Better user experience can help travel industry survive downturn

We often get asked how companies can best use their online presence to minimise the effects of the downturn. While there’s no silver bullet that works in any kind of business, some helpful ideas for the travel sector come from a recent (29 April 2009) presentation by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) & accounting firmPriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Their “guide for surviving the downturn” was mostly presented from a financial management perspective, but it’s easy to see how much of their advice is actually related to the user experience of online travel booking:

  • PwC advised businesses to “take a closer look at changing booking patterns” and understand not just what customers do but also why. Conducting user research is one way to uncover such insights, especially given that what customers say they do is not always what they actually do.
  • Customers choosing to book later than usual is having a considerable impact on travel agents, who traditionally count on receiving payments well in advance of delivering a holiday. Last time we looked into how people research & book holidays online, we found that many websites didn’t do as much as they could to convince customers to book early rather than postpone their decision.
  • Businesses were also urged to manage their cost base and evaluate the impact of their distribution methods i.e. their call centres or websites. Can travel agents still afford to have consumers getting confused on their wesbite and having to ring a call centre to complete a transaction or resolve an issue?

One of the questions that inevitably came up at the end of the presentation was whether there’s still room for innovation in the current economic climate. The answer was quite straightforward: “Don’t stop innovating, don’t forget your brand, and have an eye for the future”. According to PwC, there are winners and losers in each recession, and those who can continue to invest & innovate to create a better user experience are usually among the winners.

Photo credit: specialkrb (via Flickr/Creative Commons)

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