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Travel Website Benchmarking Report

The purpose of this report is to gain a better understanding of what comprises a well thought out travel and hospitality website. This benchmarking report will analyze four popular travel and hospitality websites based on certain evaluative attributes. These attributes will then be ranked in a manner explained further in the methodologies section (B1). Through analysis of the four websites chosen and our respective findings, various design insights (C6) will come to the forefront as more useful or less useful than others. The term usefulness will be elaborated on in section C1.

This research will allow us, in building a travel and hospitality website, to employ the most useful designs and realize what attributes on which to focus. In the executive summary section we will offer advice (B3), having surveyed the leading sites as to what could be improved upon or developed further to enhance the overall experience at each particular website. The following section titled methodolosy will describe our approach to the benchmarking report including our testing criteria. The task presented to us was to benchmark travel related web sites. There were several possibilities in terms of which sites to use.

Our group chose to benchmark the four most visited travel web sites: Travelocity. com, Expedia. com, Lowestfare. com, and Cheaptickets. com (source: Consumer Reports). Consumers have visited these four web sites the most, therefore they must have provided value for their consumer. We felt it would be beneficial for our group to benchmark them, in order to gain insight on how our web site will ultimately look, and what functions it will provide. After we chose which travel web sites to benchmark, the next step was to choose the attributes upon which the comparisons would be made.

Each attribute has multiple descriptors because it is of our opinion that they are closely related. The “Description of Attributes Measured” section (C3) will describe these attributes in further detail. Each of the attributes was applied to the four web sites, and was rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the best. Furthermore, each of the attributes was weighted, these weights can be found in the “Weighting Scheme” section (C4). Once all the information was gathered, conclusions were drawn on the quality of four web sites.

Finally, drawing on those conclusions, advice was given to the consumer on the web sites, so they can make a more informed decision when choosing which of the top travel web sites they should use. These can be found in the “Findings” and “Advice” sections, which immediately follow. The goal of this “Findings” section is to set forth the information we gathered regarding each website after following our research methodologies. In surveying each of the aforementioned websites, many commonalities as well as differences were found. The areas the Findings are grouped into include:

Overall, the sites were easy to use and for the most part uncluttered. The one exception to this was in Travelocity. This site, while informative, did result in sensory overload when viewed. Expedia, Lowestfare and Cheaptickets all seemed to have just about the right amount of information/links available to make sure the customer could quickly find what they needed without being overwhelmed. The forms to enter data for the desired trips/packages were quite easy to use and pull-down menus were generally available to speed transactions. In this area, all of the sites excelled.

Links for tours, cruises, contests, hotels, car rentals and just about every other vacation/business trip related good could be found on the sites. A person should have no trouble selecting which of these fits their needs. Expedia and Travelocity however take the top position as far as these offerings go. They seem to have more sponsorship deals than Cheaptickets and Lowestfare. The two former sites directly offered a solution for the consumers entire travel “experience” while the latter only offer planed tickets. Here again, Travelocity and Expedia won top honors.

Lowestfare and Cheaptickets offered fewer links and their pages also took a longer time to load. This seems a bit out of place in that Travelocity and Expedia each used a greater quantity and more detailed graphics than the others. The following Advice section will briefly cover our advice to the company whose site we tested/researched. Following is our brief advice for each of the four sites which may be useful to both the business and consumer. As a market leader, travelocity. com excels in most of the attributes that we chose as the most important.

One thing that could be done is to not put so much information on the homepage. Clearly defined links could save space and reduce some of the clutter. To help new customers, the homepage should also emphasize the site guide link by making it bigger and describing what it does. The website should continue to avoid using extensive banners and providing the customer with a straightforward way of having the most up to date information on the purchasing options. Similar to Travelocity, Expedia is a market leader and has a website that is better than most.

Tabs are clearly laid out in the top portion of the page and the consumer can tell where they are at all times. The membership option does not allow the business to learn much about their visitors. The only information gathered when a customer becomes a member is the name and location of the visitor. Perhaps the site could probe for interests in terms of destinations and methods of travel and then provide more detailed travel and lodging suggestions. Other than this aspect, Expedia has developed a very inclusive site with extensive yet user-friendly features that will bring first-time visitors back.

Lowestfare. com does an acceptable job with their site. There is not one glaring weakness in their approach. It is easy to use, even for people who have not been to a travel web site before. There is adequate customer service, and becoming a member is relatively easy. They have enough information about their packages to satisfy most people. Their main problem is that they do not excel at anything. They do not really give the consumer reason to not visit the other leading travel web sites. Other sites, such as Travelocity and Expedia, have a more extensive selection of packages and flights available.

Those two also have a more stylish and fun layout, compared to Lowestfare. coms minimalist look. Therefore, it is our advice that consumers should use Lowestfare. com as a second or third choice for their travel-related needs. There are other web sites that do the job just a little bit better. Cheaptickets. com should definitely try to make the appearance of its site more appealing. It seemed as if Cheaptickets did not want to spend much money in its site, hence keeping its reputation of being “cheap. ” Yet, a change of fonts, colors, and design details should not cost much if anything.

Cheap Tickets needs a more professional look because some consumers will be turned off by the simplistic look. Also, the download time for the site and its different pages is rather slow and could be made faster by possibly limiting the amount of information on each page. They do have a lot of advertisements on each of their pages, which may help them in terms of cost, but hurts them in terms of customer appeal. The site was obviously prepared with cost in mind which may be perhaps passed on to the consumers. There are two main components that determine the usefulness of a system.

They include the utility and usability of the system. The utility of the system is determined by whether or not the system is relevant, measured by whether it does anything that people care about and if it solves key issues or problems. If the system is irrelevant, regardless of whether or not it is easy to use, then the system will be useless. The second component that determines the usefulness of a system, its usability, asks the question of whether or not the system can be used by a user, and if so, can the user use it effectively.

Usability also can be further described by its five main characteristics: ease of learning, efficiency in use, memorability, error frequency and severity, and subjective satisfaction. To understand these characteristics we need to understand how they are each measured. First, ease of learning is measured by how fast a first-time user can learn the user interface to accomplish basic tasks. Second, efficiency of use is measured by how fast a user can accomplish tasks, after he or she has become an experienced user of the system.

The third characteristic, memorability, is measured by the ability of a previous user of the system to use the system again more effectively then the previous time, without having to re-learn how to use the system. The fourth characteristic, error frequency and severity, is measured by the number and severity of errors that users make using the system, and how easy is it for the user to recover from these errors. Finally, subjective satisfaction measures how much the user enjoys using the system. Both utility and usability of a system, along with all their characteristics, determine the usefulness of a system.

C3. Description of Attributes Measured The previous table showed how we ranked the four sites and this section will describe the specific criteria that went into the separate groups of attributes we ranked. We selected seven main attributes, or rather groups of attributes, which we used to describe the websites we evaluated. Each group of attributes contain several specific and unique characteristics which are all closely related to each other. When selecting our groups of attributes, we considered the list of attributes picked for last semesters evaluation of laptop websites.

We determined which of those attributes were imperative to an evaluation of travel websites, and then determined if any other characteristics needed to be added to a group of attributes, or if any of the attributes could be consolidated into another group. Our first group of attributes we chose included Ease of Use/ Usability/ Navigability/ Site Map. We defined ease of use along with navigability as how easy it was to navigate the website, including moving forward and back from page to page and window to window, as well as using hyperlinks, scroll bars, and shortcuts.

Specifically, we used our previous definition of usability, including its five characteristics: ease of learning, efficiency of use, memorability, error frequency and severity, and subjective satisfaction. For the site map, the first thing we investigated was whether or not the website had one, and if so, was it clear and did it have hyperlinks to each part of the website. Our second group of attributes included Information Content/ Pricing Information/ Updates. We described information content as including destinations, dates, prices, details of packages, as well as complimentary information such as trip highlights, options and itineraries.

Also, pricing information had to be exact, and include alternatives to compare to. Updates meant that the website had to demonstrate that all information is current and that the website were constantly updated. Third, we chose Appearance/ Layout/ Structure/ Consistency/ Graphics. These visual characteristics are very subjective in opinion when evaluated, but uniformly had to demonstrate a visual pleasing, captivating, and well structured/ layed-out website. Once again, the presence of scroll bars, buttons, and neatly organized windows were expected for these criteria. Fourth, we chose Buying Online/ Simplicity of Purchase/ Security.

This was perhaps most difficult to test because we never were going to make an actual purchase. However, we attempted to simulate an actual purchase as closely as we could, which oftentimes required becoming a member of the website. We also checked privacy statements that indicated how secure the website was. Our fifth group of attributes included Site Speed/ Download Time/ Reliability. These quality assurance-type issues were difficult to distinguish because speed issues are sometimes related to the specific website and sometimes related to the computer hardware you are using to test the website.

We attempted to distinguish the two by inputting as many options into interface question boxes, and then getting a response, and then attempting to crash the website by performing tasks quickly as well as simultaneously. Our sixth group of attributes was whether or not the websites had Site Support/ Help Desk. We defined site support as whether or not you could use the website to ask any questions a user may have about anything on the website. Also, the presence of a help desk would indicate that questions about the website could be answered, and if they could not, was there contact information that would point a user in the right direction.

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