prominent commentator on the e-travel
scene was speaking in New York the other day about leisure
travelers and what lures them on line -- and what keeps them on
line. His answer? "It's not just a price game."
With those words, Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research may
have stated the obvious, but the obvious bears repeating from time
to time. After all, if price were the only thing that mattered,
we'd all be driving Yugos to the airport to catch a flight on
Southwest or AirTran, and nobody would be staying at the Four
Recapping Forrester's recent research on the matter, Harteveldt
said, "The site experience matters ... as much as the price,"
adding that successful Web sites must provide a satisfying customer
experience, with easy on-line help, access to customer service and
easy navigation and booking functions.
This is another way of saying that it's not enough for aspiring
airlines to match Southwest's fares if the flight attendants are
snarling at the passengers and the flights are never on time.
It's another way of saying that travel retailers, whether on
line or off, have to do more than "distribute" the product.
It's another way of saying that you have to deliver value. Value
was a big buzzword a few years ago. We haven't heard it much
lately. The word didn't figure prominently in Harteveldt's
presentation, but the concept was clear: It's not just a price
game; the experience matters.
If it's true on the Web, it's true off line, and there's no
marketplace where it can be more true than in the market for
leisure travel, where the product itself is an experience.
A chip and a modem can say "Welcome, Terrence," and that may be
enough for e-commerce. But in the real world, nothing beats a
smile, a handshake and "Hi, Terry -- hey, have a seat."