One moment you`re enjoying a virtual holiday by surfing the net; next thing you know, you`ve committed to going there by clicking the `book now` symbol. It`s all so easy and tempting, not to mention the attractive discounts that are on offer.The travel industry has always offered last minute bargains and the Internet is the obvious modern medium for selling them. But there is big competition between travel websites and additional services have to be provided in order to lure customers. Some offer currency converters, others offer weather forecasts. And that `content` strategy can make a difference.
A further trend, obviously more an e-biz strategy, is to specialise in one particular type of travel, such as Cruising or, even more niche, Small Ship Cruises.
A survey by cPulse of 6,580 travel site visitors found that they preferred small, specialised sites as opposed to their big-name counterparts. This is because the user content is more relevant and caters to the individual. And for a content manager, that`s very nice to hear.
Travel websites are becoming more than a sales medium; they are offering important research tools for leisure travellers. PhoCusWright`s research found that 44 per cent of American travellers used travel sites for research purposes this year, an increase of 16 per cent from the 1999 figures.
EcommerceTimes reports that consumer satisfaction is higher with online travel than any other ecommerce category but PhoCusWright suggests the main challenge for new businesses will be retaining online buyers as loyal customers.
According to research conducted by PhoCusWright, 21 million Americans bought their travel online last year. One third of that number now purchase holidays exclusively over the Internet. When asked about the benefits of buying online, 54 per cent said that cost savings were their main incentive while one fifth cited reliability as an attractive feature of online travel services.
Only 16 per cent stated `ease of use` as a major incentive and even fewer congratulated online travel for its customer services. What people really want is a bargain buy and prices can no longer be predicted according to distance travelled. For example, a standard return UK train journey from London to Leeds (250 miles) can cost over 10 pounds more than an `Internet Special` return flight from London to Naples, Italy. Admittedly that was a Christmas offer from Go airlines Go Fly, but offers like that come up all the time.
That`s the beauty of browsing the Internet: endless information about cheap deals is at your fingertips. Dotcom start-ups are capitalising on easy-to-remember, self explanatory names so that when you sandwich `best fares` between www. and .com Bestfares, you are instantly told of the best fares around at the moment. Similarly, type in www.cheaptickets.com Cheaptickets and that last minute holiday to the Bahamas suddenly becomes affordable. Lastminute.com is a phenomenon on its own, heavily pushed until shares slumped, but still surviving and popular. Then there`s Lastminutetravel.com, one of the earliest players in the online travel business, started in 1997. When the company heard of Lastminute.com`s arrival, a spokesman commented: “They`ve chosen two thirds of a very good name.”