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four key trends in the evolving online space

For years the travel industry has talked about the customer experience. But often the customer seems to believe that our main aim is to deliver a  ‘grab as much cash as we can experience’.  Of course we are all in this business to make money but that should not be at the expense of the customer experience. Finally it seems that getting this balance right is possible; we can boost the bottom line by offering relevant, well-timed and perfectly delivered products and services that inspire and delight the customer.

To put all this in perspective, the travel industry became the biggest e-commerce vertical because it was driven by the desire to reduce costs.  The innovators in the field then worked out that they could sell a lot of other travel ‘products’ at the moment of booking.

However, in the bid to cut costs and sell more, the industry forgot about the customer metamorphosis that happens between the booking process and the moment the customer is actually embarking on their journey. Let’s call this the ‘grumpy-buyer-versus-over-excited-holiday maker’ effect.

When I book a holiday I tend to feel concerned about what I am forking out; I do no want to spend a penny more than I have to.  However, as the trip begins, and the excitement mounts, my wallet is far easier to access.  Offer me a car in the booking phase and I will always pick the cheapest. At the car pick-up point, however, I often spend a bit – even a lot – more.

Those able to recognise this relatively common theme in customer behaviour, and apply it to recent trends will, I believe, be ready to battle it out in the next evolution in online travel.

In July 2012, EyeforTravel commissioned a Travel Consumer report based on interviews and surveys with over 8,000 people from five different countries. This allowed us to identify several key trends in how consumer behavior is changing and how that impacts our industry. Among these were:

1.    Everyone is going mobile  

The way people access the web is changing very fast. Google says well over half their searches now come from a mobile device.  Facebook users too are increasingly accessing the social network via mobile device, though this hasn’t been entirely good news. Its share price is not performing well because the existing advertising system does not display on a mobile device so they are not making enough money.  

When it comes to mobile, it is also important to note that these devices are no longer just about looking; Although some would argue tablets are not truly mobile, at a recent EyeforTravel show one hotelier reported a 173% growth in tablet bookings. That is a figure that cannot be ignored.  

Why is this so relevant? Because there are opportunities to inspire your customers to buy, not just at point-of sale but throughout all stages of the customer experience.

2. People are actively sharing their travel ideas and interests on social media

Not are they actively sharing their ideas, they are also influenced by those of others: 57% of Dutch respondents, for example, said they were influenced by positive user-generated content, according to EyeforTravel’s consumer report. Social media can certainly help our customers to share critical facts about themselves, which is very powerful tool for marketers.  These can be used not only to sell more but also to communicate via a responsive medium. A large number of travel companies are working with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, Baidu and Renren to sell travel but harnessing consumer intelligence from the social media interaction will be key.

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