According to a recent survey, 81% of people abandon online travel bookings, with 'just looking' the biggest reason for this. 

53% abandon when they see the full price, though 87% said they would consider returning to the booking. 

So what, if anything, can travel websites do about this? 

Why do people abandon? 

SaleCycle used a mixture of abandonment data from its clients in 2014 and a survey of 1,000 consumers asking why they abandoned travel purchases. 

These were the reasons given for abandoning purchases: 

  • 39% were just looking and had more research to do. 
  • 37% abandoned due to high prices and wanted to compare prices elsewhere. 
  • 21% needed to check with other travellers before booking. 
  • 13% felt the booking process was too long or the checkout too complicated. 
  • 9% experienced technical issues. 
  • 7% had issues with payments or the option they wanted was unavailable. 

For some of these reasons, there is relatively little that online travel sites can do to reduce abandonment. 

A holiday is one of the biggest purchases of the year for most people, so they will spend time researching and visiting multiple sites before making a decision. 

According to Millward Brown stats, users booking holidays take up to 45 days and visit as many as 38 travel sites.

There are a lot of similar studies around with different numbers, but the central point is that people take time over travel purchases and like to compare sites. 

So, for 'just looking' consumers, sites will find it hard to prevent abandonment as they just want to see what's available and are unlikely to commit before shopping around. 

However, there's plenty sites can do about the other reasons, which we'll explore later in this article. 

Where do customers abandon? 

53% duck out when shown the total price. This suggests a fair amount of comparison shopping, but also a realisation amongst consumers that travel sites have a nasty habit of adding fees and charges during the booking process. 

They may be heading far enough down the funnel to find the 'real' price, or some could be deterred by extra charges being applied along the way. 

The other two reasons - being asked for personal or payment details - may just be the logical point to exit for comparison shoppers, but may also indicate problems with form design, or a lack of preferred payment options. 

What can sites do to reduce abandonment?

Given that customers like to spend time visiting different sites and researching purchases, travel sites can't deal with all these abandonment reasons.

However, there's much they can do to deal with the obvious reasons, help customers research more effectively, and encourage them to return to book in the end.

Here are some suggestions...

Provide greater clarity on pricing and charges

Travel sites have a challenge here, as the final price can depend on many variables - time of flight chosen, extras like insurance and baggage allowance, and so on. 

So, the price displayed here for a week in Italy will not be the final one. 

However, Thomas Cook expects people to invest time and effort entering the details of everyone travelling without confirming the total price.

It still says 'from £2727.03', suggesting that more charges may follow. As it turned out, that was the total price, but the language used is confusing for customers. 

There may be no hidden charges, but customers have grown used to them, and will therefore be suspicious if sites aren't clear about this. 

Ryanair has improved from the time when pre-ticked boxes with extra fees were the norm when booking online, but there's still room for improvement. 

Here, I can't move forward in the booking process without making a decision over insurance by actively selecting either my country or 'don't insure me' from a drop-down. 

Now, a radio button or tick box would be easier for users, as would the assumption that, unless they select it, users don't need insurance. 

This suggests that Ryanair doesn't mind if users select insurance accidentally.

After all, if it wanted to make it easy for customers to opt out, why use a drop down and place the option down the list between Denmark and Finland? 

In this example, easyJet is clear about its pricing throughout the customer journey. 

The use of the phrase 'final price' is a great way to reassure customers. 

Aid the research process

People are going to research, so make it easy for them. This means things like more flexible search options, content which supports the research process, and options which help customers to save preferences. 

Search tools on travel sites can help this. Options like searching across a flexible date range, all airports within a chosen country, or not making customers narrow options like departure airports too early can help. 

Not everyone has a clear idea of dates and destinations when they begin to search for holidays, and these customers should be catered for. 

Search results can help too. The 'month view' from Jet2.com is very useful if you're flexible on dates and just want the cheapest option.

At a glance you can see which days offer the cheapest flights. There's a fair bit of variation and therefore savings to be made.

Content can support the research process too. Give them information about their destinations, maps to show them the proximity of the hotel to the beach, things to do, and so on. 

AirBnB provides a great example, with city and neighbourhood guides. 

Take this overview of New York. The locals' pros and cons, and the 'known for' information gives people a quick idea of what the city is about, before exploring and finding which neighbourhood will suit them. 

Reviews provide valuable context too, and can be very persuasive for potential bookers. 

Booking and payment processes

There's a lot that can go wrong here, so sites need to make form filling and payment as painless as possible. 

Of course, it has to be complicated to a certain extent. There may be multiple passenger details to enter, hotels and flight times to choose, and so on. 

This means optimising web forms is even more important. Little details, like this mobile optimised calendar from Kayak, can make the difference, 

It's also important to avoid barriers to booking. Here, Ryanair's registration screen seems even more of an interruption since it's presented as a pop up, blacking out the rest of the screen. 

This is unneccesary, as users are busy filling in details anyway, so why not just add registration as an extra optional field rather then interrupting the flow?

The AirBnB checkout provides a better example. It displays the total price early in the process and provides a constant reminder for customers. 

The form is well designed overall, and data entry is easy enough. No unnecessary form fields or conventions on things like postcode formats make it more likely that people will complete the process. 

Make it mobile

A quick point, but as more people use mobile for travel bookings, the sites need to adapt and make it as easy as possible for customers to research and book on mobile. 

It's a hygeine factor as much as anything. This optimised site from lastminute.com tells users that they can search easily. 

This, from fly.co.uk, will deter customers straight away. 

Mobile optimisation is the first step, but travel sites also need to understand how customers use mobile in the context of researching and buying travel products and cater for this behaviour. 

Make it easy for customers to return

Travel sites need to accept that they are part of the research process, and that customers will use their site for price and product comparison on a regular basis. 

The key is to tempt them back when they are further along the purchase process. 

Now, if someone wants the cheapest possible option, not every site can compete with Ryanair and Jet2.

However, they can make it easy for customers to research, provide content that complements the products, features like reviews, and generally provide an excellent customer experience that leaves a favourable impression.

Also, they can remember customers' previous selections and preferences for future visits to make it easier, as well as prompting users with abandoned basket emails.

Millennium Hotels 

What do you think? How can travel websites reduce abandonment? Or is this a natural part of the research process? Let me know below... 

Graham Charlton

Published 13 January, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Jon Dodd, Managing director at Bunnyfoot Ltd

At least Ryanair have taken steps to make the being duped into getting insurance easier to avoid - the opt out used to nestle nicely inbetween Latvia and Lithuania - the new one is alphabetical - well done Ryanair :-)

almost 3 years ago

Zsofia Kerekes

Zsofia Kerekes, Content Marketing at Whisbi

A very actionable and insightful article! I believe that offering interactive live support paired with a convincing Call-to-Action to reach out at key conversion point is just as important. Whisbi had a great project with Melia hotel group increasing online conversion rate to around 27% upon integrating their solution: http://www.whisbi.com/case/important-call-tracking-travel-industry-optimize-online-marketing-budget-read-melia/

almost 3 years ago

Chris Collins

Chris Collins, Online Marketing Executive at Beattie Communications

I think it's also important to consider optimising the back-end of your site as well as the booking engine - slow returns on search results or progressing your booking can also lead to cart abandonment.

almost 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

I agree the numbers. Our figure is that 81% of people abandon online travel bookings.
http://www.triggeredmessaging.com/blog/real-time-marketing-report-for-december-2014

But I don't think it's really that big a problem, because a lot of "abandons" are not real. The shopper hasn't given up, but is simply taking hours or days to make a decision, while co-ordinating holiday time+location with their family and friends.

Where you can identify shoppers, cart abandonment emails containing a link to the exact holiday chosen are extremely effective in helping them to return easily, earning £14.12 (US $21.42) per email sent.

almost 3 years ago

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones, Online Marketing Executive at Postcode Anywhere

I think the number of people browsing for holiday bargains will only continue to grow over the next years.
A problem I often find is that deals promoted online are not available to book. Often the best price is not available for the exact dates/departure point you want, but only a call to confirm will make me quit the pursuit!

almost 3 years ago

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Yann Gabay, Managing Director at Netbooster

Hi, very interesting study, but just a quick question : how do you explain that the total of the % below exceed 100% ?

39% were just looking and had more research to do.
37% abandoned due to high prices and wanted to compare prices elsewhere.
21% needed to check with other travellers before booking.
13% felt the booking process was too long or the checkout too complicated.
9% experienced technical issues.
7% had issues with payments or the option they wanted was unavailable

almost 3 years ago

Ido Ariel

Ido Ariel, Founder at Barilliance

Another way to help travelers make up their mind is to create a sense of urgency. This can be done by showing how many people are viewing a specific hotel and how many rooms are left on the desired date. It works well for travelers who are almost ready to buy. Barilliance Live! does something similar but adds personalization elements to it http://www.barilliance.com/social-proof-for-ecommerce/

almost 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

@Yann: LOL! I found an earlier version of these results and it seems to be that way in the original data. The total is 126% so it's not because of rounding errors. I presume that shoppers could choose more than one reason, because choices 1 and 3 in particular don't seem mutually exclusive.

almost 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

I just found what I assume is the survey, which seems to a Web Form and still live, though I didn't try it. You *are* allowed to choose more than one option, which is why the choices total more than 100%, and the exact wording is as follows. Sorry, the URL is easy to guess, but I am not going to publish it as that would be mean.

"Why would you typically not complete your booking? (You may select more than one)"
1. "Price is too high (or want to compare elsewhere)"
2. "Want to do more research"
3. "The process is taking too long"
4. "Don't have my payment details with me"
5. "Technical difficulties on the website"
6. "I need to check with other travellers"
7. "Other:"

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Yann as Pete says, users could select more than one option in the survey, though not all chose to. Thanks Pete for the explanation.

You can see the survey here: http://www.salecycle.com/survey/

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Ido Yep, urgency is a great tactic. It may not work for all of the abandonment reasons, but worth trying now and then.

https://econsultancy.com/blog/63680-15-ways-ecommerce-sites-can-use-urgency-to-increase-conversions/

almost 3 years ago

David Mann

David Mann, Conversion Rate Optimisation Consultant at Davidmannheim.co.uk

A good but missed example is Virgin Atlantic which in my opinion has taken the user requirements very much into consideration.

I'm a little surprised at that many users leaving at the payment stage, with so much commitment required before hand, a user leaving at the payment stage doesn't make an awful amount of sense (although understand it's a big purchase) Saving holidays or abandon carts would surely work well based on this figure?

almost 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

@David. I don't think the issue is really that users *leave* at the payment stage. I think they often *pause* at the payment stage, so they can do doing research such as a final check on holiday times with their employer.

Real-time marketing systems are simple-minded and interpret (or misinterpret) any lengthy pause as abandonment, which it may not be from the viewpoint of the shopper.

I think this is a major part of the explanation why reported abandonment rates are higher for holiday&travel brands than those in other sectors (see my link above for numbers).

almost 3 years ago

Neil Capel

Neil Capel, Founder & CEO at Sailthru

Cart abandonment plagues ecommerce marketers from all industries. When this happens a carefully crafted, triggered messaging series can entice these customers back to their abandoned carts and recover revenue for the brand.

Needless to say that message copy, creative and channels used (for example email, text or mobile push message) must be personalised to each customer. Those organisations that get personalisation right will beat away the diversion and win the customer, now and perhaps for life.

almost 3 years ago

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