Making the “un-buyable holiday” a thing of the past…

Date: 9th August 2014
Author: Deri Jones

Last minute deals; We’ve all been there and this year will no doubt be the same, especially as the last bank holiday of the year is fast approaching.

Imagine this: You are sitting at home with multiple web pages open with you and your partner comparing and sharing prices, destination pictures and arguments. After all the trauma of whittling the selection down to the holiday of your dreams and at a price you can afford, you ask in an excited voice, “Should we buy this one then?”


“Yes, yes…it’s a great price”.
”Oh, for…”

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(with a hat-tip to Futurama)


It is frustrating, but for the travel intermediary it’s a lost sale and a rather big public relations blunder, especially with peoples’ appetite to “share” their experience through social networks – ensuring bad news is spread quicker than the speed of light.

Various figures are cited concerning incomplete online sales, with figures over £1 billion a year in the UK alone often talked about. Certainly the travel industry would account for a fair bit of any figure. The whole online travel agency web experience entails far more interaction than shopping for clothes and the cost of holidays being substantially higher means you can guess that the percentage is likely to be quite high.

New styled competitors entered the travel industry and profit margins were squeezed as companies differentiated on price. The new entrants though, were geared to the online onslaught. Many of the old guard were not. Placing bells and whistles to entice customers fell well short to actually serving them with what they wanted.

Many people are under the assumption that once a website is up and running there aren’t going to be any issues with it. What they do not realise, and this is especially true for the travel industry, is the complexity of customer journeys from evaluating and selecting through to booking. When prospective holidaymakers choose holidays they search for places where they would like to go, then search for dates and prices they can afford. After that they tend to start comparing resorts and hotels, not to mention special deals! The whole process puts considerable strain on the website and if it goes wrong, then considerable strain on the customer relationship too.

Customers want to be confident they can get on a website, see what they want, make comparisons and then book it at the price they see. Travel agents want to be confident that the website will actually deliver that.

Specialist tour operator Inghams wanted to ensure just that. They deployed SciVisum’s customer journey testing program that undertakes various different customer website journeys, following a typical walk through from comparing, selecting to purchase. Within a few hours the first alert was made; the system defaulting to a flight rather than to accommodation. This could be very annoying to a customer and was fixed immediately.

Over time Inghams’ alerts mainly related to information that was “not showing as expected”, such as a property that was available for rent but saying it was not bookable.  What has been termed “the un-buyable holiday” has possibly been one of the biggest headaches for all concerned. There’s the holiday, there’s the price. Unfortunately, there are two bug reasons why the users finds they can’t buy the holiday just offered to them:

  • if the holiday package includes 3rd-party flights:  those specific flights may have been sold by another operator in the world, in the time gap between the holiday buyer searching:  and finally buying online.
  • if the tour operators system updates in timed batches, (not real time) then the fast moving package deal may now mean that the price (or even availability) is no longer valid for the potential buyer – as a holiday may have sold out on the site since the last batch update perhaps an hour of more ago.

Holiday firms are learning from the experience

Customers of award winning sports holiday firm Neilson are soon to benefit from the company moving to a “live search” system. Holidays and prices are searched in real-time, rather than the system being updated in “batches” that are exported from their reservation engine. This system promises to ensure the offer price is going to be the actual price.

Introducing new systems and uploading new content, such as brochures, new hotels, updated calendar and current prices, puts extreme loads on the system.  So, whatever holidays are offered, dynamic customer journey testing can run 24/7 to pick up real-time user experiences.

It’s also good practise to use the same dynamic journey approach to measure just how your site performs under periods of high user demand, the so called “Load Testing”. This sort of testing is often scheduled during quiet times, such as very late at night, to ensure customers are not inconvenienced. Very large numbers of journeys can then be run to replicate heavy demand, tirelessly rooting out issues before a customer comes across them.

Website monitoring services are performed over the internet, and by using complex ‘Do What the Customer Does’ journeys. This remote capability permits tour operators that outsource their website hosting to check that their online presence is up to the standards they’d expect for such a business critical component.

Un-buyable holiday? Not  me. I’ve booked and I’m out of here. Have a great holiday!

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