Not long ago, booking a holiday meant thumbing through brochures in an office, while the travel agent banged through the possible combinations. Increasingly those brochures have been replaced by websites, with travellers logging on to find their perfect trip.
Travel was the frontrunner of the ecommerce revolution, with airlines and hotels breaking up the monopoly that was the travel agents’ domain. While this world still exists, the bulk of customer interaction has been blown apart by the likes of Expedia, Ryanair, thetrainline.com and many more.
Since travel is, almost by definition, a global business, these companies have also been at the forefront of international ecommerce. As people expand their horizons and explore the world, borders have to be crossed and language barriers overcome.
In a highly competitive market, airlines, hotels and online travel companies are battling to win customers and offer the best deals. Consumers tend to shop around before making a commitment, using price comparison websites and scanning reviews. Companies compete to offer a smooth booking experience, discounts and optional extras such as hire cars and upgrades.
While customers looking for a budget holiday in Spain are happy to find their EasyJet flight and bargain hotel online, expectations at the luxury end of the market naturally differ.
As the popularity of high-end, exotic travel increases, customers expect to be looked after and for all the arrangements to be made according to their desires.
Companies in this space are creating holidays of a lifetime catered to tick the boxes of experience, difference and luxury.
This contrast between “book your own” and a fully-catered experience is easy to see when you have Ryanair at one end and companies like Abercrombie and Kent at the other. Interestingly it is Ryanair who have had to tweak their model and no longer concentrate wholly on brutal efficiency over customer experience.
So with this background of success and innovation, it’s surprising to see that a recent report found that poor translation costs the French e-tourism industry more than 150million Euros a year in lost revenue. They found that a fully multilingual site increased conversion rates by around 70%, yet many companies were failing to cater for international consumers, with poor or missing translations.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped Paris retaining its place as the number one tourist destination globally!
The UK, often accused of being monolingual and insular, has attempted to open up to the world. Part of its reinvention comes following the success of the London Olympics. But there’s also been a greater awareness of the importance of providing information in multiple languages and making it as accessible as possible for international travellers.
Visit Britain is a great example of an organisation that caters to global tourists in multiple languages and formats. Not only can they choose (for example) French or German, they can also get localised information for France, Germany, Switzerland or Belgium. Visitors can find everything from detailed travel information to the best castles, tearooms or festivals.
So where is the world of online travel heading next, and how can it keep innovating in the ecommerce space? With new markets opening up (from the BRIC countries to the “MINTs”- Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) and major sporting events such as the World Cup, there is plenty of room for growth.
One big trend is companies tapping into the use of social networks. As well as providing 24-hour Twitter feeds and customer service, airlines are also proactively looking at ways to improve social users’ experience.
KLM is a leader in this area, with a very popular Facebook fan page and Twitter feed, and a wide range of applications, allowing customers to create holiday cards or videos of their trips. They’ve even introduced a “social check-in” tool, allowing users to select seats based on the social profiles of other passengers.
Air Baltic has a similar application with “flight mood and ideal neighbour options” where users can define their preferences for their flight.
More people are searching for hotels online – the popular US travel search company Kayak.com found that hotel queries are growing 48 per cent annually, faster than airlines. As more travellers rely on the internet to plan their trip, the importance of review sites is growing. Mobile accessibility is another key trend, with increasing numbers using smartphones and tablets to choose hotels, flights and research destinations.
Whatever the next few years brings, it’s clear that where the travel world leads, others will follow. As more of the world gets online, international ecommerce is a force that is growing and growing!