Niche Travel Sites Keeping Customers Satisfied

Travel sites are among the top-rated Web sites in terms of percentage of visitors who are “extremely satisfied” and “very likely” to return, according to a study by cPulse.

The travel category slightly beat the entertainment category of Web sites with regard to high repeat usage. According to the cPulse study, 42 percent of visitors to Web travel sites are very likely to return and another 25 percent are extremely satisfied. At entertainment sites, 36 percent are likely to return, and 19 percent are extremely satisfied.

Within the travel category of sites, cPulse has found evidence that travelers are tried of impersonal meagsites that provide shallow content on a wide array of topics, and are now flocking to niche travel sites in increasing numbers. The number of new users to niche travel sites increased 82 percent in Q3 2000 compared to Q3 1999. Only 19 percent of these new visitors said they would not continue using these sites. According to cPulse, the popularity of the sites is a result of the fact that they do not rely on booking as their primary value delivered to users.

Niche travel content sites excel at meeting what cPulse found to be the top needs of their consumers: 1) accurate travel information, and 2) useful content. Their useful content offerings should come as no surprise because smaller, more focused sites don’t have to serve a wide spectrum of consumer needs so they can naturally provide content more useful to their users than a site serving a mass audience.

The cPulse study also found that consumers perceive the information they get from travel sites to be accurate.

“No hard evidence exists to suggest that the actual information on niche-focused travel content sites is more accurate than that of large travel corporations,” said cPulse analyst Joan Lambe. “One explanation for this phenomenon is the affinity that exists between users and the sites. By providing advice, personal recommendations, and anecdotes about hidden spots and areas to avoid, small travel content sites have done an outstanding job at creating unwavering trust from their users.”

The trick for niche travel sites will be turning customers happy with the content into business success.

“The impact that this bond of trust has on consumers and how they interpret their visit experience is a lesson for the large commerce-focused travel players. Applying a personal touch to interactions with consumers can dramatically improve the entire perception of your product and service,” said cPulse executive VP Jody Dodson. “When you attach travel advice and comprehensive destination information with the actual ticketing and booking process, you’ve got a model that could turn the online travel industry on its ear.”

cPulse’s research predicts that partnering and acquisition with large booking and reservation sites lies in the future for nice travel sites as large sites look to improve their competitive position and ultimately their bottom line.

The cPulse data resulted from a survey of 6,580 interviews with travel content site visitors between April 1, 2000 and September 30, 2000. cPulse uses pop-up interviews so visitors are interviewed while they are on the actual site.

Research by Gartner Group has found that loyalty among online travel consumers is eroding, thanks to price wars. Visitors to airline sites are more than four times as likely to be loyal than visitors to other travel sites. Nearly half (47 percent) of the 16 million people who buy travel online, buy only from airline sites. Only 18 percent have developed a loyalty toward Web-based travel agencies.

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