Forecast predicts slump in UK outbound

Research into holiday booking habits has revealed that 21% of UK consumers plan to decrease the amount of holidays they book in 2009, as a result of the prevailing economic conditions.
The Travel Bookers Omnibus, conducted by Loudhouse and commissioned by CRM software specialist RightNow Technologies, surveyed 1,000 UK adults and also found that of those planning to reduce the number of holidays they take in 2009, 72% will do so because they are concerned about cost.
As holiday bookings look set to decrease, the challenge travel companies now face is how to retain customer loyalty. The survey found 69% of consumers most value word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends when booking travel, yet 1 in 4 consumers (23%) have had negative experiences when making a booking.

While travel companies can’t control the economic climate and the resulting decrease in the amount of trips consumers book - one area they can control is ensuring online customer experiences are optimised - especially as the internet was found to be the preferred channel (88%) for making holiday bookings.

In priority order, frustration ‘hot-spots’ contributing to negative online experiences and likely to prevent consumers from making a booking are:

?      Not easily being able to find information on hidden costs (53%),

?      Not finding specific information about holidays (47%),

?      Not being able to ask questions about the holiday (45%)

?      Finding the actual buying process to be too complicated (35%)

A lack of clarity also proved to be a fundamental dynamic in creating issues most likely to result in consumers having to call or email the company; 51% cited unclear pricing and details about costs, and 50% unclear descriptions about holidays and flights. The survey also found that the impact of a negative experience may not just be contained to just one individual as 72% of consumers have told others about a past negative online booking experience.
While frustration hot-spots are likely to send consumers packing, in contrast, the provision of good customer experiences have the potential to pay dividends as 54% of consumers have told others about a good online booking experience. The survey polled consumers about why they remain loyal to a travel company and found that top of the list was ‘past good experiences’ (65%), followed by ‘good reputation’ (53%) and ‘offers best prices’ (51%).
Commenting on the survey’s findings, Joe Brown, General Manager, RightNow EMEA, said: “The survey makes a clear association between delivering the level of customer care that consumers expect and customer loyalty. Even though consumer spending is decreasing, previous good experiences drive consumers to be loyal to holiday companies - ahead of company reputation or good prices. Word-of-mouth recommendations figure highly in a holidaymakers’ decision-making process so it’s essential that travel companies assess where the gaps are in their customer care strategies and invest in the technology and best practices to deliver exceptional customer experiences that will help future customer retention and acquisition.”

Prioritising Improvements: As more and more web-savvy consumers place reliance on the internet as their primary travel booking channel it’s possible to argue that the delivery of a seamless internet experience, which delivers the right information at the right time, will be essential in turning consumers from ‘lookers-to-bookers’. Priority areas for improvement include: transparency about all travel costs (60%), better provision of destination and flight details (44%), easier website search capabilities to find information (43%), easier and clearer booking processes (43%), and better real-time access to agents.
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