Ideas & musings about consumer behaviour

Why travel booking websites are losing out to airlines

Domestic airline booking

Author: Suzy Coulson

When it comes to booking an international flight, consumers use a range of websites to research and find the best flight options. Across October, November and December 2014, Global Reviews ran digital marketing effectiveness studies to better understand what these research journeys look like. Across the three studies we saw that:

  • 93% used a search engine
  • 82% used aggregator/travel booking sites
  • 42% used airline websites

The top websites visited were Webjet, Flight Centre and Expedia.

Whilst it initally looks good for travel booking sites, when we dig deeper into the studies we found that 47% are going on to their chosen airline’s website to make the final decision and booking. An additional 2% would call the airline and 24% would either visit or call the travel agent, leaving just 27% remaining on the travel booking site to make the final booking.

When asked why they would prefer to book through the airline’s website directly, 66% said that it was because they thought that they would get the best deal directly, 44% thought it would be quicker through the airline and 44% would just generally prefer to deal with the airline directly. A further 7% said that they didn’t trust the travel booking site with their personal or financial information and 3% stated other reasons including having specific requests that they didn’t trust the travel booking site to ensure their requirements would be passed onto the airline.

If travel booking sites are so highly valued at the earlier research stages, why is this trust suddenly lost when it comes to making the final decision and booking?

To find out more, Global Reviews conducted a digital sales effectiveness study looking specifically at the complete research through to booking process on five of the most popular travel booking sites (Expedia, Flight Centre, Hello World, Last Minute and Webjet), and two of Australia’s biggest international airlines (Qantas and Virgin Australia).

The research conducted in November 2014 showed that travel booking sites perform quite well in the initial research stages of introducing flight options and allowing for an easy comparison of these options. However, when it comes to aiding consumers in making a final decision, the high performing website experience appears to fall away.

Whilst this is generally the same with the airline website experience, there was one key area where the airlines outperformed the travel booking sites – the ‘why choose us’ stage.

Where the airlines averaged 62% for this section, the travel booking sites averaged just 51%. Qantas far exceeded everyone else when it came to providing content to learn about the company, and Virgin Australia led the pack when it came to evaluating how helpful their website was at helping to make a decision before beginning the booking process. Both these areas help to build a sense of understanding, trust and security with the company – three of the major reasons why consumers said they would prefer to book with the airline directly.

If travel booking sites want to improve their conversion rates, then this is a key area to focus on. A better understanding of the company, their value proposition and a greater sense of trust could go a long way for these websites. Without these element, consumers will continue to abandon the site at the most critical moment and finalise the transaction elsewhere – resulting in a loss of possible revenue for the travel booking sites.

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