Friday, August 17, 2007

The gap between the online and offline user experience

Our latest column for Travel Weekly, headlined "Users’ online experience is far better than the offline reality":

Online travel companies are forever talking about ‘user experience’ as one of the key areas that must be absolutely perfect before launching a website or piece of functionality.

From the moment of conception to early drafts by web designers, through usability testing to trial runs with consumers, a desire to have an as-near-to-perfect user experience is more often than not at the top of any list of requirements.

Given that user experience is paramount to success in the new world of online travel, it would be fascinating to see how the sharp end of travel in the offline world, the departure airport, would fare if put to the same levels of scrutiny.

The problem is that many passengers – this summer in particular – would argue that the user experience at a number of the UK’s leading airports is poor.

There are a number of external and widely discussed factors at work here, but the basic procedure of passing through an airport is clunky, stressful and time-consuming.

However, the best travel websites have an easy entry point for users, seamless navigation and have been created with the modern consumer in mind.

Many UK airports are not run using the same philosophy.

Consumers often behave the same way online as they do offline – busy people who want to reach the end of the ‘journey’ as soon as possible.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic claim their new entry points at Heathrow (the new Terminal 5 and a revamped Terminal 3 respectively) will improve the passenger experience greatly. Both have been designed, they say, with the modern consumer in mind – like the best websites.

But until there is a wider rethink about the design and usability of airports, travellers will continue to be faced with a user experience akin to those awful websites of the early 1990s.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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Stephane Cheikh said...

Interesting post!

I am working for SITA who does kiosk for airports, so very close to this subject.

I am always looking carefully when in airports to see how passenger movement and passenger dwell time are taken into account.

I am curious to see what will be the tools and processes used to improve the passenger experience greatly with the modern consumer in mind.

Joe Buhler said...

The old saying "getting there is half the fun" should be changed to "getting there is twice the hell" especially for anyone taking to the air. Up to 500 miles for me it's the car!

Having said that, the online "user experience" is not exactly top notch either in many cases. Granted the leading OTAs have long experience in site design but there are a number of new travel 2.0 sites that are pretty crappy to use.

Also, we're still quite far away from true one-stop shopping for complex vacations (sorry - holidays!) that require the bundling of different components that make up for the whole trip. It's still very much researching here, here and here; then buying this here, that there, that over there and then try to make it all work. Not too intelligent yet!