Tour Operators' Websites Must Focus More On Engagement, Says AITO

Travel websites owned by members of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) could be doing more to communicate their brands and engage customers.

The association has issued advice to members to make changes and future-proof their businesses, Travolution reports.

The AITO carried out a review of members' websites using a team of experts from Richard Carrick Consulting, which analysed their brands, product, websites, online savviness and customer relationship management.

According to the research, members need to take action to improve their websites including adding more personal references and user reviews, being more imaginative in their use of content, and promoting their own brands more effectively.

The websites that came up trumps across the performance indicators were Martin Randall Travel, followed by Journey Latin America and Explore.

Those that needed improvement were good at promoting their sector of specialist travel, but weren't focused enough on pushing their own brand name, the analysts concluded.

Richard Carrick, chief executive, said: "The level at which you communicate your brand is patchy. There are some clear propositions but they are not as well communicated [to clients] as they should be."

Website owners can promote customer engagement by posting photographs of staff, encouraging clients to sign up to mailing lists as soon as possible, having client testimonials, using video to promote content and "nudging" customers to keep them on the website.

Very few of the sites featured third-party reviews, Carrick observed. "There is not enough focus on improving conversion rates and reducing bounce rates; give people nudges to keep them on your site. Reviews on your site will whack up conversion rates," he commented.

Additionally, just a third of members' sites acknowledge customers when they sign up to their mailing lists, he added.

Technology is set to change at such a rapid rate; within five years it will become so immersive that clients will be able to "smell" food in destinations through their mobile phones, says Rohit Talwar, futurologist and chief executive of Fast Future.

As technology evolves, consumers will be able to experience a whole range of aspects of holidays remotely via technology, he predicted.

"We are seeing the rapid evolution of technology. We are going to see technology embedded into our bodies. In a few years you will be able to smell food in destinations via your phone. In ten to 20 years we will be able to create the experience of being there by stimulating the brain," he said.

Travel organisations need to start preparing for the technological challenges of the future. "Organisations which do the best at not being surprised by the future are the ones which look ten years out at what is coming," Talwar added.