkout button (3) is positioned below the search field. A second call to action, a "Buy Now" button (4), is located near the center of the page. And the site integrates social networking (5).
You're socially inept
No one wants to date someone who is socially awkward or appears to be a loner. Letting your social status shine on your website will increase your chances of building more than just your social circle. It will increase your opportunities for business growth as well. It's not about "going social" because everyone's doing it -- it's about being where your clients and prospects are. So be sure to prominently link to your social properties from your site if you'd like to cash in on the channel that is changing the way the world communicates.
Enabling your site for the Open Graph platform, most commonly linked to Facebook, is also a definite must. Why? It could magnify your share of voice by a factor of 10 with just one click of the "like" button. And, it's been estimated that on average, one Facebook fan is worth more than $135 to a brand.
OnleeBowden.com is a prime example of how to incorporate social networks within a website. Midway down the page, the site displays tabs for news, a company blog, Twitter, and Facebook. The social networks are also repeated and centered at the bottom of the page.
You're too closed off
Have trouble opening up and explaining who you really are? It sounds simple, but it's absolutely vital. If people have trouble finding the essentials on your site, they're bound to dump it for one that meets their standards and provides what they're looking for. Ditch the industry jargon and wordy explanations of what your business does and cut to the chase. And again, remember who you're designing your website for. Consider what it is that they're hoping to find first. Then, frame the design of your website around your prospects desired action paths.
GlobalMarineInsurance.com demonstrates how to strategically display information on a website. Visitors are on a website for a reason -- in the case of GlobalMarineInsurance.com, to purchase boater insurance. This site provides the insurance options immediately (1), and then displays the company's history and mission (2) as secondary information.
You're not dependable
In August 2010, Firefox held 45.8 percent of the browser market, followed closely by Internet Explorer with 30.7 percent, Chrome with 17 percent, Safari with 3.5 percent, and Opera with 2.3 percent. If you aren't testing the design and functionality of your site across multiple browsers, you're losing business.
The same rule applies for screen resolution. While 76 percent of users are now browsing the web on a machine that has a resolution higher than 1024x768, pay close attention to the content that user might not be seeing if they're browsing at a lower resolution.
How dependable is your web hosting service? Does it provide advanced features and truly support your website? If your host isn't aiding your professional image, it's definitely time to look for a new provider -- one that will ensure your needs and encourage your company's growth. What two characteristics should you look for in a web hosting company? Security (virus-free systems) and reputation (current and past clients). An inconsistent web host can make any website appear faulty.
As you can see, designing a successful website is very much like dating; they both can seem stressful and challenging. However, they can both be equally as exciting -- both websites and dates involve learning processes, as well as new opportunities and realizations of who you and your audience really are. A successful website is certainly a balancing act. It requires the balance of form and function, as well as your objectives and users expectations.
Just like dating expectations, realizing the necessities for a well-rounded site can definitely seem overwhelming. Relax, and don't become intimidated. The initial step for ensuring your site is a winner is to take a step back and look in the mirror (your site). Make sure you critique every angle of your site and be sure to ask yourself valid questions. Are you satisfied with your presence? Is information clearly displayed? Are you having trouble navigating and finding paths to conversions? If you aren't impressed with you site, then you can bet visitors aren't either. And remember -- disappointing websites and dates often don't receive second chances.