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Travel websites failing, video is the future, says Google Travel chief

Sarah McDonald Google

Most travel websites fail to provide a great experience for users, according to Sarah McDonald, Head of Travel at Google in the UK.

In a fast-moving and wide-ranging presentation at World Travel Market today, McDonald said that most travel content online had been “done badly up to this point” and she thinks the future lies in better use of video.

She had she had once spent four hours on TripAdvisor trying to find the perfect hotel and found the process deeply frustrating. She pointed to Airbnb as one of the few travel sites that makes provides a quick, easy and reassuring experience for users.

Tour operators only convert between 0.3% and 1.0% of web visitors into bookings in that session, she said, a figure that could be improved.

McDonald also revealed:

  * Before booking a package holiday, the average web user visits 15.1 different sites. For car hire the figure is as high as 20.4 while for camping it is 8.5. People booking hotels and flights visit around 13 different sites.

 * Google Street View plans to increase its indoors coverage, allowing businesses to show panoramic footage to mobile users. This has clear potential for hotels, restaurants and attractions.

 * YouTube often displays ads before popular videos, giving users the option to “skip” the ad after a few seconds. On average, 15% of viewers do not skip the ads. Advertisers only pay when the user has elected to watch the ad, and current ad rates are 3p – 10p in the UK, significantly cheaper than advertising in Google search.

McDonald said that 46% of travel search traffic is now “mobile”. However, this includes both smartphones and tablets, and she pointed out that tablets have now replaced desktops in many households.

She also quoted figures showing that 25% of people booking package holidays do their research online then purchase offline, while 36% now complete the whole process online. Only 28% research and book offline, while 10% research offline then book online.

McDonald urged travel companies to invest in video and spend time optimising their YouTube channels. Playlists should be organised by region, destination, holiday type, holiday needs, brands, property features and rep tips. “YouTube search is not as clever as Google search at the moment so you need to help people find you,” she said.

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