06
Jun
11

Expedilocibitz: A Journey to Missed Opportunity

[June 6, 2011]

In the US, thousands of moderately affluent people take at least one extended vacation a year—complete with hotel stays, plane fare and happy exhaustion. Leaving aside what is cynically referred to as “food” by the airline industry, one of the downsides of vacation travel is the time spent hopping from one booking website to another. They offer, without exception, some of worst user experiences known to human kind.

Take, for example, a detail page provided by Expedia.com for a randomly selected hotel. With an utter lack of visual focus, this text-based presentation effectively atomizes the data. Stare at it long enough and you will absorb the information you need—but only if you read every last word at least twice. Not that any of those words contains a hint of the price of the room you’re looking for. For that, you must dive deeper into the haystack as, over a period of hours or days, you compare and contrast hotels across multiple sites.

Get your boredom pass.
The more travel sites you visit, the more tedious the process becomes. First, there’s the tiresome process of entering and re-entering your travel preferences. Here, a dab of innovation would go a long way to making digital travel booking more manageable. Whether it were a new browser feature or a common data pool all travel sites could pull from, I can’t believe there isn’t some way users could enter their information only once a session and have it picked up by every travel site they visit.

No doubt the absence of such a digital travel tag has its roots in marketing strategy. Once frustrated consumers realize they’ll have to re-enter their data each time they jump, they’re more likely to stay put. Spend more than 15 minutes searching and the waiting time alone adds up to a staggering bore.

But even if you’re more even-tempered than I am about such things, your patience is sure to crack when it encounters those wall of words sales messages. For my money, if the blurb for a hotel is four times the size of the picture of the hotel, it’s a sign of trouble. More than once, as I planned my trip, my eye wandered over to invitingly uncluttered banner ads for products I wasn’t even interested in.

Check that marketing baggage.
Yet another reason for my distraction was the absence of a branded voice. Consult five or six such sites and see for yourself how interchangeable they are. Aside from minor differences in page color, you could open any travel site to one of its interior pages and be hard pressed to know which brand it belonged to.

Yes, there’s a logo, there’s always a logo. But after four solid hours of searching your eyes skip right over it. You’re looking, after all, for advice, not marketing. But, as it stands now, none of the major travel sites offer a sense that, hey, my trip is in expert hands. It’s as if the entire industry had missed the memo about “adding value”—the one that’s been circulating for at least 30 years.

What I do get from travel websites is a meaningless jumble of user reviews, the digital equivalent of reality TV. Amazingly, people who scoff at claims that Survivor is unscripted will blindly accept reviews posted by “real” people. Sure, some of the reviews may be legitimate. But what boggles my mind is that someone expects me to value the opinion of an unidentified person over that of, say, the industry insider a travel site claims to be.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Like many other aspects of American society, sweeping changes are often reflected in trivial details. I can’t help thinking there’s a direct connection between the uncritical acceptance of “user reviewers” and the success or near success of “user politicians” in our national government.

In any case, the missed opportunity here is huge. Having lost 10 days of my life planning an 8-day vacation, I’d jump at the chance to use a travel advisory service that actually gives advice.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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