It’s official -- we humans love to travel! According to Phocuswright, online tours and attractions' gross bookings are expected to increase from $9 billion in 2015 to $21 billion in 2020. More significantly, research by Trekksoft suggests that at least 80 percent of bookings made last year were online, with a projected 40 percent of those coming through mobile device bookings.
Clearly, the demand for online travel booking sites is there, but some people have argued that the current websites and platforms in place aren’t up to scratch with user expectations, particularly those sites which claim to offer bargain travel for customers.
So, what’s the problem, and how can it be addressed? Well, the main argument put forward is that some online booking sites either aren’t quite up to design standards that a user would expect today. Others have suggested that customers still have to look across multiple websites in order to book, plan, and research their trips away.
This is where Fantasy Interactive comes into frame. They looked at the travel industry and asked, “What if travel was smarter?” Fantasy Interactive reviewed several major airline websites and graded them against a string of criteria such as information architecture, interaction design, and visual design.
Unsurprisingly, the results were less than impressive. Without drastic changes to improve the digital experiences of the user, third-party sites like Kayak and Expedia would continue to eat into the market.
The solution? Fantasy launched their “what if?” campaign in an attempt to propose a way in which the airline industry could -- and should -- revolutionize.
The first port of call was to revitalize a broken user experience that was damaging the functionality of many high-profile travel websites. The emphasis was placed on ensuring that users could have a fast and simple experience when they were making their online booking - something which up until now seemed to have been set to one side.
The example layout of a proposed airline website UX revolved around four key points: utility, discovery, navigation and presentation. From a design perspective, the idea was to create a booking experience where the user has everything they need on one screen, rather than across multiple pages in a cluttered website.
A consequence of the outlined navigational structure was that the user quickly builds familiarity with the platform that they’re going to be using to manage their trip away from literally start to finish. With familiarity comes comfort, and with comfort comes an increase in the likelihood that a user returns to the airline website to make another booking in the future.
This is a crucial step in the process of an airline rebuilding its loyal user base which has gradually been shifting away over the last few years in favor of cheaper, slicker, and easier-to-use third-party services.
A significant shift in how some travel companies have structured their online websites recently relates to the focus on travel experiences, not just destinations. This simply means that companies are offering more than just ticket prices for flights, or booking prices for hotel rooms, rather, they’re offering customers the full package costs of an “experience” based on their interests.
The days of walking into a well-known travel agency, and adding additional perks or add-ons to your trip with related fees, are long gone. However, this now means that the role of a helpful advisor is vacant in the online travel space. Fantasy Interactive suggested that airlines should consider filling this role with an online alternative: A tool that is capable of suggesting travel experiences that a user might like depending on the details they have provided about their trip.
Additionally, if a better deal exists that the user has missed, the online agent can suggest they check out the cheaper option. The focus here is of course on the user experience and ensuring that the customer ends up with the cheapest and best travel package based on their needs.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. The scope that an airline has for offering a host of travel experiences rather than just the actual flights is constantly increasing. Partnering with a range of options for accommodation, encouraging users to interact with the brand on social channels, and offering in-depth city guides and advice are all just some additional features than an airline website could integrate to ensure that the user is able to effectively manage their entire trip from the one dashboard. Again, this focuses on a greatly enhanced user experience above all else.
Of course, at the heart of the problem is often the actual booking process itself. Although airline bookings evolved quickly from paper and fax machines to online website containers, that is essentially where they still remain today. They are clunky and disjointed processes, held together by slow transitions and flawed designs.
In order to improve the booking process, airline sites can use a streamlined process whereby the bulk of the transaction takes place on one screen and offers the user the ability to adjust what is usually important to them, for example, one-way or round trip, multi-city options, time flexibility and clear boarding options.
The redesigned airline website booking process proposed by Fantasy Interactive is not only a step in the right direction for the industry, but it’s a great example of what can be achieved when a company places emphasis on the user. Timely and intuitive design is easy to talk about, but quite difficult to implement.
An informed, yet simple, user interface means the customers can monitor and update everything from their initial booking right through to adding additional bags or making flight changes all on the one dashboard.
It will be interesting to see at what rate these types of website designs are implemented within the airline industry, and if there are, how will they impact the performance of airlines against the currently reigning third-party sites such as Expedia, Kayak, and TripAdvisor. All we know for sure? Fantasy Interactive is ready to fly -- and we are, too.
Do you think Fantasy's design will improve your travel experience? Share your thoughts in the comments!