Thursday, 18 February 2010

Beaches – which one exactly?

It’s snowing yet again outside and it is definitely the time of year to think about booking the big Summer holiday. Don’t be fooled by the recession, a large % of British people count the annual holiday as a necessity and not a luxury.

Although you still can’t beat a brochure and thousands of trees are destroyed per year just for my pile under the coffee table, a large amount of us will turn to the web to research if not to book our annual summer getaway.

I will say it directly now, I have never found a truly good travel web site. Not one. If you have one to bring to my attention – please do. From the large corporates of Thomson and Thomas Cook to the niche operator, they all work off a similar sort of database that can’t see to cope with a “normal” customer request such as “family room, somewhere with sun, no more than 4 hours of flight, all inclusive with a kids club please”.

You have to know the date you are going and which airport you are going from before you can get any choices. Now. I live in Peterborough so I can go from quite a few airports including most of the London ones, East midlands and Birmingham but the travel site will insist you choose first. At best they propose “all London”. And maybe I don’t know the date I want to go, maybe I just want one of the 6 weeks of school holiday and I’ll have the cheapest one please.

Anyway more specifically, for a luxury option, I tried the Beaches site. The family branch of the better known Sandals Resorts, this is “top of the range” stuff. So surely they have a good approach?

First up, they want exact dates and which airport in Jamaica I want to fly to before offering me hotels. Hang on a minute, isn’t it the hotel that dictates the airport? And then, I get the error message, “nothing for that date, give us a ring”.

No alternative, no suggestion, no results at all, never mind relevant ones, just a great contribution to the “how to annoy your customer best” guide which I am seriously considering writing.

So I tried the “hotel only” option and no soon as I get a price, another big usability “no no”, they want my full details and create a log in and password. Excuse me, I was trying to have a browse.

This is one of the biggest reasons for drop off of customers early on in a journey. Ask for their exact details too early on and they give up with the effort and the nosiness. However if you draw the customer into the site, offering them choice, changes of date, a cheaper price, a different airport, a different hotel that is £200 more but with a special facility you might like, you engage the customer and they gain in confidence and interest.

It is proven that customers need to feel in control and love flexibility. Not to be confused with complexity.

Anyway, the Beaches deluxe holiday was just a pipe dream so back to battling with the Going Places web site and the search for a box for four in Benidorm….

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