Technology 4-28-2006

J.L. Erickson Revitalized Web Sites As the Internet continues to become entrenched as an increasingly key distribution channel for agents, a growing number of companies are revamping their Web sites in an effort to better cater to agents’ need for comprehensive high-quality content, quick performance a

By: J.L. Erickson

Revitalized Web Sites

As the Internet continues to become entrenched as an increasingly key distribution channel for agents, a growing number of companies are revamping their Web sites in an effort to better cater to agents’ need for comprehensive high-quality content, quick performance and ease of use.

Avanti Destinations unveiled a newly revamped site with more than 2,000 hotels, 25 Recommended Vacation Packages (RVPs), car rentals, add-on options (such as transfers) and tour operator airfare on 20 airlines for agents’ independent clients headed to Europe or Latin America.

The site includes a new function that allows agents to check hotel bargains and sort among 200 hotels by price, star rating and availability. It also offers quick links to details on specialty tours and itineraries; hotel location maps for major cities; downloadable brochures for Europe and Latin America; an airfare display sortable by price or carrier; and easier access to existing Avanti bookings, payments and printable itineraries.

“We tested the new-and-improved site with travel agents,” said Harry Dalgaard, president of Avanti Destinations and executive vice president of air, car and hotels for the Rail Europe Group. “They gave us high marks ... Now, travel agents can check out virtually our entire lineup of F.I.T. products in Europe and Latin America 24/7, instead of waiting to speak with one of our reservation agents.”

Meanwhile, a newly revamped site from Globus gives agents the ability to navigate itineraries, subscribe to e-newsletters, request brochures and more easily make reservations by offering an improved printing feature that formats maps, itineraries and accommodation information into one document.

Destination Europe Resources also has revamped its booking site for consolidated net air, European car rentals and hotels and has streamlined the booking.

New features include an airfare display with the lowest price carrier and class accessible for booking with half as many clicks compared with the previous site. The site also makes it easier to apply payments, add agent fees and finalize bookings by locating all of those functions on one page.

Hotels can now be sorted by star rating, availability or price and include photos and detailed descriptions, while transfers and options are now displayed along with hotels, making it easy to add these items.

Furthermore, Sceptre Tours also revamped its Web site in an effort to ease use and boost sales and referrals to Emerald Partner travel agents.

The site now features a booking signpost on the left side as well as a navigation bar on the top to help users more efficiently browse inventory. A section has also been added for group vacations.

“We felt that it was important to enhance the shopping experience on our consumer site so that we can increase the number of sales we refer to our valued Emerald Partners,” said Chris Accomando, president of Sceptre Tours.

Travel Sites Improve

Travel industry Internet sites have made significant improvements in developing strong interactivity, design, content and copywriting, according to the most recent benchmark evaluation of dozens of industry sites by the Web Marketing Association.

The association evaluates thousands of sites and indexes them in its “Internet Standards Assessment Report” study based on seven categories: design, innovation, content, technology, interactivity, copywriting and ease of use.

Within the travel industry, airline Web sites have a slightly higher average score than other travel-related Web sites, earning a 7.1 out of a possible 10 points. Other travel-related categories, hotel and lodging, regional and travel, all scored an average of 7.0 for the three-year time period. “[Travel] Web sites integrate effective copy with strong images to create a lifestyle experience for the user, allowing them to make better choices for themselves prior to meeting with a travel agent,” said William Rice, president of the association.

A copy of the full report is available at www.webaward.org/ isar_report.asp.

The association is currently taking nominations for its 2006 WebAwards, which will name the best Web site in 96 industry categories. Travel organizations wishing to have their site evaluated against the association’s index and be considered for a WebAward can go to www.webaward.org and enter before May 31.

>