Focus Group Pans On-Line Services

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The primary drawbacks to using an on-line travel service are lack of usability, reliability, privacy -- and speed, speed, speed. Other than that, they're great.

"Waiting for the pictures, you could die," said a member of a focus group of 10 frequent travelers from New York, who were videotaped for a presentation during PhoCusWright Live 97 here.

The travelers shared their opinions about the services they reviewed: Biztravel.com, Expedia, Internet Travel Network, Preview Travel and Travelocity. "I think it's at 65 now on a scale of one to 100," said one participant, echoing the sentiments of the others.

Here's a few of the observations the participants shared, some of them sure to warm the hearts of travel agents:

* On confidence: "I want to know whom I'm dealing with ... I want to call the travel agent and let her [take care of it]. I need a live person who can go back into it, check something I did, change it for me and be a backup."

* On the requirement to register before using the service: "Even before you got started they wanted to know everything about you to get in."

* On-line booking as work: "You're going to have to give me an incentive to do this. They [the carriers] are benefiting because they're not paying people . they're saving a lot of money this way. So what do I get out of it?"

* On content: "They [on-line services] seem to have deals with certain airlines . They always seem to prefer certain airlines, and I have a feeling they're not really dealing a fair deck all the time."

* On usability: "I was clicking, clicking, clicking, but it wouldn't go anywhere."

* On speed: "Terrible." "So slow." "You just say, 'Forget it.' "

Interestingly, the focus group did not reject the notion of booking on line, despite members' criticisms. But they will wait until they can participate in on-line commerce on their terms. So now all the services have to do is make their products easy, cheap, fast, familiar and reliable.

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