• March 27, 2006
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Customers Are Checking Out of Hotel Web Sites

Expedia.com and Travelocity.com are the sources of choice for hotel and lodging customers seeking to book accommodations, according to "Keynote Rankings for Lodging Web Sites," a new study from tech consultancy Keynote Systems. The online experience of 2,000 prospective customers who visited the 11 leading hotel Web sites and online travel agencies in January and February 2006 revealed that although there was movement and improvement by individual companies, the industry as a whole has been losing ground in the battle for customer satisfaction. Online agencies are half again as likely to secure repeat business than hotel Web sites, according to the study. Forty-six percent of customers visiting Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity stated that they were very likely or extremely likely to book hotel rooms there in the future, while just 31 percent of visitors to the three leading hotel sites said the same. Expedia is the overall leader in the Keynote customer experience rankings, based on strong site performance and what the report calls clear leadership in consumer perceptions about the quality and value of the available hotel accommodations on its site. Travelocity went against the grain, improving its overall customer satisfaction and experience ratings. Customer support, travel guarantees, and "the best online booking process," according to the report, moved Travelocity into second overall for customer experience. Keynote also assessed sites' responsiveness and reliability in technical terms. Interestingly, satisfaction decreased substantially around the time many sites were completing makeovers to their Web presence. One leading agency's customer satisfaction decreased from 73 percent last year to just 62 percent this year, while a leading hotel site declined from 66 percent to 55 during that period. The correlation may not be a coincidence, says Dr. Bonny Brown, Keynote Systems' director of research and public services. "It appears the changes and makeovers many leading sites made to their Web sites, and specifically to their homepages, may have negatively affected customer satisfaction. The questions we are examining are whether these are short-term downswings caused by general consumer aversion to change, or whether there is clear dissatisfaction with specific site changes." According to the study, Hotels.com was one of the only sites to see improvements based on site changes. In 2005, slightly more than half of visitors said Hotels.com's booking system was easy to use, compared to 78 percent in 2006. By streamlining the booking process, Hotels.com climbed from last place a year ago to second in that category. Marriott's Web site is the best in terms of raw technological performance. The hotel chain ranked first in both site reliability and site responsiveness. Priceline.com was close to Marriott with regard to reliability, both sites being highly available with little or no downtime; rival hotelier Sheraton was second in responsiveness, a measure of speed in page loads and transactions. Keynote recommends 99 percent uptime as the threshold of reliability, but only 2 of the 10 sites reviewed achieved that goal; the average was closer to 97 percent, or three out of every 100 visitors experiencing failure or significant problems. "The online travel and lodging industry clearly needs to improve its reliability," said Ben Rushlo, Keynote manager of service level management professional services, in a written statement. "Simply put, when your site is unavailable to consumers, you lose business." The result, according to Brown? "Consumers appear to be a bit grumpy." Related articles: Travel Companies Are Light On Email Quality
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