Five reasons consumers don't book travel online

Travellers continue to resist the Web for reservations, research finds

Despite improved customer-satisfaction ratings at several e-commerce companies, online travel sites still suffer from security, performance and customer perception woes that cause potential travellers to put down their mouse and pick up the phone to book trips.

Forrester Research found that in the light of recent survey data those who book travel continue to resist the Web as their main resource for making reservations. The research firm polled about 5,330 North American consumers in the last quarter of 2006 to determine exactly what prevents them from putting their faith in online travel sites. To start, the top-three most common reasons for those who book travel not to stay online to make reservations include concern over credit-card security, Web-site performance issues and limits on the actions they could take online.

"[Forrester] data shows that there are some nagging issues that keep Web travelers from booking online," a recent Forrester report reads. "Three reasons -- concern about credit-card security, in ability to make specific requests online and frustration with Web-site performance -- have shown noticeable growth in one year."

Specifically, the number of consumers concerned with submitting their credit-card information online has doubled. About 9 percent cited this reason in Forrester's 2005 poll and in 2006 16 percent said, "I didn't want to submit my credit-card/payment information over the Internet." Forrester deems this reason as a "red flag for all travel sellers," because it is also a concern for Web site visitors that limit the online time to researching a trip and book it offline. Dubbed lookers, 27 percent of this class of online travel planner in 2005 said they book offline for fear of credit-card theft, and in 2006 32 percent said that is the reason they use traditional travel-reservation methods.

"The growing fear of online identity theft presents a real and serious obstacle to continued online booking growth, as even travelers who have booked online in the past are now afraid to do so," the report reads.

Second, Web travellers cited limited capabilities with the online reservation system as a reason for booking offline. About 25 percent in 2006 and 19 percent in 2005 cited "an inability to make a special request, such as asking for a particular type of room or model of a car." Forrester says online travel sites must update legacy systems to reflect the ever-growing demands of savvy travellers. "Until travellers have the same control online to consistently specify everything they would to a call-centre agent, the inability to make special requests will dilute travel's online sales success," the report reads.

Performance problems on travel Web sites rounded out the top-three reasons people are less comfortable booking online than they have been in the past. In fact, according to Forrester's survey, "one in five Web travellers cites this as a reason for booking travel offline," which is why the research firm recommends online sites make performance and usability a top priority in 2007.

The last two reasons that keep consumers from sealing the deal online involve wanting the advantage of human interaction. One-third of respondents said, "They'd just prefer to deal with people when booking travel."

And others think the personal touch will help them get a better deal with travel. Forrester says this last reason is a bit of a paradox.

"Consumers see the Web as a bargain basement for all kinds of retail products, yet when buying travel, they think they can negotiate a better price with an actual person," the report reads.

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