The travel industry is often said to be ahead of the digital curve, and is one of the most lucrative online categories in Australia. So it is somewhat surprising to see that the travel industry is yet to truly innovate in the consumer engagement arena – particularly when it comes to site functionality.
Whilst I have held this belief for a while, it was interesting to see this validated in a recent article on eyefortravel.com which stated that the travel industry has some way to go in order to compete with ‘best in breed’ companies in the website engagement category. Whilst this was a European study I definitely believe this rings true for the Australian market.
The top tier players WebJet and Wotif and other market leaders such as Expedia have to date partly relied on an unsaturated landscape, strong acquisition strategies and consumer appetite to purchase travel online to drive online revenues. So whilst this approach is proving very successful in the current environment, increased competition could turn the industry in Australia on its head. Thus in a sector where the customer base is particularly promiscuous – switching brands for a better deal, a lack of innovation to engage consumers could be commercial suicide.
So where is the industry lacking?
Whilst the travel industry was quick to embrace collaboration tools such as UGC, many of the large players both locally and globally have failed to push the boundaries and differentiate in its use of this content.
Further to this, most sites are not providing the content and tools to support travellers beyond the booking process. Many sites do provide a lot of solid product content, however when it comes to content that supports preliminary decision making for travel – it never goes beyond basic destination information – thus where is the differentiation?
Web 2.0 has enabled key industries to innovate in very engaging ways. Mydeco.com is just one example of how one player in the home renovations / furnishings industry has bought together a large range of products and combined it with inspiring ideas, 3D design tools and a plethora of community functionality. This provides DIY lovers with complete support throughout the renovation process and several reasons to revisit the mydeco site on an ongoing basis. Whilst the fashion industry has seen the rise of many social fashion sharing sites and community based applications. One such example is Kaboodle.com which enables shoppers to share and discuss the latest fashion along with finding the best prices online.
So what has this got to do with the travel industry right? Travel has one important ingredient that both the home renovations and fashion industry has – consumer passion. Consumers are passionate about discussing their travel experiences and planning their next getaway – but to date I am yet to see leading travel retailers and aggregators in Australia really tap into this and use it to improve brand engagement.
Thus I ultimately believe the travel industry must now push beyond reviews and ratings and differentiate their site through innovative content and tools to provide a truly engaging experience and develop deeper relationships with their consumers.
Those that do could prosper the most in the Australian market in the coming years.