Optimising the online experience: The Best Direction for Travel

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Today’s travellers are increasingly comfortable and savvy at using technology and the Internet to research, plan and book their trips around the world. According to travel research firm PhoCusWright, global online travel bookings grew 8 percent over the last year and are expected to increase by another 7 percent this year. Undoubtedly, online has become the travel industry’s most important sales and marketing channel. Yet, optimising the online experience across a global demographic, with different languages, attitudes and cultural norms, can present a challenge to marketers. The most effective travel brands are finding that the best approach is to develop a structured customer experience optimisation strategy using multivariate testing. For AsiaRooms.com, it is providing a key factor to success.

The business and its needs

AsiaRooms.com is an online travel agency that focuses on travel to and within Asia. Part of the TUI Travel Group, AsiaRooms.com has been operating since 1994, and sells hotel accommodation in all the key travel destinations across the Asia-Pacific region. The business is 100% online – and although it also operates call centres, access to them comes via the website.

The tourism industry in Asia continues to grow rapidly. The number of foreign visitors to this region is increasing year-on-year, while domestic and regional travel within the Asia-Pacific region has grown steadily in line with the burgeoning middle class and the higher disposable incomes. Sustained growth is forecast through to 2030.

AsiaRooms.com operates six local language websites within the Asia-Pacific, and in recognition of the rising trend for travel throughout Asia, the brand is targeting growth in key local markets in the region. Because of its widely diverse customer base, the business is especially keen to optimise the customer journey and deliver an online experience that is relevant to consumers’ needs, engaging and, ultimately, drives sales.

The strategy

In 2011, AsiaRooms.com began a partnership with the testing, personalisation and cross-channel optimisation experts at Maxymiser to develop a long-term customer experience optimisation strategy across its online portfolio. The programme was designed to augment the company’s established practice of conducting user studies to research the online experience. “AsiaRooms.com is a data and analysis-driven business, and we don’t test for the sake of testing,” says Ben Rush, Head of User Experience, AsiaRooms.com. “We conduct lots of blind studies to examine the user experience and the Maxymiser campaigns plug into these. Optimising the online experience has become critical to our growth. We sell hotels as a commoditised product and there is often very little differentiation between what we sell versus our competitors. We, therefore, need to maximise the online experience and rate of conversion on our website. Ultimately, we are looking to understand user preferences across the diverse markets within our region – and you cannot do that without testing.”

Understanding and responding to local nuances has therefore become central to AsiaRoom.com’s growth and Maxymiser has been able to generate robust data and reporting to underpin critical development decisions for the business. “Maxymiser is not just a test platform, it’s much more than that,” says Ben. “The reporting data that we get from our campaigns is very, very granular so we are able to identify when an experience may work in one market, but not in another. This helps us tailor products to specific markets.”

The outcome

With such a data-driven philosophy, AsiaRooms.com takes the view that testing should be a perpetual activity – believing that, in travel parlance, improving the online experience is a journey, not a destination. “The difference between success and failure in our industry is minute, so fractions of a percent in increased conversion can make a massive difference,” says Ben. “We, therefore, need a continual and evolving roadmap of development tests, and with Maxymiser’s support, that’s what we are delivering.”

In fact, in a sector where marginal gains are so significant, the brand’s partnership with Maxymiser has produced significant results, including one campaign which generated high double-digit growth. “Following a user study that raised questions about our pricing display, we conducted a comprehensive multivariate test that eventually led to a 60 percent increase in conversion rates. This is a clearly a significant uplift! The pricing display is a core part of the site, and there had naturally been huge internal apprehension about us making any changes to it. But Maxymiser was able to generate data from across all of our markets that helped us construct a business case to get the development work approved. And better yet, they were able to serve the winning experience to 100 percent of our traffic while our development team coded the project – a process which lasted four months. This gave us the benefit of a significant uplift that, without Maxymiser, we would otherwise have lost during those four months.”

The company has also conducted a major multivariate campaign across its ‘hotel details’ page, which is a key part of the user journey. “Because of the way consumers search for holiday packages, the vast majority of our traffic lands much deeper in the sales funnel than the home page. Users often search for specific hotels, and therefore most commonly land on the ‘hotel details’ page,” says Ben. “We underwent a complete redesign of the online experience of that page, based on user studies across multiple markets. Even though we knew it was the right thing to do, we needed to ensure that we were taking the right approach and that users were not going to drop out. It was a really significant campaign.”

“The results of the campaign gave us the confidence to go ahead and implement the changes because it provided us with clear evidence that the redesign was going to support a new user journey and incrementally improve the experience using more multivariate tests in the future. This was a classic case of monitoring the success of a big development project to ensure we are setting the stage for on-going growth and Maxymiser was a central component of it.”

The experience

AsiaRooms.com believes its partnership with Maxymiser is helping the business meet its growth objectives, thus giving it increased confidence to make significant changes. “Maxymiser drives all of our business cases,” says Ben. “We run the business in a very analytical way and have to justify every decision we make so having the data to demonstrate the conversion uplifts from our campaigns provides us with a strong framework to develop those business cases. Prior to this, we had many theories on how we should develop the site, but they were completely untested across all our markets. The data Maxymiser provides gives us confidence that our decisions are correct and is helping us to evolve the website and provide a strong foundation for future development.

“Maxymiser has enabled us to deliver fundamental business changes and incremental improvements to the user journey and conversion. They have helped us develop a very robust optimisation strategy and given us the ability to collect real-world data to support crucial development decisions. Moreover, they are helping us to constantly evolve the user journey, and ultimately, maximise bookings.”

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