Online Travel Business: Where and Why Tour Operators Go Wrong

Administrator, 13.01.2014 11:09
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Russia is keeping up with the global trends in travel services sales. Despite the inertia of the average consumer and the overall lack of Internet access among population compared to the West, the process of the most important travel market players in Russia going online has begun. However, while in the US the share of online transactions for buying travel services is about 60%, and in Europe it is about 1/3 of transactions, in Russia this number hardly exceeds 3%. Our people are still reluctant to buy and book tours on the Internet, preferring to visit the tour operator’s offices instead.

We have outlined three main factors that are hindering the development of online travel business in Russia, while at the same time rendering the existing sites ineffective.

Hard-to-use software and lack of simple feedback channels

Nowadays you will be hard pressed to find a travel company that does not have a website. So what is the most common page layout of sites that sell travel services? After spending a little time online and looking at the sites of the leading tour operators, we can see the following: the unwieldy main page contains huge amounts of information on tours, tickets, bonus and seasonal offers, and a host of phone numbers and banners.

A tourist would most likely quickly get lost in this onslaught of information. Just to find and book a tour, a ticket or a hotel, a customer has to spend a lot of time and effort ploughing through the available offers. And when you finally do find what you need, you still have to figure out the process of buying/booking.

In order to “help” the customer, tour operators usually leave special forms on the site. However, filling out a large form is a hard task in and of itself. To boot it all, it is usually pretty hard to find the important information on the terms of service, forfeit penalties, hidden costs and force-majeure compensations.

A telephone call requesting information often ends with an invitation to visit the office of the company. In actuality, the only people buying online are young people, who know the Internet backward and forward. As of yet, the number of such savvy buyers as compared to the rest of Russian customers is minuscule.

Content is removed from reality

Each tour has many components that are prone to change. That is why customers need to be sure that any information that they get from a tour operator’s site is up-to-date. Travel business is so dynamic that a good offer can be “intercepted” even during the time it takes to get through to a call-center operator for details.

Distrust of online shopping

The wary attitude of Russians towards online transactions is no breaking news. An average consumer believes that you can better assess the pros and cons of a transaction when communicating with the seller in real life.

How many clients and how much profits do tour operators lose due to the fact that potential customers cannot find the information they need on the site? And how many clients are there who chose an offer but were unable to buy it online? Statistically, three quarters of site visitors experience problems after they have already chosen a tour/ticket/hotel, in other words – at the last stage of buying/booking. Having got lost and unable to complete the transaction, they leave the site.

So what are the ways to keep the existing clients, prolong their stay on the site and make the web page of a tour operator that much more efficient?..

Modern IT industry has a remedy for these problems: introducing an online chat consultant. This gives the opportunity to provide additional and up-to-date information to a client. With the help of the consultant a potential buyer can get the needed answers in real time. Other kinds of assistance are also possible, for instance aid in searching for offers and booking them, help in filling out difficult forms. Researches show that in terms of informational value chatting to an online consultant can pretty much be a substitute for visiting the tour operator’s office.

Let us look closer at the concrete advantages of employing online consultants. The overview is based on the data supplied by LiveTex – the leading company on the online consulting market in Russia.

An online consultant substantially decreases the number of clients who cannot complete a transaction on the tour operator’s site. The use of this system yields a 20% increase in online sales, and the number of applications (forms filled out by clients) grows threefold.

Another important factor is that if a tour operator’s site has an online chat consultant, the clients will be 85% more loyal to the company! And clients’ loyalty is one of the most important marketing assets. The availability of feedback channels plays a big part. Ideally they should be available round the clock. Many tour operators also make the following typical mistake – they do not put forms for collecting contact information on their sites. As a result, they invest big money in attracting clients to their site, but at the end of the day have nothing to show for their efforts.

A special feature of LiveTex online consultant – the so-called lead generators – lets client managers collect contact information of the site visitors even when the former are offline. This way, the online consultant imitates the work of the call center. This lets tour operators cut their expenses on call centers by 25%. Also, during the high season, when call center operators cannot handle the workload, the lead generator is truly indispensable.

After reviewing the webpages of the major tour operators we can see that 80% of the time they lack online consultants. The most frequent feedback options are telephone calls, Skype calls or an ICQ chat. However, not all clients are eager to call or log into their ICQ accounts. More often than not a potential client will instead just leave the website and continue his or her search on other sites or offline.

According to the majority of experts, right now Russia is on the verge of big changes that have to do with innovative IT technologies infiltrating each sphere of the country’s life, and the tourism sphere is no exception. It is transforming and evolving, following the global trend of transferring the majority of assets into the online space.

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