As we approach the end of the year, most of us will find ourselves reflecting on the events of a turbulent 2016 and maybe keeping our fingers crossed for a somewhat cheerier start to 2017.
Travel operators will be hoping that the desire to have something to look forward to will translate into bumper holiday bookings during the industry’s traditional New Year peak season. However, with online booking having become Britain’s favourite approach to securing the best deal, those operators with the fastest response, fewest errors and highest availability are likely to win the day.
Extra pressure for online operators
According to ABTA, 76% of holidaymakers booked a holiday online this year. Whereas online booking was once primarily the preserve of confident travellers looking to pick and mix travel components such as airline tickets and specialist insurance, it’s now become the primary channel for picking up complete holiday packages, too. Nor have UK travellers been deterred by recent terrorist incidents, with most still happily opting for overseas destinations.
That said, with inflation set to rise and exchange rates dipping, there may be increased pressure on holiday budgets, all of which means that the bumper January period could be operators’ best chance of securing customers’ orders.
Fine-tuning your online performance
If you want to be in pole position for the January peak, it’s crucial to prepare your site for the onslaught. It’s a competitive sector with low levels of customer loyalty – all of which means that the smallest performance issue could negatively impact conversions. Given the relatively high-value of the transaction, and the importance of making the right choice, customers usually invest time and energy into research, returning to the same site many times before purchasing.
So it’s essential that online travel providers do all they can to ensure that poor web performance doesn’t lead to high abandonment rates. Load testing is essential, as is the 24/7 provision of performance monitoring – including mobile journeys – but with complex provision and the heavy use of external third-party systems, how can you plan for success?
1. Keep it simple
With virtually infinite inventories, travel operators face additional pressures during peak buying times. Consider simplifying your site as much as possible by stripping out any non-essential features during your busiest sales period. Focus on delivering your core functionality as efficiently as you can, and on providing a smooth customer experience. Make sure you test your site after any changes.
2. Reduce third party complications
The sheer number of third-party providers can make it tough to carry out effective load testing. You probably offer customers the ability to use detailed searches – and to return close matches in the event of non-availability – but these complex search parameters may clog up the system when it’s under pressure. It may be sensible to limit searches to specific deals so you can accommodate more customers with less load.
3. Make time for testing
Even if you’ve not prepared as thoroughly as you’d have liked, be sure to leave enough time to carry out a load test or two before you lock down code. Six weeks ahead of time is a good rule of thumb and gives you the opportunity to fix any outstanding issues. As soon as you’ve locked in your deal codes, aim to load test key journeys a few weeks ahead of your anticipated peak to make sure all is running smoothly in a live environment.
4. Be responsive
It’s fair to say that because holiday booking isn’t such a snap decision as other online purchases, mobile isn’t as critical a factor as in the broader online retail story. The PC platform is still the preferred device for the kind of complex searches involved in choosing a holiday – and it’s easier and more satisfying to view images in a larger format. That said, mobile is often used along the holiday browsing customer journey so it’s sensible to make your site device-responsive to accommodate mobile browsing.
5. Stay dynamic
Because of the number of visits a customer is likely to make before booking a holiday, it’s useful for travel operators to detect the same person using different devices. The more tracking devices are used, though, the more scope for glitches when offering dynamic pricing. Again, it’s important to test and monitor performance throughout to have the best chance of getting it right when it most counts.
thinkTribe has lots of free, well-researched, experience-based resources online – why not take a look at some of the travel industry tips in our beach-ready travel blog and read up on how we helped Thomas Cook prepare for their peak period?