Evolution of Service Products on Travel Sites and the Effect of that on Traffic: A Longitudinal Study
- Rania Hussein
The Internet has started a process of change in the travel product buying habits of both leisure and business customers. The Internet has allowed people to access travel information with minimum inconvenience. In addition it gave the possibility to purchase travel products online (Buhalis & Licata, 2002). Tourism related services are among the leading services to be promoted and distributed via the Internet (Sussman & Baker, 1996, Millman, 1998). More and more travel companies are starting to develop web presence and offer their services online. As firms gain experience with internet technologies, their web sites move from a static presence through increasing levels of interactivity to dynamic sites (Poon & Swatson, 1999).
Web presence evolves over time. Services offered over the web have become sophisticated in many countries. This study aims to determine the evolution of service provision by Egyptian travel sites and how these services change in terms of their level of sophistication over the period of the study which is ten years. This content analysis consists of a small scale survey done on 30 Egyptian travel agents’ web sites that attempt to examine whether Egyptian travel websites are static or dynamic in terms of the services that they provide and whether they provide simple or sophisticated travel services. Additionally, the study attempts to determine the popularity of these websites through the number of links to these sites. Links maybe viewed as the equivalent of a referral or word of mouth (Ennew et al., 2005). Both popularity and the nature of the services provided by these websites will be used to determine the traffic on these sites. In examining the nature of services provided, the website itself is viewed as an overall service offering that is composed of different travel products and services. In order to determine the level of sophistication of these travel sites, the nature and composition of products and services offered by these sites were first examined. In classifying the different types of services available on the Egyptian travel agents’ web sites, a framework adapted from Kotler (1997) “Five levels of a product” was developed. The main contribution of this study is a theoretical one whereby a deep analysis of the various models explaining the levels of a product was conducted, comparisons were made and a mapping of the four models outlined was done. Additionally, adapting Kotler’s model of levels of a product and applying it to the travel service are main contributions here. Additionally, measuring evolution over a period of ten years is another main contribution in this study that does not take a cross section as most studies do.
The study began by identifying the Egyptian travel agents that have online presence and that provide online travel services. The target group for this study consists of companies that do inbound tourism and their focus is to attract tourists to the country. Asearch for Egyptian travel agents who own a website was done via metacrawler search engine which identified 100 web sites. When these web sites were first examined in June 2004 it was found that some of these web sites were passive pages that only included contact information of the travel agent with no services provided at all. Other web sites included small pages that were not actually used since they only included general information on Egypt with again no specific services promoted or offered. Out of these 100 web sites, only thirty travel agents were identified, based on the researcher’s judgment, as usable ones. These were identified as usable if they actually provided or promoted online travel services such as tour packages, travel information, hotel information, etc. and not just general information about the company. These thirty travel agents’ sites identified from sites of tourist organizations including the Association of Egyptian Travel Business on the Internet (AETBI) represent the sample of this study.
Four rounds of data collection were conducted over a period of 10 years. Two rounds of data collection were made in 2004 and two rounds were made in 2014. Data from the travel agents’ sites were collected over a two weeks period in each of the four rounds. These four rounds provided sufficient data on where do these web sites stand in terms of the features they provide and the evolution of these features over the period of the study. In conjunction to collecting data on features of web sites, data was also collected on the popularity of these web sites through a software program called Alexa that showed the traffic rank and number of links of each site. Alexa is a page counter site with one of the widest reaches in terms of sites covered and number of users. Data on traffic rank and links was collected over one day in each round. Results provide clear concrete evidence that websites’ features and links are significant determinants of traffic generated on these websites. Descriptive analysis was conducted to determine the ratio of the different categories of services provided as well as the change in traffic and the number of links over the period of the study which is 10 years. Results indicate that as companies moved from having simple websites with basic travel information to being more interactive, the number of visitors illustrated by traffic and the popularity of those sites increase as shown by the number of links. The results of this content analysis study taps on an unexplored area and provide useful insights for marketers on how they can generate more traffic to their websites by focusing on developing a distinctive content on these sites and also by focusing on the visibility of their sites thus enhancing the popularity or links to their sites (Dreze & Zufryden, 2004).
Results also show that travel companies use the web much more for promotion rather than for distribution since most travel agents are using it basically for information provision. This is in line with literature whereby perceived risk was consistently found to have a negative relationship with Web adoption and use (Lockett & Littler, 1997; Dohetry et al., 2003). It might be that the majority of travel sites are used for information provision and communication only rather than distribution out of a fear of the risks associated with conducting a full transaction and payment online.
Google-based Impact Factor (2021): 1.34
h-index (July 2022): 70
i10-index (July 2022): 373
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