With the year`s heaviest travel season upon us, a new Internet Customer Satisfaction study from cPulse, the Internet Satisfaction Monitor, states that consumers are travelling to more than just white-sand beaches.
In fact, says the survey, many consumers are making travel content Web sites the first stop before hitting the highways and airports this holiday season.
Travel sites are among the top-rated Web sites for customer satisfaction. Among new users, they rate the highest in terms of percentage of visitors who are “extremely satisfied” and who are “very likely” to return. The category even slightly edges out the high repeat use category of entertainment Web sites in this respect. According to the study, 42 percent of visitors to Web travel sites are very likely to return and another 25 percent are extremely satisfied. In entertainment sites, 36 percent are likely to return, and 19 percent are extremely satisfied.
The study also shows that travellers tired of impersonal mega travel sites that provide shallow content on a wide array of topics, are now flocking in increased numbers to the “niche” travel content category. Not only are new users up 82 percent in Q3 2000 compared to the same period last year, only 19 percent of these new visitors said that they would not continue using these sites. The popularity of these niche travel sites is clearly a result of the fact that they don`t rely on booking as their primary value delivered to users.
Niche travel content sites excel at meeting their consumer`s top needs which the survey cites as (number one) accurate travel information and (number two) useful content.
In terms of a consumer`s second most important need - useful content - there`s no surprise that the smaller, more focused travel content sites are scoring so well. Because niche sites don`t have to serve a wide spectrum of consumer needs they can naturally provide content that is useful to more of their user base than a large company trying to serve a mass audience can, explains cPulse.
Another important finding in the cPulse study was the fact that consumers perceived accuracy of information as a strength for the online travel content industry.
“No hard evidence exists to suggest that the actual information on niche focused travel content sites is more accurate than that of the large travel corporations,” said cPulse analyst Joan Lambe. “One explanation for this phenomenon is the affinity that exists between users and the sites. By providing advice, personal recommendations and anecdotes about hidden spots and areas to avoid, small travel content sites have done an outstanding job at creating unwavering trust from their users.” How will this outstanding customer satisfaction level play out from a business point of view?
cPulse executive vice president Jody Dodson observes, “The impact that this bond of trust has on consumers and how they interpret their visit experience is a lesson for the large commerce-focused travel players. Applying a personal touch to interactions with consumers can dramatically improve the entire perception of your product and service.”
“When you attach travel advice and comprehensive destination information with the actual ticketing and booking process you`ve got a model that could turn the online travel industry on its ear,” he said.
With this in mind, cPulse predicts major partnering and even acquisition, with large booking and reservation sites looking to improve their competitive position and ultimately their bottom line.
The research from cPulse`s Satisfaction Solutions Group resulted from data collected from 6,580 interviews with travel content site visitors between April 1 and September 30, 2000. cPulse uses patented 60-second interactive interviews administered via pop-up based technology. Actual Web site visitors are interviewed while they are on a Web site.
Competition for the consumer`s travel dollar is fierce. Price wars continue to erode consumer loyalty to any single travel site. Consumers are being trained to research multiple sites to get the best deals. According to Gartner, over 33 million consumers either investigated a flight (“looked”) or purchased an airline ticket (“booked”) via the Internet during the past year.
Gartner research also shows that among lookers, the dominant behaviour is travel site independence with over half (56%) having done so. However, among loyalists, there are more than four times as many who are loyal to airline sites than to travel sites (46% versus 8%, respectively). Further, among the nearly 16 million people who booked travel online, 47 percent buy only from the airlines. Another third (35%) continue to use both types of providers, while less than one-fifth (18%) have developed a loyalty toward Web-based travel agencies.