Online Travel: A Long Way to GoJanette Toral
When Internet and e-commerce first became popular, one of the sectors immediately seen to benefit from it is the travel industry. However, no matter how easily it is hyped that the Internet can provide a better medium for the travel business, it is easier said than done.
I will not claim to be an expert for online travel systems but share to you my experience in buying tickets online.
Inaccurate flight schedules
My first attempt to buy travel tickets using Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines (PAL) web site as a reference was disappointing. Both attempts in getting a Cagayan De Oro flight, in different occasions, was a dismay. Why? Both had inaccurate flight schedules.
Earlier this year, I checked on the Cebu Pacific website to see if I can get a Manila to Cagayan De Oro flight after arriving from Catanduanes. Saw the 9:30 am flight departure schedule and thought of giving it a chance. Upon arrival, I ran immediately to the ticketing office and was told that the flight left at 9 am. Yes, it was a heartbreaker. Especially when the ticketing office personnel had no idea about their own corporate website which I used as my basis.
Last October 2001, we were planning for the APEC E-Commerce seminar series to be held at Cagayan De Oro, Legaspi City, and Catanduanes. My Australian event partner was checking the PAL site to finalize their flight schedules. At that time, the Manila to Cagayan de Oro route only shows one flight in and out a day. When we’re finally buying the tickets, I was informed that there are 3 flights a day. Cebu Pacific also shows one flight a day in and out at that time although was not certain if there were errors then too.
Last October 2001, while preparing for the US trade mission, I had an urgent need to buy an airline ticket. Visited
several travel sites registered in DigitalFilipino.com. Most of the sites was not designed to provide a quote for multiple city stop in the US. I was successful though in getting price information at Orbitz but it doesn’t give me the capability to buy the ticket online.
I ended up calling more than ten travel agencies basing it from the phone numbers stated at their website and requested for a quote to be sent via fax or email. Only two were responsive enough to get back to me and send their quote. The others, sad to say, don”t deserve to be in business at all as they were not able to respond to sales inquiries.
I finally end up getting my ticket at SkyCab. My account was handled very well. The other travel agency was very disappointing to think it used to be my favorite travel agent for the past 2 years (they don’t have a website yet then but an online forum in the same community where I am). My account handled by a person, I think a newcomer, who doesn’t know e-mail etiquette. A quote was given and they even made temporary reservations. I was almost certain that I will get the ticket from them for they offered a lower price. After the date deadline that they gave me, I received an email in all caps lock saying that they cancelled the temporary reservation made for me. No request for follow-up or call. They closed the sales transaction themselves. I felt shut off in that e-mail. It was very rude.
On the other hand, the salesperson at SkyCab had been very patient in making follow-up inquiries. As they say, it is much easier to lose a long time customer than getting a new one.
Customer Service is the Key
E-Commerce is not always about buying products online. An online travel site should not measure website sales generated as a barometer of its effectiveness. Most of them will still remain offline. However, the website can be used as a powerful marketing tool in letting people know that you exist, what do you have to offer, how can you be reached.
Having a website is not enough to generate success to the company. At the end of the day, customer service matters the most. In my case, it will take time for me to buy tickets online especially if I already have a favorite travel agent. If my travel requirements were not complicated then, I would not have thought of getting quotes from other travel agencies. If not for the Internet, I would not have met SkyCab Travel.
Another good example in this regard is the frequent flyer programs. I am now convinced that Cathay Pacific truly deserved the Asian Internet Award for the Best Business to Consumer site for they are very aggressive in their customer service strategy. The moment you hit a certain level in their frequent flyer program, expect to receive your upgrade mileage card right away. Northwest Airlines used to be impressive in this aspect but my recent experience shows otherwise. PAL needs improvement too. The mileage statements they send out are very delayed. Lufthansa, Cebu Pacific, and China Airlines are also good in their response time. National Airlines and Dragon Air tends to forget the application forms submitted to their check-in counters.
Online travel processing is still a long way to go. Nevertheless, improvements are on their way and competition is getting better. I’m sure in 2002, we’ll be able to see local travel websites that will flourish and meet consumer expectations.
Online Travel Bookmarks:
- Cebu Pacific
- Philippine Airlines
- Davao Travel NetGuide
- Cebu Travel Internet Guide
- Team Explore
DigitalFilipino.com is not responsible for any action of the web sites mentioned in this article