Online Travel Agencies Struggle With Multiple Consumer Preferences

Several factors play into what makes travelers prefer one provider over another, such as the site’s ease-of-use, and the way flights are presented.

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Online travel agents (OTAs) and meta-search providers are missing a major opportunity to drive more customer loyalty and stickiness by failing to engage with customers when they travel, according to the results of a study by FlightView.

The report indicated proactive itinerary and flight updates are no longer a nice-to-have for travelers, with 87 percent of the 2,066 travelers surveyed expecting updates on the status of their flight sent directly to their phone on the day they travel.

Nearly one-half said they want travel providers to go one step further and alert the relevant parties affected by their itinerary changes—47 percent want their hotel notified, 46 percent want updates sent to family and friends and 38 percent want ground transportation alerted.

"OTAs and third-party travel providers have been trying to figure out how to increase usage and maximize customer engagement," Mike Benjamin, CEO of FlightView, said in a statement. "One solution is proactively providing better, more actionable information and capabilities. More than 85 percent of the travelers we surveyed said they would return to the provider that they purchased their ticket from if they were offered more valuable information during their trip."

According to respondents, several factors play into what makes travelers prefer one provider over another, with one-half highlighting the site’s ease-of-use, and 41 percent noting the importance in the way flights are sorted and presented.

Accuracy of flight information was cited as most important by 30 percent of respondents, while 29 percent said the extra, relevant data provided, such as on-time ratings, visibility into fees and price predictions, was paramount.

"Travelers have more options for how they search and where they book than ever before,” Benjamin said. "While price is always a crucial factor, the site-to-site difference is rarely substantial. "The best way to keep users coming back and attract more customers is to provide the best user experience, information and updates possible–before, during and after the trip."

The report also indicated varying consumer preferences make it challenging for OTAs and meta-search engines to differentiate based on their core offerings–search and booking.

The variety in search preference is underscored in the survey results, with 36 percent of travelers preferring to go directly to the airline, while 29 percent said they prefer OTAs and 22 percent prefer meta-search engines.

On an individual provider basis, Kayak and Expedia were the most popular travel Websites for first searches, followed by Travelocity and Orbitz.

"The most stressful part of traveling is the lack of transparency into flight delays, cancellations and itinerary changes–and the potential for those changes to impact a vacation or business trip," Benjamin said. "Today, very few travel providers are delivering the amount of information and alerts that their customers crave."