In an effort to distinguish their services and identify a niche, most travel providers avoid positioning themselves in the way other online retailers might.

Instead, they focus on services like travel meta-search (e.g. Skyscanner) or customer feedback (Tripadvisor). 

Shrouded in specialist services, it’s easy to forget that at their heart the majority of travel sites remain ecommerce providers. They may focus on service, social proof, or price comparison but they are still looking to sell product.

Just as with any other online retailer, travel sites must work tirelessly to keep up-to-date with the latest device platforms and consumer trends. As of 2014, one in five people use their mobile devices to book or arrange travel.

This makes travel-related transactions the third most common purchase made on a mobile device, following books and music. 

Despite this surge in the mobile travel market, recent reports highlight continued inconsistencies in the design and usability of mobile travel sites. As such it is vital that these retailers undertake a mobile-first approach to their online marketing and embrace a truly multi-platform approach. The only question is how?

Here are five tips to get started:

1. Unify experiences across all platforms

As a key first step in embracing the mobile-first economy, travel retailers must align their customers’ experiences across all of the platforms they may use.

While it is important that this experience is unified in terms of design, they need to acknowledge that each platform has its own unique requirements. 

It can be all too easy to group mobiles and tablets under the same banner of 'mobile devices' without actually considering how consumers are using them.

As such, develop seamlessly branded (and regularly updated) applications for each platform, and then individually tailor these to each specific device.

2. Provide quality search results & relevant content

While many travel sites are already providing high quality search functions, the results of these search engines regularly display too much information to efficiently digest on a mobile screen. 

As an alternative, use smart-search technology to break queries down into individual requirements. This will allow advanced data slicing, while delivering accurate results through cross-platform landing pages. 

In addition to providing relevant search results, also look to improve the availability of related content. This should go beyond their fundamental service listings to include advice, resources and even editorial content.

3. Simplify the site’s navigation and checkout process

With shorter attention spans and higher bounce rates on mobile devices, improving navigation structures and shortening the user journey for customers is vital.

This can be particularly challenging given the extended research-to-purchase funnel involved in most travel-related decisions (many visitors may not even have a destination picked, let alone a hotel). 

To address this issue, look to prioritise content that drives visitors towards the checkout, avoiding an overreliance on purely search-driven results. 

As mentioned here on Econsultancy, Cathay Pacific provides a good example of a site with strong search functionality, which has been let down by the lack of a clear booking system.

      

4. Lend customers a hand

With over a third of mobile users considering in-app support a vital requirement when using apps for travel brands, this is one area that demands significant improvement throughout the industry.

Due to the relative cost of providing 24 hour support, very few travel retailers are taking the time to provide adequate customer service systems. 

Given the significance of real-time information and the premium costs involved in travel-related purchases, this failure to provide FAQs, live chat and instant customer contact boxes is proving a significant barrier to online sales conversion. 

5. Personalise experiences via social and location-enabled logins

Personalised experience is adding value for both retailers and customers across the entire ecommerce space. Given their ability to use GPS location and social media applications, mobile devices provide the perfect platform to enhance customer experiences. 

On a basic level, this personalisation can be used to adapt to regional currencies and to provide local recommendations based on a user’s location.

Through more sophisticated usage however, social login facilities can help to provide detailed travel and purchase recommendations based on a user’s likes, network and even browsing history.

David Bowen

Published 10 December, 2014 by David Bowen

David Bowen is the Product Manager of EPiServer. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter, or add him to your circles on Google+

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