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

It’s an industry we’ve previously looked at in some detail, including the importance of paid search for driving traffic and average order values, and which sites are most visible in organic search.

An updated version of the eTravel Benchmark Study looks at what travel companies are doing to improve conversions by comparing the usability of 53 websites.

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

The eMysteryShopper survey was conducted during October and November 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%.

First impressions

Landing pages are extremely important as it’s unlikely that customers will stick around for long if they are greeted with an unattractive or badly designed webpage.

Co-op Travel achieved the highest score for this category (91.9%), followed by Virgin Holidays (90.3%) and Haven (90%).

The report notes that brands that achieved high scores used inviting colour schemes and images integrated with prominent, readily accessible deals.

The Co-op also impressed the testers with easy to locate contact details, site security and flexible search options on the homepage.

On-site search

The important criteria for this category are whether the site offers an intuitive process and how long it takes customers to find what they’re looking for. achieved the top score for search (92.3%), followed by Hoseasons Lodges (90.7%) and Virgin Atlantic (90.1%).

According to the report, impressed testers with the simplicity and flexibility of the initial search criteria, including auto complete text and comprehensive ‘refine search’ options.

For more information on site search tools, check out our blog posts on examples and best practice for search box placement and five tips to optimise e-commerce site search.

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.

Holiday camp company Butlins came top (91.7%) followed by Virgin Holidays (90.5%) and Haven (90.3%).

Butlins has recently revamped its booking process and scored particularly well for clear signposting and the ability to amend or add extras during the booking process.

The verbatim responses show that visitors were impressed by the fact that it was easy to follow, tracked each stage with a progress bar at the top of the screen and included a list of what was included in the price at all times. 

Overall winner

Eurocamp achieved the top spot for the first time, with previous winner Center Parcs dropping 18 places to 19th in the list.

Eurocamp scored well in the early stages including first impressions and initial research, while also providing consistently high quality customer support available via phone, email and live chat.

In general, sites tended to perform well if they use interactive features and enticing imagery (often in the form of scrolling homepage headlines directing users to key information or deals).

Another feature leading to higher scores is the visual execution of features such as seat/cabin selection for airlines.