10 ESSENTIAL TIPS TO BUILDING AN EXCELLENT TOUR OPERATOR WEBSITE & RUNNING A SUCCESSFUL OTA
Welcome to our series on how to create a competitive travel website with insider tips on ensuring you’re able to grow your business in today’s competitive tour operator landscape
Understand the market you’re operating in…
Sounds simple, however, there are subtle and important differences in every market you wish to sell your travel products based on languages and social norms through to privacy and business laws, get these wrong and you can end up with a low conversion rate, lack of trust and worse still, paying a lot of tax you hadn’t bargained for!
There are countless tales of huge national travel brands trying to launch in Germany and coming undone with privacy laws, or in Italy, where a phone number and local customer service is crucial. Research your market, from the financial, legal, all the way through to how that individual country uses the internet before you even begin your tourism website design.
Let your customer speak to you…
Not only does conversion rate improve if your customers feel like they can, and actually can, get in touch with you easily online and via the phone, when your business runs into trading problems, which if you’re running an online travel site you eventually will, they will be the first people to tell you why you’re not receiving bookings. Ensure your tour operator website design incorporates live chat and easy to locate phone numbers.
Open up as many conversations with the customer as you possibly can, including call centre, online chat and social media. Poll them frequently. Ask them why they’re not booking, why they’re leaving a page etc. There are some forms of personal, qualitative data you simply can’t get from an analytics package, GA wont tell you if your competitors have reduced prices and you haven’t! Having qualitative date direct from your customers is invaluable, but having said that, the following tip may be the most important of all…
Let the data speak to you…
Before taking a single booking, call or even visit to your website, ensure all your session tracking is in place. Most ecommerce sites rely just on Google Analytics and that’s plenty good enough for even multi-million turnover online travel agents. Set GA up correctly and it may be all you ever need.
Ensure all your new marketing campaigns are tracked with GA, set up the ecommerce function so you can associate margin to channel, device, product etc and ensure you also track which products and destinations you are selling by tagging your website correctly.
For a new OTA, understanding what is selling, to whom and via which marketing channel at what ROI is the primary question you must ask again and again to grow your business.
Understand the customer journey…
The world of online travel has exploded over the last 10 years and the average number of websites a traveller will visit before making their final purchase grows every year and is currently standing at, according to Google data, 18. These websites include research sites like TripAdvisor, price comparison sites like Trivago as well as the OTA’s you’ll be competing with like Booking.com and Expedia.
Not only do customers visit 17 other travel websites on average, they also take just under a month to book on average and will cross devices from mobile, to tablet to desktop (and possibly back again) on average of 5 times.
What does this mean for you? Two hugely important business questions that if you can answer, will help you stay ahead of the competition.
a) You need to develop a seamless cross device journey when devising your travel agency website design. Where users can quickly access their favourites and take their customer journey back up again. You need a branded, responsive site on mobile that feels like a seamless transition from desktop.
b) You need to be able to track customers with as high a degree of accuracy as possible cross device so you can understand where your marketing dollars are working. This is called attribution and deserves a blog post of its own!
Test, Test and then Test some more…
Optimizely which allows you to test any version of your website, segment your customers by device, by channel and conduct A/B or MVT testing, it also allows you to finalise the results of your tests looking at multiple metrics. This can prove very useful if you’re new to testing, many businesses have rolled out tests where conversion rate improves on that step of the customer journey, only to find it hurts overall conversion or lowers the average spend etc!
Test regularly and test everything – it’s incredible how many businesses have seen massive uplifts in ensuring it is clearly the only CTA or just as simple as making text bigger. If you’re website is converting really poorly with the over 60’s from your GA data, you’ll be amazed how often this is down to text size! Test urgency messaging, test where you place your trust symbols, test how you display pricing, there’s no shortage of good UX suggestions online for testing.
There should not be a day that goes by where you’re not testing several aspects of your website – if it does, you’re missing an opportunity and yielding to the competition who I can guarantee, are testing 100s of page elements daily.
Quality Images are King
When we said test everything, here’s something you don’t need to test. Online travel customers spend a month in time, visit 18 websites, cross devices 5 times, because they enjoy searching for a holiday and their holiday is very important to them. As important as a well written and informative description is, the most important onsite element to creating a successful online experience are large, numerous, high quality images of the holiday accommodation and surrounding area.
Countless OTAs have gone through the iteration of small, multiple photos on the landing page of low quality to aid load time to huge, beautiful carousels of images for one reason; it works! Don’t go through the process – start your website with large, well sourced, high quality images that are simple to scroll and as quick to load as possible, this is essential for any tour operator website builder.
Holiday Descriptions – Clear, concise content in a consistent, branded tone
Want to know the truth? Unless you’ve hooked the customer with the high quality images, they are not going to read the description anyway! However, when you have hooked the customer with beautiful imagery don’t lose them to sloppy prose.
Ensure your product content always follows the same pattern throughout your website, keeping the same tone and sticking to your brand tone of voice.
Start with what the customer wants to know in bullet points to give them the relevant information quickly!
Start with what the customer wants to know in bullet points to give them the relevant information quickly! When beginning the paragraphed description, write firstly about the beach, pools and all inclusive buffet, not the toilet facilities or the building works!
Include all the important information and most importantly whatever format you create, be happy with it, as you’ll roll this out again and again across all your product descriptions.
In 2017, it seems crazy that we’re still talking about mobile first. Mobile overtook the combined session count of desktop and tablet (RIP) some time ago and yet, enter any OTA office in any country and everybody continues to test and use the website day to day on desktop. It’s convenient, because we don’t work on mobile phones but it’s a cultural issue at every OTA that when discussing the website, we’re referring to the desktop version – the lesser used version!
Instilling a culture of mobile first across your newly created travel company will put you in great stead when it comes to competing with the established OTAs.
Do we have to say a responsive mobile website is necessary? It’s necessary.
One of the most common improvements by OTAs over the past year is taking a leaf out of the airline’s books and ensuring that not only do they serve search results with fabulous images and descriptions, but they also provide the customer with an availability calendar that shows the night by night price or change in price of the holiday.
Most of us when we take a holiday, have already booked some time off but, for the best price and ideal location, we could travel on the Thursday night perhaps, the Friday or Saturday or Sunday too, but we don’t want to enter every combination of date to check the price on every website we visit!
Provide the customer with the ability to get the cheapest possible price for their holiday and all their possible travel dates on your website by including a calendar, if not, the flexible customer will book elsewhere.
Add Reviews to your website
Just as the flexible customer will find another site with the calendar you don’t have, those interested in the past experience of others (that’s everyone by the way) will be taking a trip to Tripadvisor and leaving your website unless you provide some good reviews yourself!
Tripadvisor do allow OTAs to use their reviews against each of your properties which is a great alternative if you don’t have the content yourself, there are now also other review aggregators, who charge less than Tripadvisor who do the same.
Don’t forget also, the most important review of all, the review of your OTA, which customers will start to provide via sites like Feefo and Trustpilot, so claim your pages ASAP and ensure you monitor and drive responses into these brand reputation websites.
Both Feefo and Trustpilot will rank highly for your brand name, so it’s important you spend some time each week reviewing customer feedback via these websites.