Travel sites leave mobile users in the cold during Polar Vortex
The recent streaks of extreme cold weather called the Polar Vortex saw a spike in mobile traffic to travel sites and revealed a significant opportunity to create compelling mobile experiences during disruptive weather events.
According to Usablenet, visits to mobile travel sites increased by 54 percent between Dec. 30, 2013 and Jan. 7, 2014. The increase in traffic poses an interesting opportunity for travel sites, some of which rose to the occasion and some of which have a bit to learn.
?Travel companies have significant opportunity to create more engaging and useful experiences for their customers during disruptive weather events, and we expect to see new strategies rolling out to take advantage of these periodic surges in traffic in 2014,? said Carin van Vuuren, chief marketing officer at Usablenet, New York.
?For example, travel companies should aggregate all relevant information, including real-time updates, information about flight cancellations and delays, etc., across one page on the site,? she said.
Usablenet saw an increase in traffic to mobile travel sites during two different periods: Dec. 6-14, 2013 and Dec 30 - Jan 7, 2014.
During the latter time period, not only did visits jump 54 percent, but there was also a 21 percent increase in average visit duration to mobile sites. Consumers were clearly spending more time on mobile travel sites during these times of bad weather.
These statistics are not surprising considering the effects of the extreme weather on travel. Travelers were most likely stranded in an airport trying to figure out how to get to their destination, and the device that was available to them at the time was probably a smartphone or tablet.
This then presents a huge opportunity for travel sites to respond to the extreme weather and meet their consumers? demands.
Leading the way
Travel companies such as JetBlue and Virgin America updated their home page with messages related to the extreme weather and streamlined the travel process for consumers struggling to figure out plans.
JetBlue?s mobile home page read, ?Winter storm recovery update. Stay up-to-date on our operations and learn what to do next,? and consumers could click on a button to go to a winter storm update page. Virgin America?s mobile homepage read, ?Travel advisory, please check your flight status.?
According to Tamara Young, manager of corporate communications at JetBlue Airways, Long Island City, NY, the airline saw more usage during the winter storm, so they put a strategy in place to react.
?Our mobile site and app is designed to change should we need to notify our customers of any service issues,? Ms. Young said. ?We placed banners informing customers of the latest information and how JetBlue was handling the storm. We also linked them to our mobile optimized weather alerts page.
?We received messages on social from customers that were very pleased to receive updates on their phones,? she said. ?Knowing that we were accessible by phone and social was comforting for many customers.
?It?s a practice that we will continue to employ to ensure our customers have the best experience.?
The other critical factor is that these airlines provided a simple user interface and easy navigation to help travelers in this stressful time. During the extreme weather, consumers wanted quick access to key information, and it was crucial for airlines to deliver.
Travel sites must also make sure that the information is as accurate as possible with real-time updates.
Once travel sites offer all of the information travelers need in an efficient way, they can also take advantage of the extreme weather for more creative uses. For instance, they can provide relevant advertising for nearby hotels if flights are cancelled, or they can offer deals in the airport food court.
?High traffic periods offer a huge opportunity for travel sites to attract users,? Usablenet's Ms. van Vuuren said. ?In this case, the weather caused more than 4,000 flight changes last week, prompting travelers to check flight statuses on their mobile devices, which act as a go-to access point for the Internet for travelers.
?Once connecting with a travel mobile site, users can access features other than checking their flight status, such as researching further travel plans and making last-minute arrangements,? she said.
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York