Booking trips: 2009 (or the year of the booking engine)

It being January, life in the travel sector is hectic. This is the big period of the year when travel cos sell the most product... so I've had little time to post my 2009 Predictions like half the rest of the blogosphere has done. I've been busy writing features...

But here's one prediction that I'm pretty convinced of.

Working as I do at the moment for a Search and Social media company, there's often a real fix on traffic. It's all about greater visibility in Google rankings and driving more traffic to peoples' websites. But having a load more customers isn't any use at all if they don't buy. And having too many customers means those that want to buy sometimes can't because the website can't keep up.

I posted a month or so  back about Richard Carrick CEO of Hoseasons', comments at the  Travolution Question Time event in December.

we improved our conversion rate by 1% that would do the deal for us. We
have enough visitors to our website, we just need to convert them

I remain amazed at how hopeless and frustrating booking engines can be on many travel websites. (I'm not making reference to any specific websites here.)

But, you type in your prefered dates and find there's no availability for the destination you want. So you start again... and almost always have to re-key your preferred dates all over again. And tell them again it's for two passengers not one etc.

Or else you end up with all manner of extras dumped on you that you don't want (Ryanair and Easyjet - I do NOT and never will want stupid speedy boarding or your 'extra travel insurance' - does anyone??)

Or an overwhelming choice with complex filters - leaving you just a tad bewildered.

Improvements are happening, slowly. More companies are displaying ranges of options either side of the dates people select, populating fields as you type, offering alternatives if first preferences aren't available. 

Taking it a step back, it seems to me that people fall into 3 categories

  •     I know where I want to go (what hotel I want) and my dates are fixed
  •     I know where I want to go - and my dates are flexible
  •     I haven't decided where to go - but my dates are fixed

Booking engines should make it easier for you by allowing you to tell them up front which boxes to keep populated when you are doing multiple searchs.

If I were an airline, I'd make it map-based... tied in with the route maps. (Does anyone know of any airlines already doing this?)

So you tell the booking engine your dates and select your departure airport (or even airports? like say London Stansted, Gatwick, Luton and Heathrow) and you're shown the destinations served for that date period. Far more straight forward than wading through a long list of options and then getting the message: "Flights to this destination do not operate during your selected time period." as is often the case for Easyjet and Ryanair.

And finally, however good of bad your booking engine - make it available to me ALL the time. It has to be on every single page. If I want to book... don't make me have to hunt for the booking engine.

And for god's sake - make it work... fast!

So.... for me the winners this year will be the ones that get the basics right in what will be a challenging environment - and the booking engine is the place to start.

Anyone got examples of booking engines they really rate? And of course ones they HATE!

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