In the first ten months of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic cost the tourism industry $935 billion in revenue worldwide. Despite having no control over the global crisis, travel operators are forced to think creatively about the field they can impact and improve – the travellers’ experience.  

If we dig deeper into available research, we’ll find that the need for digital travel experience reinvention goes long before the pandemic. Nielsen research found that travellers spent an average of 53 days visiting 28 different websites before they booked a holiday. Customers spend weeks scrolling websites just to freeze at the booking point.

With the shopping cart abandonment rates of 81.6%, the research by SaleCycle confirms the travel booking experience is an old age problem. Moreover, high competition and new customer demands are pushing travel operators to upgrade their digital games.

In this article, I’ll explore how technology can help operators not only improve but also reimagine their travel booking experience.  

Travel booking as an emotional experience 

While travel operators were overwhelmed with worrying predictions, we wanted to investigate how travellers are experiencing this new reality. To gain relevant data, our team conducted research with 2,000 consumers aiming to explore the cause of any buying process – the need. Our goal was to find out what is the travel booking experience really about.

We found that the actual holiday is just a final product serving a deeper human need for imagination. Our research also showed that 1 in 4 of us want a holiday for the dreaming and planning aspect.

People want to get swept away in imagining, and share ideas with friends and plan together with families. Furthermore, the research shows that 38% of consumers research holiday ideas because they seek something to excite them.  

What is causing a high bounce rate?

an image of a person with a map planning travel booking experience

As part of our research, we spoke to psychologist Şirin Atçeken who works at WeCure as an EMDR therapist. She believes that having something to look forward to is incredibly beneficial for mental health. It provides humans with hope for a positive future, regardless of how bleak the current situation may be. 

When we book a holiday, we often have a feeling of accomplishment, something that we have worked to achieve. It boosts happiness levels, reduces anxiety, and breaks up the monotony of an average day. Planning a holiday is an act of organisation, which also provides several mental health benefits, and makes you more productive, explains Şirin Atçeken.

Doubtlessly, emotions and mental wellbeing play a pivotal role in our travel booking experience: from the initial excitement at the planning stage to the euphoria of booking, and the climax of stepping off the plane at your chosen destination. Yet, most holiday searches are based on rational criteria.  

This begs the question, is the discrepancy between the emotional need and the fact-based booking process causing a high basket drop rate?  

Designing booking experience with feelings in mind  

Most holiday searches use the factors such as destination, facilities and budget to help travellers find their perfect location. The link between emotions and purchasing decisions is often overlooked. But imagine you could book your holiday based on how you want to feel.  

These four questions will give you an idea of how it might sound:  

  • When you close your eyes, what can you smell and hear?  
  • Is it distant chatter or music that makes you want to move?  
  • Is it the scent of sea salt or a buzzing city, or perhaps both?  
  • Are you feeling relaxed or adventurous?  

A booking journey asking these questions places emotions at the forefront, rather than providing a destination-first approach. By incorporating ‘feeling’ tags into the holiday search, travel operators can offer a more sensory-led search that will meet the emotional aspects of the booking.

Using technology to improve the travel booking experience 

Creating a sensory-led digital experience is one of the trending solutions in the CX industry. Take Netflix as an example. The streaming giant offers ultra-personalised recommendations to its users by gathering data and applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyse individual preferences.

The travel industry could use the same technology to improve holiday search. To create a similar level of personalised holiday recommendations, they would need detailed data about every offer. By adding machine learning and AI, operators could match the right products against individual customer preferences. 

Travel operators can also create a more immersive experience through visual and audio tools. Combining augmented reality (AR) with mobile device orientation technology, for instance, can replicate what it would feel like if you were standing on a beach in your chosen destination. Combining these visuals with binaural audio technology to replicate soundscapes, such as crashing waves on the shore, you can evoke deep emotions.

The future of holiday booking

Today, we have the powerful technology to transform the traditional ‘click and search’ travel booking experience. So whilst the tourism industry is in a period of recovery, travel operators have an opportunity to offer holiday seekers the chance to dream and plan and book their experience based on how they want to feel.

By addressing the roots of why people book holidays in the first place, travel companies can simplify the complex holiday search, stand out from the competition, create memorable customer experiences.

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