Cruise sites perform below standard

The latest competitive intelligence study from Keynote Systems, The Internet Performance Authority(R), examines the online cruise industry landscape and reports that many cruise sites are not taking complete advantage of their opportunity to please and satisfy prospective cruise customers.In fact, about one third (31%) of visitors to cruise sites express a desire for more online information about on board cruise activities or easier access to that information; while research shows that exposure to this information could significantly increase their likelihood to book a cruise.

The Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for Cruise Web Sites examined the online experience of prospective travelers by measuring 250+ metrics at leading cruise Web sites as 2,000 consumers interacted with those sites during May 2006. The Keynote Service Level Rankings for Cruise Web Sites examined the technical performance on cruise sites including, overall site responsiveness and reliability by running 6,500 simulated interactions with each site, also during May 2006.

The Carnival (NYSE:CCL), Celebrity (NYSE:RCL), Cheap Tickets (NYSE:CD), Expedia (Nasdaq:EXPE), Holland America (NYSE:CCL), Norwegian, Orbitz (NYSE:CD), Princess (NYSE:CCL), Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL) and Travelocity (NYSE:TSG) sites were evaluated for the studies.

Travelocity, Royal Caribbean and Expedia topped the Keynote Customer Experience Rankings, an overall ranking based on performance across all 250+ metrics measured in the study. The Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for Cruise Web Sites also determined the top performers in terms of customer satisfaction, brand appeal and customer acquisition success, as well as the leaders in more than a dozen different categories including ease of online booking, cruise activity research, and accompanying flight and lodging research. Travelocity, Royal Caribbean and Expedia also led in the rankings for some of these key categories, including for the online booking process, customer support and the cruise research categories. Success in these core areas also translated into success in customer acquisition indicators as well.

Keynote noted that the Princess cruise Web site showed significant improvement across the board and specifically in the brand and customer acquisition rankings, based on the addition of a section of their site which allows visitors to compare cruise options.

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As was the case in past Keynote studies of the cruise industry, the online travel agency sites, such as Travelocity and Expedia, tend to perform better in terms of customer experience and customer satisfaction as compared to the cruise company sites. However, the cruise sites, such as Royal Caribbean and Princess, tend to perform better in terms of cruise activity research. Keynote analysts note that this is a competitive advantage that cruise companies should leverage.

Consumers Clamor for More Online Information on Cruise Activities

“There is a significant opportunity for cruise companies to improve their effectiveness in driving customer acquisition using their Web Sites,” said Lance Jones, associate director of Internet research for Keynote Systems. “Consumers are clamoring for more and easier access to information from cruise and online travel sites—and we see clear evidence that success in providing that information equals success in driving purchase intent.”

Almost a third (31%) of all visitors to cruise sites expressed a desire for more—and easier access to—information about cruise activities. And a Keynote analysis showed a strong correlation between a customer’s satisfaction with a site’s cruise activity research and its success in influencing customers to book a cruise in the future, whether online or offline. The Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival sites were the best in the industry in terms of cruise activity research.

Keynote analysts also noted that the cruise industry could benefit from following the trend in other online travel industries towards simplifying or eliminating visitor registration. Almost half of all visitors (47%) to some cruise sites reported frustration with forced or lengthy registration processes.

Keynote Service Level Rankings for Site Reliability and Responsiveness

The Keynote Service Level Rankings for Cruise Web Sites examined the technical performance of leading cruise and online travel Web sites, including overall site responsiveness and reliability, by simulating 6,500 interactions with each site over a 30 day period. The Celebrity, Cheap Tickets and Royal Caribbean sites had the industry’s best reliability, indicating those sites had the least errors of all the sites in their industry. Celebrity, Travelocity and Expedia were the top ranked sites in terms of site responsiveness, an indication of how fast the sites were in downloading pages and executing transactions.

However, the cruise industry as a whole is not performing to the same standards as other travel industry Web sites according to Keynote, with a majority of cruise sites and the cruise sections of online travel sites experiencing availability and load handling issues. A majority of sites examined in the study also recorded site outages, where the site was unavailable to visitors. These outages ranged anywhere from 6 hours to a maximum of almost 48 hours during the 30 day evaluation period. The majority of sites also experienced temporary availability issues, such as when a page would not download. On average, 1 out of every 20 visitors to a cruise site had such a site or page availability issue which would have prevented them from completing the research or booking process.

Keynote noted that other industries, such as the luxury auto industry, that also have sites with extensive visual images, do not have the same technical problems, so an important opportunity for improvement exists.

“Too many cruise sites perform below the technical standards for travel Web sites both in terms of reliability and availability. We not only saw this from a technical measurement perspective, but also heard it from consumers interacting with these sites,” said Ben Rushlo, manager of professional services with Keynote. “There is room for improvement here, even among some of the best sites in the industry.”

Keynote’s competitive intelligence studies are available for purchase and provide deep insights regarding the competitive position of each site relative to others in the study from an overall service level perspective (responsiveness and reliability of the site) and customer satisfaction perspective. They also provide deep insight into improving online customer satisfaction generally and specific actionable recommendations relevant to each site studied.

For an abstract about Keynote’s competitive intelligence studies of customer experience and service levels at cruise Web sites view: http://www.keynote.com/solutions/ci_cruise.html .

For more information about Keynote’s Competitive Intelligence offerings view: http://www.keynote.com/solutions/competitive_intelligence_tpl.html .

Customer Experience Management

Keynote’s customer experience management (CEM) services offer both competitive intelligence studies and custom engagement services examining best practices and consumer attitudes and behavior on the Web. To learn more about Keynote’s CEM solutions, visit: http://www.keynote.com/solutions/customer_experience_management.html .

Service Level Management

Keynote’s service level management (SLM) solutions provide enterprises with the tools to align IT and e-business goals. To learn more about Keynote’s SLM solutions, visit: http://www.keynote.com/solutions/service_level_management.html .

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