The digital travel space is infamously fast-paced and competitive as users are faced with an often overwhelming number of sites, choices, paid searches, and SEO taps that all work to drive traffic – and ultimately conversions and bookings – to their websites. So one of the biggest challenges for travel websites, and this includes online travel agencies and direct booking sites, is to create unique value in such a crowded digital marketplace by providing the best user experience possible. This “optimized” user experience then leads to increased engagement and, when done right, moves the user effortlessly from the homepage, to the category, through product detail pages, and finally to the point of conversion.
But, even a few missteps here and there can have big, bad consequences for travel sites, sending their traffic stats plummeting, bounce rates and site abandonment soaring, and booking rates or overall revenue stagnating.
Here are the 5 most important mistakes that travel and hospitality brands should absolutely avoid making on their websites:
1. Unguided User Flow
Not helping your users find what they are looking for is one of the biggest mistakes any travel or hospitality site can make. Purchasing a travel experience is a high-ticket item, and most of the time requires more research than smaller ticket items. This can be an overwhelming process, and users prefer having a guided user experience to help them quickly and easily find what they’re looking for. To avoid this, consider giving your customers a guided experience with use of wizards or gamification. Because in a digital space you don’t have the opportunity to personally guide users through the sales process, wizards provide that one-on-one conversation with your potential customer and help to filter out options for them (keeping them in the conversion funnel).
2. Hidden Costs or Fees
Hiding added costs and hidden fees or not showing these until end of the funnel is a big no-no for travel sites. Obviously, travel sites have added costs taxes and fees that cannot be avoided, but how when and how you display these fees to the user can singlehandedly make or break a sale. Be transparent about final cost before they reach the checkout page, like on the category page and product detail pages, and if you are unable to showcase final purchase price at these points in the funnel, always add a visible disclaimer that clearly states “Taxes and Fees not included.” The point here is that you want to avoid “sticker shock” at the end of checkout or booking by presenting the user with a new, higher price that they weren’t expecting – this is one of the most frequently cited reasons for cart (and site!) abandonment, by the way.
3. Long Forms and Numerous Fields in the Checkout
Long forms can be a tedious process for users, and sales or bookings are often abandoned at this point if the forms are not user friendly. In the checkout there is a tight timeframe to get users to fill out these forms and move to the next step before we contribute to high bounce rates and cart abandonment rates. To avoid this, make sure to highlight the mandatory fields, get rid of fields that are not useful, use vertical fields versus left-to-right fields so users can easily identify what they’re supposed to fill in next.
4. A One-Size-Fits-All Experience
Every travel brand knows that their target market and marketing strategies have to align to meet the varied, complex, sometimes even contradictory needs and behaviors of their users and customers. In doing this, it is important not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to all of the users on your website, but instead to create a one-on-one relationship with specific segments of users, giving them a more personalized experience of your brand and of your site. So how do make sure you’re showing the most relevant content to specific target groups? Start small and start with simple targets: new versus old, geo-targeting, weather, time of day, last search, items left in cart, etc. Then, take a deeper dive into your customer base to understand their purchasing behavior. What was the last item purchased? Wat combination did they purchase? Which users who reserved this hotel also added this excursion? Which users who chose this hotel also purchased an upgrade? Once you understand the different trends in your current customers’ behaviors, you can foresee patterns that could possibly work for other users in that segment.
5. A One-Size-Fits-All Experience
Don't assume all users know everything about your brand and what your site has to offer. Travel is a vast e-commerce industry, and users need to build trust with you before developing loyalty and converting. One easy way to accomplish this is to showcase your value proposition throughout the site so users begin to learn from start to finish what you have to offer and why they should buy from you. Clearly displaying certified and trusted badges in the conversion funnel is also a good brand awareness strategy, as are the use of ratings and reviews of your site from other customers – social proof can go a long way for your brand.
Optimizing your site is about trial and error, learning what worked well and what didn't. Every negative outcome will always be a learning and opportunity to test another hypothesis.