The online travel industry is highly competitive, with almost three quarters of travel research taking place online.

We’ve previously looked at which travel sites are most visible in organic search as well as the importance of paid search for driving traffic and average order values.

A new eTravel Benchmark Study looks at what travel companies are doing to improve conversions by comparing the usability of 52 websites. It examines several criteria including landing pages, search tools and the booking process.

The full eDigital Research report includes a lot of analysis, so I thought it would be useful to look at the search and booking process results in more detail, as well as seeing which site won overall.

The survey was carried out in May and June 2012 with each site allocated a percentage score that refers to the weighted average, where if all surveyors gave the top score the result would be 100%.

On-site search

The important criteria for this category is whether the site offers an intuitive process and how long it takes customers to find what they are looking for.

Online travel agent came top with a score of 90.5%, followed by (89.8%) and Thomas Cook (89.3%). 

Only six of the top 15 rated sites were pure-play online retailers, suggesting that multichannel retailers aren’t being left behind in terms of website usability.

OntheBeach’s high score was attributed to the fact that visitors were impressed with how effective the homepage search tool was.

The layout of flight/hotel search options allowed users to choose the right search quickly and keyword searching returned relevant results.

Booking process

The report judged each sites’ booking process on whether customers could successfully navigate it, knowing the value of their booking and making amends where required.

Pontins achieved the top score with 88%, followed by (86.5%) and Centre Parcs (86.2%).

Only three pure play online travel agents came in the top 15 for this category, while three airlines came in the top ten.

The evidence suggests that online retailers still have some work to do to make their boking processes more user-friendly.

Pontins achieved a high score as it offers an easy to follow booking process split into intuitive sections with clear progress markers.

According to the report:

Amending and adding options during the process was easy and well explained with the impact on price easy to track, something that set Pontins apart from many other brands.

Overall winner

Travel park operator CenterParcs came out on top overall thanks to its simple website that offers customers inspiration for holiday ideas and quick routes to booking.

Looking at the verbatim responses, customers were impressed with the site’s map feature that sets out where accommodation is located within the parks, its easy to use search tool and its simple design that made navigation easy.

These factors meant that Centre Parcs scored particularly well for the early stages of the customer journey as it made it easy for customers to find what they are looking for.

It also achieved a strong score for telephone customer services which was an area that let many of the travel operators down.