Rob Käll gets Bookt
Rob Käll is the founder of Bookt, which specialises in helping companies in the travel industry get more bookings.
Amanda Gome: What are the trends you are seeing in the tourism industry, in terms of business models?
Rob Käll: We are in a tough climate, but online bookings over the various forms of travel continue to go up. For example Expedia reported a 10% increase in online bookings at the end of 2008.
One trend we are seeing is that even smaller companies can start taking advantage of the ability to market and close their sale online, where in the past they might have relied on the phone or traditional travel agents.
Do you work globally?
We are based in Miami, Florida, but we are seeing this as a global trend in Europe and the Middle East as well.
Are you seeing more travel companies and businesses specialise and focus on a niche? Do they decide, for example, they are going to be the best fly-fishing tour operator in the world, or the best lavender-product tour operator in the world, and focus on getting their companies found by a world market?
Absolutely. And the internet is obviously an enabler of that. Being able to be found in the search engines and being able to provide a complete offering of your services online is something that is required. And especially in Australia there are so many opportunities in adventure travel and so forth - that people in the United States and Europe would be very interested in finding out more about, that they might not be aware of right now.
Why aren't they aware of what Australian tourism has to offer?
Some of these providers have websites but they are not geared towards selling the entire package. They may have some general information but not true quotes and prices that incudes all the information that a booker would need in order to feel comfortable booking.
Maybe you can't see availability online, and maybe you can't see things like how much it would cost to fly to that particular location, and that information that is missing is hampering the purchase decision in many ways.
So what do they do? Just click to somewhere else where they can get that information?
If you are not sure, then you are not going to go ahead and do a purchase. And they go with something else that feels more comfortable, like a package tour on Expedia for example.
So in the US, you are seeing people book travel directly though the company rather than agencies because of the growing ability of websites to deal directly with the consumer?
Yes. There are several trends going on. Obviously with the last 10 years the rise of online travel agencies like Expedia have been a huge factor, and has largely come at the cost of the traditional travel agent.
But what you are also seeing right now is that more and more properties or hotels or lodging companies are spending more effort on their own website. Obviously if you don't have to pay the typical commissions that online travel agents charge, like 20%, you have a much more profitable sale. If you have someone coming straight to your own website, that is preferable.
Are you seeing more and more people happy to book with that company or that hotel?
It all depends on how credible your offering looks online. When you are online there are so many different aspects that the consumer will take into account, either consciously or subconsciously. Does the site look professional? Does it have all the answers that I need? Is the online search and booking similar to one of the online sites that I am used to?
And then, can I get all the answers? Are there plenty of photos and descriptions for the amenities? Can I see exactly what my cancellation policy is?
If you don't have those things then you can't expect a lot of online success, basically.
Is closing online essential?
Well obviously your site can still act as a lead generator, but you are going to have more success with the complete ability to close the transaction online there.
Companies employ different types of customer relationship management systems, CRM systems, so that any lead that came in that did no close themselves online, they did not put in the credit card, then they can still call back from their call centre or reservation desk and talk to them over the phone instead, and still be able to close the sale.
And that is a hybrid version that many of our customers are finding a lot of success with, especially if they have more of a complicated product like vacation rental or something like that where the customer needs a little bit more information in order to commit to the purchase.
What other trends are you seeing?
From a site owner's perspective, one thing that is really important is the ability to truly track your results. Just putting up a website by itself and hoping that people will come to it will usually not be very successful.
So you will have to do both what we call organic search engine optimisation, that is the search engine traffic that you get for free, but also do paid search engine traffic, online advertising. But it only makes sense if you are doing that and making money off it. So being able to track and analyse your result is a huge part of it.
Tourism companies are struggling. How much is it going to cost them to set up a good website, to be able to track their results, close online - just a ballpark figure?
You can get a good customised website for around $US5000 and then pay around $100 a month to keep that going, and that will have a lot of the tools that we just talked about right now. There are obviously other companies that invest millions of dollars in their infrastructure, but they typically are much larger and have a very customised approach to it.
Can you give us examples of some very good tourism websites?
Some of our websites. For example we worked with a vacation rental company in Key West, Florida. I'm sure some of your readers have heard of it, it is a beautiful place right on the southern tip of Florida, down on an island, and you can visit that at rentkeywest.com. Another site in the Rockies in central United States is gotoparkcity.com; two different websites, two different target audiences, but it is all taking the fully bookable, search engine optimisation into account.
Now when you set those up, how much traffic did they get and what was the conversion?
Those are great questions. In the United States, typically to make it viable we want to see 1000 unique visitors a month. If you have less than that your web channel will not be very effective. And what you can expect to convert is between 1% and 5% of those into bookings.
Obviously a lot of it depends on your price point, how targeted your advertising is and so forth, but you can generate a substantial amount of sales online using those types of numbers.
That is politely put. How much of your traffic, your business, do you think should be coming through your website now, overall revenue of leads and sales?
It is hard to give a very hard number because sometimes people are going to the website first and then calling and not completing, but if you have an online booking site and you are not getting 10% to 20% of your sales through that, then your online booking probably does not work and you need to review it.
Have you been successful in getting people from areas that have not traditionally been attracted to those places?
Everything on the web is trackable, so we see people are coming from all over the world for a place like I mentioned before, Key West. There are people booking from Europe and Asia, and they started their search with keywords like "Key West" or something like that.
What are people searching for and how is what people are typing into Google or other search engines changing?
A lot of times it is the destination and other keywords like "vacation rentals". Or they might be travelling with a large group, or a resort if that is what they are looking for. So if you have a resort in Queensland or the Pacific Islands, then being able to find that lodging facility based on those keywords is key.
Are they searching on activities as well, like surf, ski, or trout fishing?
Yeah, if we are talking about search engine optimisation, then absolutely. The more specific you can be about the destination, the properties you are renting or the resort you are running, and activities and attractions around it, then you are going to catch traffic to your website and then it becomes very important how that information is structured on your website as well.
Are you seeing the design of websites change? Sometimes in Australia you'll go to a website and you'll actually see the properties. I don't know if they go out to find the worst pictures they can, but just the look of the website puts you off.
That is a really common problem. We always talk about two things when you see a website. You only have a couple of seconds to make as many people aware of how to capture a potential visitor. The first thing is in the emotional connection to their destination, so you need to use beautiful imagery.
The second thing is a clear call to action. In almost all travel websites, there is some sort of availability or price or booking search or other pertinent information. So that you can immediately put in what travel dates you are interested in and search and get some type of actual tangible results, like "here is what I can rent for this price right now" basically.
If you don't have those two things, the emotional and the action, then you are not going to have a lot of success. And if you have an ugly site then that is obviously going to be off-putting to any new user who comes.
Are there any new trends in design? Are we looking at cleaner sites or packed with gorgeous imagery?
It obviously depends entirely on your destination. It should reflect the demographic and the destination you are promoting.
Let me just say one thing that is a little bit more on a technical note; sometimes you talk about a beautiful site and so forth, but there are tangible metrics. One metric that you can look at on your own site in Google Analytics, which many webmasters are using, is bounce rate. If your bounce rate is 30%, 40%, 50%, then people don't like your site. The bounce rate is people that come to your site and leave right after.
And that's easy to measure?
It's a free tool called Google Analytics that anybody can download and add to their site in minutes, and that will tell them in particular that very important metric.
You can also work out where they're leaving your site, at what particular part, and fix that?
Yes, so if everybody is leaving right before you're supposed to put in your credit card, figure out what is it that you are not doing there. Are you not reassuring them about the cancellation process, or terms and procedures? Are you not showing that your site is a secure booking site? And those can easily be fixed in that case.
Now these tourism operators are very busy. Many of them are not that web savvy. How do you go about even getting a foothold into that world, fixing what they have got?
Once again at the risk of sounding self serving, hire an expert, ask someone else. This is what we do all day long, and we spend a lot of time looking at trends, looking at what works and doesn't work and tailoring our products and services around them. Sometimes people want to do their own website and it tends to be less effective.
Lastly, you said adventure travel is a very good opportunity for the American market. What else is attractive about Australia that we really should be pushing to America and other countries?
The whole nature, wide open spaces, all of that stuff is extremely exciting and attractive to almost any other country, because you don't have those spaces in most other places.
The big detriment is the perceived distance, and how long it is going to take to travel there, and sometimes by including things like quoting airfares on your site you can alleviate that and tell them that you can travel there in 24 hours and be in a different continent and experience this very exciting land.
I want to go to Australia. Unfortunately I have never been. If there is a travel provider out there that is willing to host us, we can come down and talk more about what they can do to have some online success.