Interesting to hear Jilly Welch's (Fortune Cookie) diagnosis of the problems that plague many travel sites. In short: research and booking are being treated as separate processes, which leads to overlong, unnecessarily complex transactions.
You start out excited by your holiday in Mauritius; six pages in there's a loss of purchase momentumWhy? Two words: data entry. Nobody wants to do that stuff. But as an audience member points out, the complex legislation and technological infrastructure involved in travel purchases means a fair amount of data entry is unavoidable.
One of Jilly's suggestions is to put an editorial spin on data capture where possible. She points out that a day-month-year date search can be humanised by flagging up school holidays, or the best time to visit particular destinations.
Black Tomato gets praise for using its top-level navigation to guide users to 'Active Time', 'Escape Time' and so forth. Which is better than a dull old 'holiday type' drop down.
Expedia, though, is marked down for channeling users from its (highly praised) Inspiroscope, which captures information in an engaging way, to flat, text-heavy pages, which shatter the illusion.
And as for the Virgin Holidays interface...
I haven't picked on Virgin Holidays because it's awful; I've picked on it because it's moderate and unexciting