the importance of websites in the airline industry

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Internet has become a strategic distribution channel for airline ticket sales. For some airlines, especially low cost companies, it can be the only means of distribution.
With over 1,500 million people now using the Internet, it has become crucial for airlines to think about defining their online business as a keystone of their marketing policy.

According to ACEM, the Spanish Association for eBusiness and Relationship Marketing, electronic sales in Spain reached a turnover of 1,327.3 million euros in the third quarter of 2008, a 32.9% increase over the same period in 2007, with a total of 17.1 million operations.  Air transport was responsible for 12.2% of this turnover.

The following key points should be taken into consideration in the conception of an ideal website for airlines.

1. Awareness of who is being addressed and their requirements:

The website can be aimed at final consumers (B2C); this will already entail a wide variety of possibilities to be taken into consideration, such as reasons for travel (business, tourism etc.) or affinity with the medium (digital natives, digital immigrants, occasional users).
The website can also be aimed at businesses (B2B), for example in those cases where the online marketing support is aimed at travel agencies or other operators through which part of the distribution is performed.
In each case the requirements for the provision of optimum service will be different; each user will involve different profiles and needs; these needs should first be identified and then resolved efficiently. It should be decided whether it is necessary to define a single platform, whether specific accesses and personalised solutions should be created or whether a particular solution needs to be established for professional monitoring etc.

2. Favouring a high convertibility ratio:

A well-defined website will help in turning users into customers: not everybody who visits a website will end up by making a purchase, but the definition of the website will affect (by supporting or dissuading) the making of the transaction.  Each element in the website should be aimed towards the attainment of this objective. A suitable look and feel is crucial for the transmission of the company’s values, for convincing customers and catching their attention right from the start and for avoiding high rebound rates. Any utilities provided and their usability are also important but none less so than the transparency of the offer and the options for search and comparison.

3. Making purchase simple:

A user may be interested in an outstanding offer but the most common way of access tends to be centred on a search engine of flights available. It is crucial that this be well defined for the search to end in purchase. Users that feel certain that they have found the best option for their flight requirements are more predisposed to make a purchase without worrying about whether they have been able to access the best conditions possible (price, timetables, discounts or other services). If uncertainty in this area is ruled out then the process will become that much faster.
Once the choice has become clear, the user is then one step away from becoming a customer and it is at this point that purchase must be made as simple as possible, employing the minimum amount of steps and providing all necessary assistance that may be required in the form of explanations, help messages etc., in a simple, step by step process. Payment should be made simple, after a study of the most commonly accepted methods of payment (there are geographically marked preferences on this question) and secure, given that most users still state lack of security as one of the main barriers to the formalisation of transactions on the Internet.

4. Making the relationship:

The purchase has now been made but this is not enough.
Direct communication should be established with the customer; this is extremely valuable and will open up a wide variety of possibilities that are not always taken full advantage of.
First-hand information will now be available concerning the motivations behind purchase and preference for different services, brand perception, services available, offers etc.
The next step from isolated transactions, with the full awareness of the customer and suitable relationships and responses, is towards customer loyalty, but not necessarily through a traditional loyalty scheme (points/miles). The creation of an affinity between brand and customer provides tangible results.
In those cases in which a register of the transaction may be requested, the exploitation of customer profile information using CRM tools allows proactive action and the definition of specific proposals of specific value for customers at little cost to the company and with an important effect on profits.
The question here is not the creation of complicated registers requiring users to fill in long questionnaires which will only put them off; but rather an intelligent use of the basic information already held, such as frequency of flying, destinations, whether the customer travels alone or accompanied, preferred seating, special luggage characteristics, specific services contracted, flexibility on price … and in this way continuing to offer each customer satisfactory solutions.

5. Working correctly with market positioning:

The website may have been made as attractive as possible but if not enough attention has been paid to its presence in search engines, if potential customer searches do not reach the website, then all these efforts will have been in vain. An analysis and definition of online positioning strategy is crucial. A plan must be drafted covering work on natural positioning and on payment positioning whenever convenient. These plans should cover the definition of objectives and actions as well as the monitoring and control of results. Tools such as Google analytics can be a great help in performing close monitoring for the detection of areas where there is room for improvement.

6. Integration in the company’s branding policy:

The style of the website should transmit the brand’s values, being impregnated with the brand’s identity, clearly identifiable and to be understood as part of the brand’s communication strategy taken as a whole.

7. Contributing to the profitability of the business:

The website works as a specific distribution channel and as a management tool. Online businesses hold the advantage of providing reduced management costs that can become a key element in improving the company’s profitability. These profits could then be shared with users through an “everybody wins” model, fundamental for the development of eBusiness. Users take control of transactions, allowing the company to eliminate certain administration costs and entailing access to specific fares and services such as prices available only for web bookings, electronic tickets, booking of specific seating on the plane, changing of dates etc …
It is also possible to allow for new services or complementary products and to exploit possibilities for cross-selling. Users can make up their own bespoke product from an “à la carte” selection.

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