Tourism Industry News
While More Travelers are Booking Reservations Online, Market Share Among Independent Travel Web Sites Remains Flat
While the percentage of travelers making online airline, rental car and hotel reservations has increased 15 percentage points during the past year, bookings for independent travel Web sites have increased by only 1 percentage point since 2007, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Independent Travel Web Site Satisfaction Study(SM).
Now in its fourth year, the study measures customer satisfaction with online booking for airline, hotel or rental car reservations made on seven major independent travel Web sites. Six factors are examined to measure customer satisfaction. In order of importance, they are: competitiveness of price, ease of booking, usefulness of the information on the Web site, availability of booking options/travel packages, appearance/design of Web site, and ease of navigation.
The study finds that while 70 percent of travel reservations were booked online in 2008 -- up from 53 percent in 2007 -- only 16 percent were made through independent travel Web sites. This marks a negligible market share increase of 1 percent in 2008. Additionally, consumers who booked their travel using an independent Web site were considerably less satisfied compared with 2007, with satisfaction scores declining by 17 points on a 1,000-point scale to 785 in 2008.
"Many branded travel sites -- those directly operated by airline, rental car and hotel companies -- offer lowest-price guarantees, although customers perceive that independent travel Web sites are particularly price competitive," said Sam Thanawalla, director of travel and entertainment at J.D. Power and Associates. "When consumers don't believe they're getting the best deal using an independent site, they either go directly to the branded site or they concede to use an independent site, but are less satisfied with their experience."
While price is a key factor contributing to the decrease in customer satisfaction with independent travel Web sites, problems with excessive content and tools on travel Web sites are also contributing to the overall decline. Specifically, customers most frequently cite the additional pages that pop up during the booking process as a problem, which lowers customer satisfaction. Having to download new software in order to make reservations or get information on the best deals available is also a frequently reported issue among customers.
"Many of the independent players are trying to beef up their sites by adding more content and features, but this can make it more challenging for customers to easily navigate through sites and make travel reservations," said Thanawalla. "Web sites that offer lowest-price guarantees, provide images and have other relevant content, such as consumer reviews and information on areas that travelers will be visiting, will prove successful in satisfying customers. Ensuring a satisfying experience also leads to an increased likelihood that customers will return to make travel reservations in the future and give positive recommendations to others. In 2008, customers who say they are highly satisfied with their online booking experience are 50 percent more likely to return to the same Web site to book their next trip."
For a third consecutive year, Hotwire.com ranks highest among independent travel Web sites, performing particularly well in competitiveness of pricing and ease of navigation. Priceline.com follows Hotwire.com in the ranking, also performing particularly well in competitiveness of pricing.
Additionally, the study finds that an independent Web site's mix of travel services -- how much of the site's business is split between airline, rental car or hotel bookings -- also impacts satisfaction scores.
"Independent Web sites with a high proportion of flight-only reservations were strongly affected when airlines increased airfares in 2008, resulting in lower customer satisfaction," said Thanawalla. "Customer satisfaction levels among sites that also include a mix of rental car or hotel business -- for which prices have not increased dramatically -- have remained steady compared with previous years."