Travel-Related Websites That Really Engage Their Customers

travel-related web sitesThey all talk about it. “Like us on Facebook,” “Follow us on Twitter” and “Read our blog,” say travel-related websites selling everything from guidebooks to airline flights, gear and gum. Many give us little reason to like them, follow them or do anything other than buy their products on the way to the next online destination. But some travel seller sites actually do put some time and effort into creating a reason to visit other than to buy something.

The task of buying a hotel room for a night is easy to define. The short list of variables includes location, price and availability. Easy. Any number of search sites can gather that information, whirl it around and present viable options. Hotel.info does more. On their blog we find The Ultimate Guide To Cooking In Your Hotel Room that brings us unique, interesting content that in and of itself is a good reason to visit their site.A Different Kind Of Hotel Search
travel-related web sitesProviding step by step directions and video, Hotel.info teamed up with chef Nicola Whistle (the Secret Restaurant) to hack hotel room food. Using things commonly found in a hotel room, like a shower cap and iron, Chef Whistle cooks up some delicious dishes. Poached egg on toast with steamed asparagus for breakfast? Cooked in your hotel room? Yes indeed, it can be done and visiting hotel.info shows travelers exactly how to do it. Visitors to this site actually have a reason to like, follow and maybe check in with their #ultimatehotelguide hashtag from @hotelinfo_EN on Twitter from time to time.

Still, visitors would probably leave the Hotel.info site if their search results were not productive. Running a test search, Hotel.info vs. Kayak, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Expedia and others, results were similar but engagement was not. They all ask for our like and follow but only Hotel.info had additional content worth a look.

15,000 Things To Do On Planet Earth
Another travel buy site that earns our vote is Viator. This travel tour buy site caught our attention last year with their “Win Your Dream Travel Job” contest that had four winners tasked with traveling through 20 countries in 60 days in both North America and Europe, and documenting their adventures on camera. Viator also earned likes from cruise travelers, saving them money with Viator Shore Excursions offering more than 500 shore excursions in over 80 of the most popular ports around the globe. But more moving past simply selling tours, Viator engages site visitors with features like inviting travelers to submit photos and a rich library of tour-specific videos.

Selling a no-wait Skip The Line Guinness Storehouse Entrance Ticket for visitors to Dublin might be reason enough to buy. But Viator builds on that value with recent photos and a short video that is an accurate representation of the tour. A new Viator Tours & Activities App makes finding and booking activities for almost any given destination we might visit while traveling easy too, with more than 15,000 curated trip activities in hundreds of destinations including photos, video and reviews.

Clicking a “like” or “follow” button takes just a split second. But consider that click as a vote and be sure your vote counts. The best travel-related websites not only offer good pricing but come equipped with unique content that makes for a better overall value.

Saving On Travel: New Reasons To Use A Travel Agent, Wisely

travel agent

We have debated the notion of using a travel agent in a number of ways here over the years. The general consensus of opinion verifies some of the strategies you may very well use to book airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms and more. But a recent move by a major cruise line should drive home the notion that using a travel professional, be it an online source or an actual agent we have come to know personally, can maximize travel savings.

Internet Cruise Brokers, the used car salesmen of travel, are on the way out.
Recently, Norwegian Cruise Line put travel agencies trolling for clients through low-price website CruiseCompete on notice: shape up or ship out.

“Norwegian Cruise Line has severed ties with CruiseCompete, a website where travel agents bid for consumers’ cruise business. The cruise line has also warned its agent partners that participating in CruiseCompete is a breach of contract,” notes travel expert Fran Golden in a recent article on Travel Market Report.

For those unfamiliar with CruiseCompete, it’s a website where consumers can go, enter the ship and sailing date they have in mind, then wait for travel agents to bid for their business, often giving up a portion of their commission in order to offer the lowest bid.

“What’s wrong with that?” one might ask. Plenty.travel agentBuying Cruise Travel Is Not Like Buying Air
First, buying cruise travel is not like buying an airline ticket, flying from point A to point B. In that case, as long as the flight gets us there and brings us back, the lowest price is probably the best choice. An online service like Airfarewatchdog can help direct us to the best sources too.

But with cruise travel there are a great many other variables to consider. Take the passengers personal cruise history, for example. Carefully considered by a travel professional that has the passenger’s best interests in mind, that “low price” offered through bidding may not be the best option.

Paying a bit more might take advantage of a past-guest promotion that has an end value far greater than that “low price” bid, giving onboard credit, free drinks, free prepaid gratuities or other valuable benefits.

Down The Road Come The Benefits
A stronger reason for using a travel professional is what happens throughout the life of the booking. This goes for all types of travel, not just cruises. The Internet travel broker is busy bidding as many potential clients as possible to yield a net profit that will pay the bills. They have little, if any, time to consider promotions, deals and offers that come up after the initial booking.

A travel professional does.

In the case of cruises, even booking directly with the cruise line will not yield the potential benefits of booking with a travel professional that we have spent the time to develop a good business relationship with. No cruise line will notify you, “Hey, a new promotion has started that will lower your price by hundreds.” It just does not happen.

An alert travel pro considers the initial sale as just the start of the process, works your booking throughout its life and follows up after sailing. They are investing time in their clients and will gladly work with the cruise line to lower the fare when some new promotion comes up that applies.

And it’s not all about saving money. Do you need/have the right documentation to enter Russia? Which is the best choice for travel insurance? Is it safe to travel in Egypt? These are questions our travel professional will have the specific answers for and have time to be sure we have that information.

Same Song, Different Singer, New Lyrics
But the argument for using a travel agent is basically the same as we have been reporting for years. In 2011’s “Travel Agents: The Dinosaur You Might Just Need,” Gadling sang a similar song, noting, “A travel agent is ‘your friend’ in the travel business. They are your friend who knows what is going on in the travel industry.” That is still true now.

What is different now and builds a stronger case for using a travel agent is how cruise lines are operating. As they continue to differentiate themselves from one another, cruise line pricing has become more sophisticated, offering more fare codes that have more requirements and qualifiers than ever. Keeping up with pricing policies alone can be a full-time job, something click-to-buy options fail miserably at considering and consumers simply don’t have the time to do effectively.

Try It For Yourself
The idea of using a real travel agent as opposed to an Internet cruise broker is going to take an investment of time. Finding a good agent can be as simple as following the recommendation of a trusted friend or relative. But what if we don’t know anyone who uses a travel agent? Where can we find a good one?

A good start for finding a travel agent would be your local Better Business Bureau or even a local sourcing option like Angie’s List. Good search results for a travel agency would be ones with plenty of activity but very few, if any, complaints. Another option would be the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) website, which lists agencies and the agents associated with them along with their credentials. Their Cruise Expert Finder brings a list of local agencies.

To drive home the value of an agent, go to a price comparison website like CruiseCompete, pick a ship and sailing date at random, and begin the bidding process. At the same time, call a local agency, tell them you are trying to decide between using an agency to handle all your travel needs or simply using online booking sources to plan your travel. See what happens.

Odds are very high that the end result will be the beginning of a beneficial relationship yielding great savings over your lifetime and a richer travel experience too. Travel agents have a lot of “been there, done that” experience, helpful destination information and contacts of their own to share.

Not to discount online tools altogether in the travel buying equation – an online service similar to Airfarewatchdog called CruiseFish, which is independent of cruise lines or travel agencies, can help. CruiseFish is a price, stateroom and cruise monitoring system that does all the browsing for you and sends email alerts when prices change. The $.99 per listing fee may very well be worth the peace of mind buyers gain from knowing a third-party source is also looking out for them.

Yes, doing business with a live travel agent can yield the best results.
Yes too, stacking the deck in your favor can also be beneficial.




[Photo credit – Flickr user elmada]

Photo Of The Day: A Woman At Work

photo of the day

This Photo of the Day (POTD), titled “A woman at work in the vegetable market in downtown Colombo,” comes from Gadling Flickr pool member MyLifesATrip and was captured with an Apple iPhone 5.

Not normally the camera of choice for photos I find POTD-worthy, MyLifesATrip AKA Gadling contributor Jen Pollack Bianco said of the device, “the iPhone/iPod Touch has the potential to become the must-have travel gadget” in “iPhoneography: Make your iPhone travel pictures spectacular,” a 2011 story written before the improved iPhone 5 was being sold. “Its camera is so stealth and so versatile that you no longer have an excuse for your photos to be anything less than awesome, even if your vacation is a total bust.”

I have to agree. While investing in expensive camera gear may be a good idea for the very best, most professional looking shots, Bianco’s work here is proof that thousands need not be spent to capture an engaging image. Good food for budget thought when planning future travel gear purchases.

Want to be featured? Upload your best shots to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Several times a week we choose our favorite images from the pool as a Photo of the Day.

Tips for being featured: add a caption describing the image and (better yet) your personal experience when capturing it, details of the photography gear used and any tips you might have for others wanting to emulate your work.

Now, you can also submit photos through Instagram; just mention @GadlingTravel and use the hashtag #gadling when posting your images.

[Photo Credits Flickr user MyLifesATrip]

Kayak Data Analysis Brings Budget Travel Tips, Not God-Like Mantra

kayak

Kayak, the travel search giant, took a look at more than a billion search inquires throughout 2012. Crunching the numbers, they came up with some interesting information. Based on what those who visit the popular website were looking for, Kayak has some tips aimed to save on travel. Considered a snapshot of information, the study is relatively harmless and can be a generally helpful budgetary tool.

Look through a billion sets of data on any given topic and certain similarities are bound to rise to the top. It is often what we do with the data that counts. In the case of search data, if millions of people were looking for information on “cruise fire,” for example, it does not necessarily mean that cruise ships are inherently dangerous.

But if accepting some notions about those who use Kayak, like that everyone visiting the site is looking for the cheapest flights, the results can verify (or not) preconceived notions we have, booking strategies and more.

Let’s break that Kayak study down a bit and see if there is some useful information that may be of benefit to travelers – some guidelines rather than rules.When to buy-
Kayak found the least expensive airfares to be within 21 to 35 days of departure. That adds some validity to the buying strategy held by many travelers to hold out and wait for a last minute deal.

If that strategy makes you nervous, you’re not alone – and for good reason. Waiting until the last minute can also leave us with a limited seat, flight or airline selection. Those are important considerations when, say, travel includes a family with children who want to sit together, someone with specific flight time requirements or a traveler wanting a certain airline.

Going on a trip and don’t really care when you get there, what airline you use or traveling alone? Waiting until the last minute can be a good idea.

Still, the factors that fuel the Kayak data can change, making today’s strategy obsolete tomorrow. Hooking up with a free service like Airfarewatchdog can bring real-time confidence in the data we collect and base our buying strategy on.

When to fly-
It was no big surprise to see the Kayak data indicate that September was a choice month for low airfare, with average rates coming in at the year’s lowest. Pretty much any travel professional could have verified that though, as September is traditionally a low-travel month. That works for airfare, hotel stays and even cruise travel as does the first weeks of November and December, otherwise busy travel months at other times.

Kayak data also revealed the most searched destinations, least busy times to fly and more. A snapshot of such factors, based on 2012 data, can surely help guide buying decisions but needs to be looked at as just that, a “snapshot” of information, not the word of a travel god.

See Kayak’s full Where To Go and How to Save guide for more.

Much of what we get in the way of travel tips depends on the source too and advice changes over time. The video below, from three years ago, encourages an entirely different strategy on buying airfare.




[Photo credit – Flickr user dcaceresd]