There’s no studio audience. There are no contestants. And there’s certainly no Showcase Showdown. So why do so many travel and hospitality websites insist on making visitors feel like they’re spinning the wheel on “The Price Is Right,” with cost of the trip the main focus?

“Most travel websites are basically brochures with rates,” says Carroll Rheem, Senior Director, Research, at global travel market research firm PhoCusWright. “As travel retailers, we have to move away from the one-size-fits-all website to deliver truly tailored experiences.”

During last week’s Personalizing the Online Travel Experience webinar, Rheem joined Monetate CMO Kurt Heinemann to discuss the steps travel and hospitality websites can take to avoid brochure-syndrome.

We’ve already talked about website usability emerging as a top driver of purchase for travelers. But that’s not the only shift that’s impacting travel purchase decisions.

Historically, travel agents have served as personal advisors for clients looking to book trips, whether for business or pleasure. But with the emergence of online travel agencies, the personalization of the booking experience has often fallen to the wayside.

Rheem and Heinemann offered up some tactics for going beyond the brochure, as well as adding much-needed personalization to the online travel and hospitality booking process.

1. Use data to simplify the experience

Using what you know about a travel visitor to make small changes can create a streamlined booking process that has a big impact. Previous searches, for example, can reveal a lot about a traveler. If you know someone is typically hunting for flights out of New York, take steps to pre-populate the search field for that visitor whenever they arrive at your website. Nine times out of 10, it’s going to show the traveler that you understand their needs and also eliminate a step from their search (possibly buying) process.

2. Leverage consistent behavior

Beyond visitor origins, there are other consistent search behaviors worth taking a look at and responding to. Some travelers will never want to fly at 6AM, Rheem points out. If you notice a visitor is consistently avoiding red-eye flights, or early morning departures, try eliminating those flights from the search results for that visitor. It’s a great way to return more relevant options, and travelers will still have a chance to make changes if they are willing to make an exception for a certain trip.

3. Focus on context

Travel website search engines are a goldmine of info: Destination, number of travelers, length of trip, whether or not the visitor is traveling with children, etc. So use that in-session behavior to dictate the types of messaging served up to the traveler. If you notice someone is traveling with children, for instance, it’s a great idea to serve up offers on family deals. Then, look for even more insight about the traveler. Are they using a mobile device? What’s the weather like where they are? Use that info to serve up tailored offers. If they’re coming from rainy Seattle, a flash sale on trips to warm, sunny Florida could be a conversion-driver.

4. Highlight benefits, not prices

Ancillary fees are a quick way to turn off travelers who might already feel like they’ve paid enough (transportation to the airport, baggage fees, etc.) But there’s a way to spin ancillary fees to put the traveler’s interests first, according to Heinemann. A deal that says “Upgrade to First Class for $35!” could leave visitors shaking their heads. Instead, change the phrasing so the benefit to the customer is highlighted. An offer that says “Want four more inches of legroom?” might generate real interest from travelers who are taking long flights. Thinking like the customer to generate messaging will usually have the most impact.

5. Find your own keys to personalization

There are plenty of ways to make the purchase experience more relevant to travelers. Rheem and Heinemann recommend travel companies develop their own personalization “test kitchen” to play with different features, and see how they affect conversion.

Looking for even more advice on how to move beyond a focus on price and adopt a more customer-centric approach with your online marketing? Check out the full recording of the Personalizing the Online Travel Experience webinar now!

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