The benefits of a responsive travel website are so compelling there’s no point in even trying to make the case companies in the travel industry can succeed without one. No doubt some are trying, but they’ve put themselves in roughly the same position as a brick-and-mortar store operating with inconvenient parking and accepting just one type of credit card. Perhaps some succeed in the short term, but those companies suffer an economic loss from missed profits. Since a website with responsive design is one that recognizes a visitor’s device and changes page configurations for best viewing, it stands to reason a nonresponsive site can never achieve the same user experience.
Responsiveness tied to Travel Technology Trends
It’s likely many companies without responsive sites simply allowed travel technology trends to overtake them. Their sites were built before customer usage of tablets and smart phones became significant, and a new investment in a responsive travel website never gained a sense of urgency.
Technology is moving so quickly it’s understandable a large number of travel companies are finding themselves in that position. After all, five years ago far fewer people used their phones for Internet transactions and even three years ago tablets were just gaining traction in the marketplace. Now things are different; as reported in PhoCusWright’s Traveler in 2013, devices were used during the travel lifecycle as follows:
- Destination Selection: Desktop – 82%; Smartphone -35%; Tablet – 22%
- Shopping: Desktop – 82%; Smartphone – 34%; Tablet – 21%
- Booking: Desktop – 57%; Smartphone – 19%; Tablet – 12%
Websites built more than five years ago could easily have overlooked the need for responsive design and any growing instances of abandonment might be missed by current owners or management. While visitor abandonment can be more difficult to measure and counteract, lack of website responsiveness is easily seen.
The screen comparison graphic shows how a responsive website alters the configuration of a page for visitors viewing it on desktop, tablet or smartphone. In this case, the page is where visitors can search for flights. The smaller screen sizes of smart phones and tablets triggers the website’s responsive design to eliminate background photos and other nonessential page features and stack the search fields so the visitor can clearly see those fields and easily populate them. Without responsive page design, the visitor would be unable to search for flights and highly motivated to abandon the site.
Any travel company's website can be checked for responsiveness by simply opening it in all three types of devices: desktop/laptop; tablet; smart phone. If pages do not reconfigure in a way resembling this graphic, the website is not responsive.
As with most technologies, there are downsides to responsive design – particularly if you have a nonresponsive website that provides a good user experience. Since websites download all content, switching to responsive design will mean changing an existing website, often in big ways. For example, large images may have to be eliminated if they can’t be resized. Website sliders or image carousels may have to be eliminated if they take too long to download on other devices. Other existing features may have to be redesigned so they can be properly seen and used on smaller screens.
A Summary of Responsive Benefits
Despite these drawback (often accompanied by additional design costs), the advantages of responsive design drive its growing popularity and acceptance. That’s not surprising: many of the advantages go to the heart of the user experience and that’s absolutely central to the website’s success. Other benefits are as follows:
Directly Supports Revenue: travel websites typically contain online booking software, which means – as seen in the screen comparison graphic – search fields plus search results, travel service details and a means for payment. Unless a website is responsive it cannot take a visitor through this transaction cycle and revenue is lost.
Aligns with New Technology: since responsive design conforms to screen size, not device, sites will be compatible with emerging technologies such as: watches, glasses, TV, etc.
High Performance: website loading times are faster with responsive design – higher performance means lower bounce rates.
Cost Effective: travel companies could address the mobile market with a separate mobile website. Since one website costs less than two for both development and support, responsive design delivers a clear advantage.
SEO: going with responsive design rather than a separate mobile site streamlines SEO efforts because visitors are directed to a single site regardless of what device they happen to be using. Also, Google has taken the position that responsive web design is its recommended mobile configuration, and views responsive web design as an industry best practice.