From connecting users around the globe to changing the way we accomplish everyday tasks, the internet has revolutionized every industry. It has helped boost revenue and produced advanced tools that automate even the most mundane tasks, like playing your favorite music or placing an online order with the touch of a finger. The travel industry has seen a similar shift in the way they do business.
Travel agents have traditionally been the point of contact for anyone planning a trip. These agencies needed real-time access to airline fares and availability. This required direct access to the hotels or airlines’ reservation system. Travel agents understood the advantages of the cyber highway facilitated by the world wide web, and they were quick to adopt and move their business online.
The travel industry entered the online market in the late 90s with websites like Viator, Expedia, and Travelocity. Online travel agents (OTAs) were easier for consumers to access and it soon became the preferred mode of booking. Travelers could now search holiday destinations, read reviews, book hotels and flights online while travel agents manage bookings and plan itineraries online.
The online travel market has grown over the decade and is expected to reach 755 billion dollars in revenue by 2019 as shown in the chart below.
Travel websites function like aggregators that list multiple hotels and flights along with major deals and discounts. But the online travel market is not limited to booking engines and aggregators. Travel websites allow you to review and rate hotels, flights, and the destination. You can read about traveler experiences, and even build your own travel itinerary.
A typical internet booking engine provides the user with:
- Real-time fares, availability, schedule etc.
- Secure user transactions
- Omnichannel support
- Customer support, live chat, and review/feedback features
How does it work?
Travel websites provide the user with flight or hotel options that are available for the specified date and destination. The user then picks one of the given options and proceeds to pay and reserve their seat on the flight.
There are three main categories of travel websites:
- OTAs that connect to a central reservation system which in turn provides the website with the required data. For example, Expedia, Kayak, Hotels.com etc.
- Online booking engines that collect the availability, fares/prices, and best deals across multiple OTAs. For example, TripAdvisor, Agoda, Trivago etc.
- Direct booking sites of major airlines and hotel chains that allow users to reserve and book directly without using OTAs.
Internet Booking Engines (IBEs) are integrated with GDS (Global Distribution System) or CRS (Computer Reservation System). GDS and CRS consolidate flight, hotel, and car rental data in real-time. It provides the availability and fares. Major GDS systems include Sabre, Amadeus, Galileo, and Worldspan.
IBEs connect the travel site with GDS/CRS to provide the user with relevant information. The user can then book a flight, hotel or vacation package and checkout. The system also allows the user to redeem special discounts or services offered by the particular airline or hotel chain. The user is issued PNR (Passenger Name Record) or a SPNR (Super Passenger Name Record) if booking anything other than a flight. The user uses the PNR number to retrieve details about their booking and modify/update the booking if needed.
Technical Challenges Monitoring Travel Sites
As you can see above, travel websites are dependent on third-party integrations, these sites cater to OTAs as well as direct customers and provide advanced search and booking features. This brings with it technical complexities and challenges when trying to provide an efficient and seamless user experience. A travel site must function around the following basic pre-requisites:
- Reliability: The data must be real-time to avoid overbooking and to ensure the fares are updated. Customers prefer travel sites they are sure will provide the best fares and reliable deals quickly.
- Security: User transactions must be secured; the website should be accountable for the user data that it collects and stores. Customers expect their personal data such as their passport details or other ID numbers to be stored securely and not misused in any way.
- Performance: The application must not be prone to performance degradation. As there are hundreds of bookings done simultaneously, it is important that the application updates user data in real-time without any lag so that the customer doesn’t lose out on deals or availability.
Let us discuss some real-world scenarios that have a huge impact on user experience and understand why online travel sites should have a well-planned monitoring strategy to tackle website performance issues.
The travel industry has hundreds of major players competing for a bigger share of the market. Companies offer deals and loyalty perks to woo customers, but they should give priority to their online presence as it is the first source of information about the brand and molds how the customer perceives the brand before they decide to spend money. An efficient and easy to use website will garner a good user experience and this can potentially push you ahead of the competition and help you maintain a strong customer base.
To build an effective online marketing strategy, it is essential to understand where you stand in the market and to constantly benchmark the brand performance against competitors. Synthetic monitoring allows you to measure the performance of your website and compare metrics with other competitors.
Monitor B2B Applications
Some airlines have tie-ups or partnership with other airlines. The partner websites need to sync data in real-time so that the user is viewing updated fares and availability. This requires that the booking applications of different airlines integrate with a common reservation system. The partner airline will be able to provide the customer with multiple flight options in addition to its own. It also makes user transactions seamless. These type of B2B scenarios can have multiple points of failures so it is essential to actively monitor such sites for availability and performance issues.
Monitoring should include simulation of important user journeys across multiple pages using real browsers such as Chrome or IE/Edge. Setting up such transaction tests allows you to measure the performance of your application from multiple global locations. Configure alerts to be immediately notified if and when there is an issue with any of the critical pages in your application.
Monitor Internal Applications
Multiple internal applications such as MyIDtravel, StaffTravel etc. are used to manage employees and other administrative services. If such applications fail to function then it can hinder other operations within the company, causing delays in internal processes which could eventually impact the brand itself.
Synthetic monitoring from nodes deployed behind the firewall that can be used within the company intranet to test internal applications are just as important as testing consumer facing applications.
Monitor Third-Party Vendors
Travel websites rely on several third-party integrations to manage the different services they provide. These sites invest heavily in ad providers as part of their marketing campaigns. They also use CDNs, DNS management tools, and other website optimization tools to improve the user experience.
To provide users with competitive fares and deals, it is essential to monitor all the third-party components that are critical to the functioning of the site. This will help eliminate bottlenecks in the network and will also help you track service level agreements (SLA) with the third-party vendor.
Make sure you track third-party performance and alert vendors in case there is an SLA breach.
Monitor Critical APIs
Integrations with GDS or CRS services are usually done using APIs. These APIs are critical as they fetch real-time data. An issue with the API integration can prove costly and impact user experience negatively. Monitoring API endpoints proactively is super important to ensure the applications are up and running.
Monitoring API functionality will help you track any issues immediately and help identify and fix any errors in the API transactions.
Monitor Page Interactivity
It is important to track the performance of the different features within the website. Transaction tests lets you track if the website functions as designed and alerts you when there is a glitch in the system.
The online travel industry has evolved over the last two decades replacing traditional travel agencies and becoming the preferred mode of booking holidays, flights, hotels, and even car rentals. The reach of the internet and the boom in handheld devices has made the online travel industry even more competitive. Travelers can now customize their itinerary, book from their phones, review hotels and destinations, and even check-in online.
Travel websites and applications come with complexities, and like any other online application, they’re prone to failures that impact user experience. From tracking site functionality to third-party integrations, monitoring these applications is critical as any issue with the system can quickly escalate and result in lost bookings and unhappy customers.
Catchpoint has worked with several major players in the travel industry to improve their businesses. Watch our webinars with Priceline and Trivago for a deeper insight into performance monitoring in the travel industry.