Travel Websites Need to Embrace Web 2.0 if They Are to Improve Online Usability

Webcredible report highlights that UK travel agent websites are offering a usability study into the online travel industry by Webcredible has discovered a mixed level of usability performance from some of the UK's most popular travel brands. Whilst some very good websites exist with high levels of usability, the research reveals that others are lacking in some of the most basic customer usability functions. The report conducted by online usability and accessibility experts Webcredible examined the websites of 20 of the UK's online travel agents and airline carriers.

Webcredible found that only three companies Opodo, British Airways, and Travelbag scored over 60% when measured against a set of specific criteria. Many of the top internet brands performed very poorly only scoring around 50%.

Each of the websites within the report were evaluated against 20 best practice guidelines and assigned a score of zero to five for each guideline. This system was developed by Webcredible specifically for travel websites.

The travel industry average usability rating was 51.5% which clearly identifies scope for travel sites to improve on their online offering in order to meet the demands of a European marketplace estimated to be worth 49.4 billion. Travel agent sites, Opodo and Travelbag, were found to offer users the best online experience, scoring 67 and 62 out of a potential 100 respectively. While airline carrier sites Monarch and Ryanair scored lowest at 38 and 40.

Interestingly, there was a significant difference between the performance of the travel agents who scored 55% and the airline carriers who scored 48%. Carriers frequently let themselves down by failing to address areas such as poor transparency of pricing.

Ismail Ismail, director at Webcredible, said, "Users need to have clear and accurate pricing displayed through-out their journey through a site. It's not acceptable to add 'hidden' charges at the very end of a transaction process this is something which a number of airline carriers are guilty of."

Ismail continues, "Many of the sites also suffered with inaccessible user information. For example, with the growing number of airlines flying to new and mysterious-sounding airports many of the sites aren't being upfront about where they are based and how users will get there. 15 out of 20 travel sites scored 0 out of 5 on this guideline."

A failure to embrace Web 2.0 technologies was also an issue for many of the sites. They were not able to provide their users with such rudimentary sharing tool features as options to 'email a friend'.

Ismail concludes, "While the transparency of pricing is a long standing concern of the Office of Fair Trading it's particularly surprising that many of the sites tested have not embraced the spirit of Web 2.0, considering its growth in recent years. Booking a holiday is often a social experience and the ability to interact and share the booking process with friends and family is essential. Given the sector's huge growth and potential, top travel sites must leverage every advantage available to them to be more effective in this highly competitive marketplace. Increasing the usability of a travel website will enhance the success users have in finding and booking flights it's as simple as that. Better usability will also lead to a rise in loyalty and return site visitors, and an improvement in the perception of the online and offline brand."

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