Travel companies are failing to provide consumers with the inspiration to book holidays online, according to new research by search engine Yahoo!
It said that 97% of the 6,500 people it quizzed in five European countries found their inspiration elsewhere on the internet, often from user-generated content.
However, Yahoo said much of this information was confusing to customers, who are further frustrated by the inability to research and book holidays with travel companies using multiple screens, including mobiles, tablets and PCs.
Yahoo! senior director of international research Laura Chaibi said only about 10 travel brands have the capability to keep track of customers who choose to visit their sites from several different screens and, because of a lack of unity between the different platforms, users are often not able to find the same content when they switch screens.
"The most fundamental thing that came out of our research is that consumers want travel brands to up their game," said Chaibi.
Speaking as Thomson announced the launch of its second, high-tech 'holiday design store' in Liverpool (see separate story), Chaibi said travel brands weren't doing enough to sell destinations online, instead they were leaving it to others to provide the inspiration then expecting consumers to turn to them to book. As a result, holidaymakers typically visit 18 different sites as part of the booking process.
Holidaymakers now depend more on online recommendations than word of mouth when booking their next trip, and images are key. Photos are still a more useful tool than videos for selling holidays, said Yahoo, which owns the image sharing site Flickr. It said seven out of 10 people look at photos when researching a holiday but only one in three look at videos.
Its research shows that 42% of travellers upload photos to the internet in real time, while on holiday, but these might not necessary be flattering to a destination. "If clubbers are uploading photos at 2am, are they the sort of photos a destination wants people to see?" asked Chaibi.
Instead, firms should try to encourage customers to upload positive images, she suggested. She said an airline held a competition inviting passengers to submit their best photos for publication. "That's a great example of how to incentives customers to upload better images."
Tablet computers like the iPad are really changing the booking process, as the image quality is so good, she said. However, of the top 50 travel brands, only 28 are able to take bookings on mobiles.
Chaibi noted travel brands like Thomson, Thomas Cook and Virgin have launched concept stores making greater use of tablets and new technology to replace brochures. She acknowledged this was costly, but added: "Whoever can lock in a booking on a tablet and provide a seamless service to the consumer will be the winner."