This week’s musings, reflections and observations about travel affiliate marketing…

1. I think if as a travel affiliate or travel supplier you are unclear about your customers’ expectations and reactions when visiting your website, then you should read Akamai Technologies’ new ‘2 Seconds’ study.

According to the study, which was conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Akamai, Web surfers have increasingly become less tolerant when it comes to web page loading time.  More specifically, the study contends that some 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less, and that 40% of all shoppers will wait no more than three seconds before abandoning a travel or retail site.

Akamai and Forrester contrast the travel consumers’ growing impatience with a similar study conducted by Akamai back in 2006, which confirms that there’s been a continued erosion in ‘customer patience’, as just 3 short years ago, customer expectations for a similar page load was double that of today – four seconds or less.

Other key findings from this study also delineate the huge impact quick (or slow) web page loading times have on customer loyalty:

  • Online shopper loyalty is contingent upon quick page loading, especially for high-spending shoppers; 52% of online shoppers stated that quick page loading is important to their site loyalty, up 12% from the 2006 study
  • More tellingly, four out of every five online shoppers (79%) who experience a dissatisfying visit are less likely to buy from the same site again, while 27% are less likely to buy from the same site’s physical store, suggesting that the impact of a bad online experience will reach beyond the web and can result in lost store sales

The study also states that usability, site content and speed are key factors to online customer loyalty.  By taking the time to improve the overall site content and functionality, Akamai / Forrester say that retailers “…can bolster the overall brand and image of their company. For example, adding rich, interactive and dynamic content to a retail site can help reflect the in-store experience for the consumer, which can lead to increased satisfaction and loyalty from the consumer.”

In the press release announcing the study findings, Pedro Santos, Chief Strategist for e-Commerce at Akamai, said, “With two seconds as the new benchmark for a retail or travel site to load, it leaves little room for error to maintain a company’s loyal online customer base.”

2. I think that no matter how hard the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) tries to put a positive spin on the turmoil that’s plagued the airline industry the last several years, the task is futile, because when all is said and done, they are simply ‘putting lipstick on a pig’.

In their 2009 economic report titled, Evolution: A New Vision for Moving America released back on September 04th, the industry trade organization for the U.S. airlines paints its latest annual assessment of the airline industry’s ‘state of the union’ in a rather starry-eyed way.  Consider the following text from the ATA’s PR release accompanying the publishing of their report:

“As the forces of nature play out around us, the world continues to evolve.’, the PR release starts off , “…in the world of commercial aviation…the relentless forces of economic turbulence accelerate the evolutionary process to unprecedented levels – a world where constant change is the only path to tomorrow.”

An eloquent intro, no doubt about it…and the upbeat tone of their article gets better as one reads further into this announcement…”With a clear vision, focused unfailingly on the goal of moving people and products in ever safer and more efficient ways, those relentless forces can deliver tremendous value. Indeed, despite the difficult financial period that the industry has endured,” the ATA says, “U.S. airlines have achieved a safety record second to none, continued to improve our record of environmental excellence and introduced a wide variety of passenger-convenience technologies designed to streamline and simplify the passenger experience, alongside an equally impressive array of technologies to facilitate the just-in-time movement of cargo. It is indeed a tribute to the remarkable perseverance and ingenuity of the people of the airline industry that they have so effectively harnessed stress to nurture success.”

Hmmm…I think it’s fair to say that anyone that stopped reading at the end of this preamble would conclude something like the following: ‘Things have been rough in the airline industry the last few years, but we’re a tough lot, and despite the turbulence in the market, by focusing our attention on making our product better, taking care of our customers and adding new technologies, we insure that our industry remains successful’.

However, buried further down in their report are several statistics reveal that the gloss and veneer painted above doesn’t really change the reality of the U.S. airline industry’s plight.  Take for example, these three statistics:

• Though industry operating revenues grew a healthy $11 billion in 2008, operating expenses surged $24 billion, swinging the industry’s operating income into the red

• From 2001 through 2008, U.S. passenger and cargo airlines reported cumulative net losses of more than $55 billion; over the same period, U.S. passenger airlines were left with no choice but to sharply downsize, shedding more than 150,000 jobs

• Given the contraction in seating capacity, 2008 marked just the fifth time since domestic air service was deregulated in 1978 that the industry saw both domestic and international yields outpace inflation

With all due respect to the ATA, while we recognize that the ATA Economic Report has been the definitive source of economic and statistical information about the U.S. passenger and cargo airline industry since it was first published in 1937, we are also hopeful that when the ATA publishes next year’s annual survey, their opening assessment is not only as encouraging as this year’s, but that the underlying fundamentals and performance of the industry also supports their optimism.

3. I think that the ATA takes much solace (and some strength) in a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and sponsored by British Airways, which strongly underscores a long-held precept by most business people that face-to-face meetings are a “key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term relationships.”

HBR’s Analytical Services group canvassed 2,211 Harvard Business Review subscribers on the importance of face-to-face meetings. And they received some pretty conclusive responses – here are four that TravelDividends thinks are rather revealing:

  • More than 95% of the respondents to the survey said that face-to-face meetings were a “key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term relationships”
  • 89% said that meeting in person was essential to seal a deal
  • While 79% opined that it was the best way to win new clients
  • Additionally, slightly more than half (52%) of all respondents said restrictions on the number of flights taken for business would hurt their business

HBR also queried their subscribers about electronic videoconferencing and teleconferencing methods as a substitute for face-to-face meetings; here again, for many stakeholders, in-person meetings are seen as most effective for in certain business-driven situations:

  • Negotiations on important contracts (82%)
  • Interviewing senior staff for key positions (81%)
  • Understanding and listening to important customers (69%)

If the ‘soft’ benefits listed in the bullets above don’t shift senior management’s opinions about the value of investing money in business travel, maybe this ‘hard’ benefit will: the survey claims that for every dollar invested by US companies in business travel, they could expect a return of approximately $12.50 in revenue and $3.80 in profits.   For a PDF copy of the full HBR / BA report, click here.

By the way, British Airways is a major supporter of the travel affiliate channel, and offers a solid airline affiliate program through LinkShare…check it out!

As both business travelers and travel industry and affiliate marketing professionals, the team members at TravelDividends are strong believers in importance of face-to-face meetings, and of course, we are fully aware how this dynamic is essentially the ‘life blood’ of the business model for  travel affiliates that work with travel suppliers on business travel affiliate programs.

Do you agree with the HBR / BA study, and TravelDividends views?  What’s your thinking on the importance of face-to-face business meetings, and business travel in general?  If you are an airline or a travel supplier that markets to business travelers, or offer ‘business travel’ oriented travel affiliate programs, how have your business travel bookings and your travel affiliate programs fared since the start of the financial crises last year?  What has your company done to mitigate the drop-off in sales and revenue from these vital segments…or what strategies and tactics have you employed to attract more travelers and travel affiliates?  TravelDividends is keen on learning your sentiments on these subjects…drop us an email or leave a comment.    As always, we are grateful for the feedback we receive from our readers!