Slow travel sites a costly problem

Potential consumers will quickly abandon online airline and travel sites and move on to a competitor’s if loading times are sluggish, according to Ottawa-based webHancer Corp.

In a published report, the company used the week of Sept. 3 as a benchmark to monitor how quickly a site was left if it performed poorly.

Not surprisingly, given the events of Sep.11, overall traffic to travel sites is down dramatically. The airlines used were United Airlines, American Airlines, USAir, Delta and Southwest Airlines. Travel sites included Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia.

webHancer spokesperson Andrew MacDougall said there are a variety of factors that attributed to the results. “Sticker shock, a price quote that you don’t like or, as we think, it’s taking too long. If it’s taking an abnormally long amount of time or a time you find unsatisfactory, the instinct is to abandon,” he said.

With the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday approaching, traffic had increased briefly in early October only to drop even further one week later. It is a serious problem that individual companies and Web sites in particular should listen to.

“It indicates how important this is to people. You typically find low abandon rates when people are really dedicated to finding the content they’re looking for,” he said.

Perception is partly to blame, because the expectations of consumers and users alike have risen, who have been promised faster Web sites with less downtime. The technology itself also plays a significant role. “With large scale Web sites, the complexity has increased (the need for) the number of servers, routers and databases in addition to all the technology needed to try and interface (it all)” said Kevin Gallagher vice-president of research and reporting with Newport Group in Barnstable, Mass.

A combination of these factors will play a role in a site’s sub-standard performance, he added.

But these issues aside, what type of information the person is interested it can also play a role in their leaving a site prematurely. If, for example, a consumer is looking to book a flight, they will commit the time needed to start and finish the process. If it’s merely price shopping, then time spent decreases.

“What is their goal. Maybe the goal isn’t actually to purchase a ticket but to find out how much it costs,” said Ray Valdes, research director of Internet strategies at research firm Gartner Inc. in San Jose, Calif.

He viewed the problem as an old analogy. “The carrot is the particular thing they’re looking for, a piece of information and the stick is all the different (technological) obstacles to get to that information,” he added.

Newport Group Inc. in Barnstable, Mass., can be reached at

Gartner Group in Stamford, Mass., can be reached at

webHancer Corp. in Ottawa can be reached at