Everyone knows the old saying you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but at the same time everyone knows the importance of making a positive first impression. It’s a paradox that relies solely judging a book by it’s cover, but it’s a paradox we live with on a daily basis and one that travel companies must reckon with when it comes to their web presence and the responsiveness of their website.
Imagine: You log on to a travel company’s website to research a destination or complete a booking and the site takes seemingly forever to load. Images don’t display properly, text is difficult to read, and drop-down bars and navigation tabs don’t function and impede your ability to move through the site. You try to access the same site later from a smartphone and tablet and encounter the same issues again, only this time their magnified because the site is not equipped to handle mobile interfacing. Frustrated with this experience, you ditch this website in favor of a competitor which offers a more simple, clean web-based interaction.
This is what is meant by a responsive website: a website design that recognizes a visitor’s device, changes page configurations for best viewing, and is capable of displaying with optimal functionality across all spectrums of devices - desktop, laptop, tablet, and more.
In an age when travel companies are focused on leveraging the best operational technology available, it’s easy to see why some companies might dismiss responsive websites as a lower-order concern. Plus, with so many travel companies operating on web platforms designed four or five years ago, it’s not hard to understand how these companies simply failed to recognized the need for this responsive technology and have since struggled to play catch-up as web-based tech has developed and evolved so rapidly over such a short period of time.
But if you dig into the statistics, the naysayers will see how critical a responsive website is to driving growth and profitability in today’s complex and varied travel industry.
In 2014 alone, more than 26 million U.S. customers booked their travel accommodations via a smartphone or tablet - and that was just two years ago and in the U.S. alone, not taking into account the rise of mobile devices and internet access in Europe, Asia, and other emerging countries. In addition, it’s well-documented that one of the most sought after market segments in today’s travel industry, the millennials, are spending more and more time online via their mobile devices and utilizing these devices to answer travel-related queries and conduct travel-based research.
Staggering statistics aside, let’s look at the idea of a responsive website from a marketing and brand management perspective. For an online travel agency or travel management company, your website is essentially your storefront - the equivalent to the entrance of a brick-and-mortar travel agency. Imagine walking into a B&M travel agency only to find ceiling tiles falling in, crumblings walls, flickering light fixtures, and holes in the floor. How long would you stay there? Would you give this travel agency your business? Probably not. The same is true for an online travel company in regards to how responsive its website - today’s traveler, which is more connected than ever before, views a non-responsive or antiquated website as a sign a company doesn’t care about its appearance, customers, or the ease at which it provides services and products.
Of course, it’s important to note the challenges in incorporating a responsive web design into a travel company’s overall online presence. Since websites download all manner of 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 also have to be redesigned so they can be properly seen and used on smaller screens.
But even with these speed bumps, responsive websites offer far greater benefits than liabilities, such as:
Dynamic Visuals - Videos, photos, slideshows, virtual tour guides, and other forms of visual media are value-added methods of showcasing destinations, amenities, and other draws for travel locations, and a responsive website is a core driver in leveraging these types of visual representations across all platforms and devices. With so many travelers completing bookings on smartphones and tablets, these optimized visual cues need to translate in each form of interface, and responsive web design will ensure these elements function properly every time each step of the way. If a picture is worth a thousand words, doesn’t it make sense to adopt technology that allows that picture to come in as clearly as possible?
Increased Performance - No matter how a travel company’s website is accessed, a responsive design scheme will allow for a greater level of overall performance and functionality, which in turn will provide the customer with a superior level of service. Visitors to a responsive website will receive a streamlined experience through ease of navigation, user-friendly maneuvering, optimized flow of content, and one-click interfacing. These attributes will not only make it easy for customers to move around a website, but they’ll also work as an incentive for customers to complete bookings, enticing them to move items from their shopping cart to the check-out without hesitation or second-guessing. A better performing website provides customers with peace of mind and can go a long way toward driving overall sales and growth.
Better Technological Alignment - As we’ve seen in the last few years across a broader cultural scope, the proliferation and development of smart technology has made it easier than ever before for more and more people to incorporate the latest and greatest advancements in smartphones and tablets into their lives. The advent and advancements of things like Apple TV, Google Glass, and other personalized technologies are also proof how quickly the tech landscape can change and adapt. Operating a responsive website in 2016, though not necessarily a guarantee, better positions a travel company to grow and evolve with the tech industry and leverage new technologies into existing online platforms. Essentially, travel companies with responsive websites have done their best to provide fertile ground on which they can grow and align their web presences as technology continues to develop.
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