OTA_Shopping _Cover
Sinead Reilly

How online travel agencies can simplify the shopping process

May 22, 2019

The travel shopping process can be a fragmented experience for customers. With so many options from hundreds of travel brands, planning a trip involves visiting many websites and starts weeks or even months before a booking takes place.

For online travel agencies (OTAs), this leads to high website bounce rates and low conversion. Travelers are searching for the most relevant flights, hotels, and car rental offers, and will abandon any website that doesn’t meet their expectations. After all, they have plenty more to choose from.

So what do OTAs need to do to convert more shoppers to bookers? 

Simplifying the searching and shopping process is critical in boosting conversions at your OTA. You need to hit what we call the ‘search sweet spot’—a wide range of content, delivered quickly, that’s relevant to the traveler’s needs. Content, speed, and accuracy.

By perfecting these three elements, you can deliver a better service and get ahead of the thousands of other travel brands out there contending for your target customer’s attention.

And as well as improving the customer experience, simplifying the shopping process also brings commercial benefits. It can increase conversion and reduce the window between shopping and booking.

Here, we’ll look at how your OTA can master each of the three elements that make up the search sweet spot and start boosting conversions.

CONTENT
While travel shopping, customers want to view and compare a wide range of travel content. This doesn't only mean flights, but also ancillaries like extra bags, in-flight meals, seat selection, and so on.

73% of travelers would re-book with an OTA who offers them the ability to book an end-to-end trip in one place. So, your agency must offer beyond-air products to deliver this joined up experience. 

Here are the areas you should focus on.

Branded fares
As part of creative pricing strategies, airlines now target different types of traveler needs with ‘branded fares’. For example, a basic, no-frills ‘Economy’ fare and an ‘Economy Plus’ fare that includes seat selection or checked baggage. 

More than 270 airlines offer these types of fares. Yet, accessing and selling these branded fares can pose a technical challenge for OTAs. This leaves the agency with only flight times and prices to present to the traveler. As a result, travelers resort to an airline’s website to understand what’s included in a fare or add ancillaries to their booking. 

This behavior is starting to impact air bookings for OTAs, shifting bookings directly to the airline’s site. 

Your OTA can add extra value and convert more customers by offering branded fares. By presenting these fares, and showing what’s included in each, you’re giving customers a convenient way to compare their options in one place. They won’t need to visit multiple websites to compare offers and can feel reassured they’re getting the best deal possible when clicking ‘book’.

Find out more about Travelport’s branded fares and ancillaries solution. 

 

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Dynamic packaging
At the shopping stage, travelers will likely book with the travel brand that gives them the best deal. Giving them a platform to build their own package deal is an excellent way to prove your OTA's value. 

Dynamic packaging is a method used in package holiday bookings that allows customers to build their own package of flights, accommodation, and car rental, instead of buying a pre-defined package.

Travelers can usually find a lower price by building their own package rather than booking an individual flight, hotel and car. This means that your OTA can offer a better deal while also  increasing shopping cart value. Where a traveler may have booked only a flight, offering dynamic packaging can help to boost hotel and car attachment rates.

SPEED
Once you’ve enhanced your content offering, the next part of the shopping optimization trifecta is speed.

Travelers are searching through so many websites at this point in their journey. If one is slow to load, they will exit without giving it a second thought. In fact, 52% of travelers with smartphones said they'd switch sites or apps because it takes too long to load. To increase conversion, your OTA should aim to process search responses in under two seconds.

Here are a few ways you can speed up your search results for flights, hotel, and car hire:

•    Mobile-first API: Asking smartphone users to scroll through hundreds of flight choices is a sure-fire way to lose potential bookers. An API optimized for mobile devices makes flight searches fast and easy. It accelerates response times by connecting directly to search-engines rather than going through unnecessary network infrastructures. By optimizing your search API for mobile, your OTA can deliver the right information fast, no matter the devices your customers use. Optimized APIs also support pagination. With limited shelf space on a mobile or desktop screen, you can display a few results at a time, along with a ‘More’ or ‘Next’ button to get the next set of results.


•    Intelligent caching: If you're losing customers from your site due to slow performance, intelligent caching technology can help your OTA to display results to search requests instantly, even when filtering through thousands of products on the market. Intelligent caching stores previous search results in a cache, which retains the relevant elements, like price. It then displays this for customers without the need to connect to a supplier’s system. Intelligent caching can predict when the stored information is relevant to the search, or when a direct hit to a supplier’s system is needed.

ACCURACY
Finally, the third part of the ‘search sweet spot’ that will allow you to streamline your shopping process: accuracy. It’s little use to present quick search results if they're not relevant to your users.

Travelers may end up viewing hundreds of different travel options before finally clicking ‘book’. As more variations take place for each online air or hotel search, it’s no surprise that conversion rates of online travel agencies are falling.

To solve this challenge and reduce consumer frustrations, OTAs must use technologies to profile travelers and to get to know their preferences. Achieving this level of personalization will allow your agency to apply search parameters that are most likely to return results that prompt those travelers to book flights or hotels. 

Conclusion
To optimize conversion at your OTA, you need to make the greatest impact possible at the shopping stage. By hitting the search sweet spot—content, speed, and accuracy—you can reduce the lag between the shopping and booking phases of the journey and grow conversion at your agency. You also can position your OTA as a partner that's easy to search and book travel with, driving long-term customer loyalty.

Want to learn more about how to optimize conversions across the customer journey? Get your free 56-page guide for OTAs.