UK travel sites miss accessibility guidelines

UK travel websites are falling short of their online business potential and failing to reach a wider audience by not recognising the needs of all users. According to recent research published by internet research and design consultancy Nomensa, the UK’s travel agency websites don’t meet even the most basic web accessibility guidelines.
Nomensa profiled 10 of the UK’s top online travel websites and measured them against a series of manual and automated testing criteria focusing on web accessibility. Issues such as scalable layout, accessible site structure and compatibility with assistive technologies were measured to determine how the sites are performing.

Accessible web content is essentially good business practice. With results showing 50% of travel sites fail the most basic accessibility standards (the WCAG 1.0 Single A accessibility standards), an untapped commercial opportunity clearly exists. The research also shows 90% of sites are likely to display inconsistently on portable devices such as PDAs, mobile phones and internet ready televisions.

The report also reveals that 100% of the sites fail to produce valid, accessible HTML code, while 90% of the sites have poor document structure, which prevents users from fully understanding the relative importance of information and how it’s structured. One positive finding was that 70% of sites carry alternative text descriptions for the majority of graphical content.

The UK travel industry has seen significant growth in recent years. In parallel, the internet has shown dramatic growth as a means of booking travel and, in the first quarter of 2005, 58% of UK adults had bought goods, tickets or services online.

Taking into account the competitive nature of the UK travel industry, with many online companies undercutting large high street brands, these well-known businesses could gain market share simply by making sure their websites are accessible. Over nine million potential customers (the registered disabled alone) are subject to a poor user experience that may even exclude them from booking online travel.

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LĂ©onie Watson, Head of Accessibility at Nomensa says: “With so many people using the internet for purchases, banking and leisure activities, we’re surprised to see the travel industry hasn’t kept up to speed with engaging online shoppers. Good web accessibility practise isn’t exclusively for the disabled: it caters for anyone using the web. If more people can use your site, more people can buy your services. It is really that simple.”

Simon Norris, managing director at Nomensa, adds: “A company that focuses on accessibility is ultimately going to reach a larger audience and, in turn, achieve greater market share. Furthermore, this type of thinking is good for companies that want to increase revenues and profitability.”
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