Travel Industry was among the first to join the internet bandwagon and grow with the advent of the web. Since the very beginning studies have been conducted to analyse and measure the effectiveness of tourist websites, in terms of the features of such websites such as promotion, information being provided and level of technology. Such researches also focused on extent to which the tourist websites, mainly hotels, travel agencies etc., were effective in utilizing the web or the internet as a platform to conduct their businesses and how successful such organisations have been in branding, marketing, customer satisfaction and designing a quality website.
In this study the focus company is 'Lonely Planet' which is the world's largest publisher of Travel guides and Digital Media. Lonely planet started as a publisher of travel guide books in 1973 however the company with its presence online with its website Lonelyplanet.com has evolved into a travel service provider providing the travellers with a wide choice. Moreover the website has turned into one of the most popular online communities. A travel website has to be evaluated keeping in mind the various facets that are associated with travel, first and foremost being the website's design quality and it's effect on consumers purchase intention, secondly the extent to which the organization has been able to reinforce the strength of the original brand through the web presence incase of Lonely Planet which was already a well established brand. In the past a research was conducted which showed that Lonely Planet was able to construct successfully an online community which integrated the advantages of a social community with elements of a commercial one . This study analyses the mentioned three main points along with the extent of customer segmentation on the website, customer relationship management and the marketing activities using digital means. Such an analysis will help in understanding the reasons behind the success of lonelyplanet.com and how such brands can be re-created in the future. Also the study tries to bring out certain areas which need to be concentrated on by the focus website in order to enhance customer over all web experience. Since this study is analysing various aspects of Lonelyplanet.com, previous studies which were conducted have been used to critically analyse the website in question, gain an insight and make necessary comparisons and provide recommendations.
Fulfillment of Brand promises which are mentioned in this table is what leads to the creation of a successful brand according to Dayal et. Al (2000).
- The Promise of Convenience
- The Promise of achievement
- The Promise of fun and adventure
- The promise of Self-Expression and recognition
- The promise of belonging
Lonelyplanet.com as a website and an organization aims at fulfilling all these promises. The promise of convenience is achieved by providing the customer all the information about the travel destination, the website is a 'one stop shop' for consumers to get all the information about the destination through the travel guides from where to eat- Choice of restaurants, to where to sleep - choice of hotels and hostels, to where to shop -choice of shopping destinations and local markets and where to go - choice of places of interest.
Promise of achievement is guaranteed to the customer as the website is loaded with features to help the traveler not only to get information about the place but book hotels, flights etc. The choices vary depending on the customer preferences.
Lonelyplanet.com provided the customer with a feeling of fun and adventure, self expression and recognition and belongingness. The trip planner application makes it fun for the customer to plan their travel, it not only adds interactivity to the website but also provides personalized travel solutions by letting the customer plan the whole trip on their own with their choice of destinations, hotels or hostels etc., places to visit, with detailed maps to help with the planning(MAPS DIAGRAM).
The success or the level of fulfillment achieved is left on the consumer to decide.
A plausible branding aims at creating value for the customer by:- PAGE 464
- Reduction in risks associated and perceived by the consumers.
- Forming a constructive image of the organization which the consumers are confident about.
- Minimizing information search costs.
Lonelyplanet.com imbibes all the above mentioned aspects, below a diagram depicts the framework of consumer trust in a travel website. All the above mentioned factors with the exception of the cost factor are related to the consumer online trust. (JTT__8_34)
Website Design and Service Quality:
There is a relationship between website design quality and the consumer perceptions of the website and their purchase or repurchase intentions. When purchasing offline in a store the consumer interacts with the representatives of the company, this interaction in turn effect how the consumer perceives the brand. Like a good employee provides the consumer with assurances of the reliability of the product or service similarly while purchasing online website becomes the point of contact between the company and the consumer and the way a website is designed influences consumer perception and behaviour.
Lonely Planet is primarily a publisher of travel guide books. This fact is very evident on the website lonelyplanet.com. the homepage of the website is very well designed recommending destinations and giving a glimpse of such destinations and along with each destination suggesting a guide to go along with it FIGURE1. The homepage also provides the consumer a choice to choose their own destinations and provides them information about the chosen destination.
Another very unique feature of the website is TRIP PLANNER. This feature is unique to the website as it helps the consumer plan the trip in a very different way with the help of a drag and drop feature. The consumer can drag and drop the places he or she wants to visit and design a wish list. While helping the consumer plan the trip the website not only provides information about the places of interest but also suggests a guide book to accompany the same along with an option of booking hostels and hotels in which case Lonelyplanet.com is only a recommender site.
Service quality is another factor influencing consumer behaviour, while websites can improve their website quality in comparison to the their competitors, it is a tedious job to work on the service quality as it requires working on several functional areas. Proper co-ordination between suppliers, partners providing services for shipment, after sales services and transaction facilitators is required which makes the task such cumbersome.
In case of Lonelyplanet.com which is a publisher of travel guidebooks, the service experience starts with the consumer choosing a destination on the website. The site provides updates about the chosen destination in respect to the current happening in the place of interest and also issues travel advisory where necessary. The co-ordination between the different functional elements of the organization has been enhanced with the website. Lonely planet offers a travel guide book with indepth traveler reviews of experts with recommendations but the website lonelyplanet.com enhances the travel guide as the organization is using the online platform for keeping the traveler up to date which is a very useful service.
Extent of customer segmentation