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Some tips for the Travel Agent: Making a Great web site

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These days, the travel agency is more dependent on having a well-designed, easy-to-use web site that is updated frequently. But who can afford to keep an IT person on staff? A CMS (Content Management Solution) does help keep your website content fresh, but what about all the other functions a travel website should do? Travellers want to search and sort inventory quickly and according to their personal tastes. A personal profile with good search and filtering tools is good for this and the option to request targeted marketing material make a travel site even more desirable. Having these tools at your disposal will generally increase the usage of your site, but you don't want them to add hours to your work day, they should be easy to use. Marketing like email newsletters can be automated, sending information straight from your in-house destinations database using a well-designed template, instead of you having to type it out and arrange it.

If you are considering a website for your travel agency or if you are looking to improve your current website, here are a few tips to help you evaluate your website.

Four good things for your site:

1)Look good
Travel is a lifestyle industry. Looks are important. Whether your message is "good value for your money", "extreme adventure", "luxury" or all "of the above", the graphic content of your site should reinforce this. More people are surfing with higher speed connections and HTML has progressed to a point where an experienced developer can put a lot of punch on a page and still have it download quickly. There should be continuity to your look, unifying the elements from your brochures, newspaper and fax marketing. Having a patchwork of marketing material can make your company look like it was cobbled together. While looks are important, you should not sacrifice usability. All the old-school rules about good interface design still apply. 2)Put your name up front
If your site links off to a third party booking engine, take the option to have your branding included on the page. Otherwise it looks to the user like you've pushed them out your door. If there is a fee involved in placing your branding on the site, we suggest you buy it if you can afford to. It really does help with customer loyalty. If at all possible, avoid using a "frameset" to include your branding. (Your HTML person will know what this is if you don't.) Framesets are old, clunky and not search engine friendly. They should be used as a last resort if the third party will not permit you to co-brand using templates.

3)Be fresh
Content management tools will help you keep your page content up-to-date, but you can also be leading edge by giving your customer opportunities to create a profile, add themselves to a targeted newsletter subscription list, enter a contest or interact with your real-life agents. Online marketing tools, email request managers and even online chat helps your customer get the information they need, but they also have to give you their information. Give the user many opportunities to contact a real person.

4)Offer value add services
Travellers are always looking for useful third party information that can help them make their buying decision. Instead of just linking off to a third party website, consider co-branding opportunities with other providers. You may even be able to integrate a currency converter or real-time weather application directly into your site. By adding useful tools to your site, you increase the likelihood that a user will come back to your site to find information in the future. If you provide your visitors with the option to send the page to a friend or email a page, they may even do some viral marketing for you.

Your web site should act like another agent on your staff. It should look nice, be courteous to the user and employ all of the skills necessary for closing a sale. Your site can be designed to ask questions, narrow the user's choices, provide information and recommendations, close the sale and then sell add-ons like insurance. It can also offer the option of talking to you or your agents at any point in the sales-closing process.

In conclusion, there are many factors that can contribute to the success of your travel website or any website for that matter. The key is to remember that your website is your presence on the Internet and should be as important as your physical location. If you invest the time, money, and effort to make your website as professional and trustworthy as your physical office, your customers will be more likely to do business with you online.
About the Author

Stephen Joyce is President of Sentias Software Corp, a software development company based in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Sentias develops multi-lingual web-based business software including Content Management, E-commerce solutions, Tour Operator Software Solutions, and solutions for the Art Publishing industry. For more information regarding Sentias, please visit http://www.sentias.com.

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