Selecting and purchasing a holiday is a big-ticket item – a once a year purchase that people are determined to get right. So why do travel companies consistently fail to deliver what the internet user wants when searching for a holiday online? A survey conducted in the spring of 2010 by Frommers, the travel guide publishers, has shown the most common complaints users make of travel websites. While usability issues like navigation problems are mentioned, the biggest complaint is about the lack of useful content, particularly insufficient pictures and destination information.
So why does this information mis-match occur?
Primarily, online travel companies are failing to identify that when browsing for a holiday, an internet user wants to be sold not a product, but an experience. They want to know that the holiday will be rewarding and enjoyable and, of course, they will judge how rewarding and enjoyable it is, in their own, highly individual, terms.
To really meet user requirements, online travel companies must help the customer learn about what the holiday will entail – what the hotel looks like, what things are there to do, how far the hotel is to the beach – and to do this in an engaging and informative way. Indeed, it may well be appropriate to assume that the user doesn’t know exactly where they want to go. Instead, rather than help us on this journey, online travel firms often start from the pretext that both the destination and the date of travel decisions have already been made and the sole purpose of the visit is to select a hotel for an acceptable price. Yet destination is not always the primary driver behind the initial holiday decision. Many sun-lovers would be as happy going to either Turkey or Greece, but are forced into making an early decision, purely because of the online booking systems. Figure One shows the Cosmos website which displays an error page when searching for ‘Any destination’. To...