For a second consecutive year, Applause analyzed testing data across travel and hospitality mobile and desktop web, connected devices and mobile apps – in real-world scenarios – all around the globe. We evaluated thousands of combinations of networks, browsers, payment instruments and integrations for travel and hospitality customers worldwide to share the most comprehensive view available of what travel and hospitality organizations encounter in their pursuit of digital excellence.
We summarized key points from our State of Digital Quality 2023 report in our recent blog, Improving Digital Quality in 2023: Where to Focus. That overarching report examines broad digital quality trends; this blog post explores digital issues in the travel and hospitality sector. Our industry report, State of Digital Quality 2023 in Travel & Hospitality, gives extensive details not covered in this blog.
In this blog, we cover:
- The travel and hospitality backdrop
- Loyalty, customer retention and channel continuity
- Travel and hospitality insight: 5 key areas
- Functional defects can stop travel in its tracks
- The trip never gets off the ground with payment issues
- Customer journey is built on data…lots of it
- Accessibility innovation raises the digital quality experience for all customers
- Adept localization ensures more than just translation
- Digital quality recommendations
- Index and data references
The travel and hospitality backdrop
The tourism and hospitality market (what we call travel and hospitality) is the largest sector in the world. According to Market Data Forecast, this sector contributes 10% of the world’s GDP; its projected value by 2027 will be $9 trillion USD. By many accounts, it also was the hardest hit industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, slowly making its return to pre-pandemic levels. From a travel perspective, a full recovery for U.S. domestic travel is not expected until 2024, and inbound international travel is projected to lag behind, not reaching its pre-pandemic recovery until 2025. According to Bain & Company, global air travel demand is projected to be slower than hoped for in the wake of the pandemic due to CO2 mitigation costs and inflationary pressures. These are just a few markers that provide perspective on the challenges facing this sector.
The journey starts long before the actual trip. Prior to arrival at the airport terminal, the hotel or the historical site, the traveler researches, compares search results, begins to build an itinerary, then books travel. This customer experience – initiated before, built upon during and extending beyond the trip through details like correctly updated loyalty points/miles and more – is ongoing. With prevailing headwinds such as global inflation, worker shortages in this sector and recession concerns lingering, one thing is certain: a strong focus on digital experiences can substantially serve prospects and current customers. Leveraging digital, travel and hospitality organizations can differentiate via innovation and levels of service, and build long-term loyalty within a fiercely competitive space.
Loyalty, customer retention and channel continuity
Applause teams have noted three recurring themes that illustrate organizations’ need to scrutinize the end-to-end customer experience and remove friction from customers’ travel and hospitality experiences, both digital and physical. These points are relevant to each of the five areas in which we test.
- Loyalty and customer attraction/retention – How do organizations such as hotels and airlines gain back the price-focused customer? How about less price-sensitive customers, what will attract them? For example, from January 2022 to January 2023, hotel rates have steadily increased while customer satisfaction decreased. This illustration of the inverse relationship of price and value extends to airlines, online travel booking services, rental car organizations and other players in this space. Who are your customers and what do they want most? What constitutes value to them? Year after year, Applause teams find that the customer experience rules. Even when technology works flawlessly, customer experiences that lack convenience, consistency, personalization and human touch fall short.
Travel and hospitality brands must take an inventory and ask themselves, How do we innovate, differentiate our offerings, attract new customers and retain current customers? They must engage their customers in this dialogue – one which is spoken and unspoken – where travel providers leverage key data to complement qualitative feedback otherwise provided by customers. In addition, as loyalty programs – many of which are forming more complex partnerships – continue to gain popularity and use with travelers, expectations are rising as well. Executing these programs becomes more critical, keeping the user experience and related functionality simple and pleasing while enabling travelers to do what they need, wherever they are.
Channel continuity – Understanding the end-to-end consumer experience matters more than ever in travel and hospitality. Seeking out and eliminating sources of friction in the customer journey — whether they occur while customers make or modify airline reservations on a desktop browser, execute touchless check-in at a hotel using a mobile app or make digital payments for local tours while traveling — requires skills and resources that many software developer and QA teams lack in house. Things such as real users doing exploratory testing, location-specific testing on various networks, or localization testing in locations around the world.
Adding to this complexity, the literal customer journeys in travel blend digital and physical components. And, too often, this industry invites one more “traveler” along for the trip: anxiety. Stakes are higher for travelers when it comes to booking trips and related products and services, the prices of which not only vary based on time of booking in relation to the planned trip dates, but change based on seasonality and global economic factors (jet fuel prices, micro and macro economic trends, etc.). Digital excellence has its place here; it can increase customer confidence when it is easy to use, functions flawlessly and even surprises travelers with innovation that matters to them.
Striking the customer touch balance – Non-personalized, poorly timed or an overwhelming volume of communications can work against travel and hospitality providers. One estimate states that the average U.S. smartphone user receives approximately 46 app push notifications each day. In a 12-hour period, that equates to just slightly less than 4 notifications an hour. As most mobile app users know too well, the timing of these notifications matters. For example, hitting a consumer with an unrelated promotion while she is using your app to order lunch may not only be a wasted marketing effort, but can be a barrier to what she is trying to do at the moment. So how do travel and hospitality organizations find the balance between upselling, promotions, incentives and loyalty programs? It’s not just about being able to deliver the right personalized recommendations, but it’s about ensuring that offerings are available when the consumer is researching and discovering, actively shopping and during checkout.
For each of these three key themes, real-world testing – with customers who act like your targeted customer demographic and provide access to a wide array of devices across global networks – simply cannot be surpassed in terms of putting your digital properties to the ultimate test. In addition, this approach invites innovation based on feedback, as real users are immune to the blind spots inherent to internal testers within QA groups.
Travel and hospitality insight: 5 key areas
We’ve broken out our findings in this year’s State of Digital Quality in Travel and Hospitality report into five areas of insights: functional, customer journey, payment, accessibility and localization testing.
Functional defects can stop travel in its tracks
Workflow errors were the most common flaw discovered in 2022 for travel and hospitality. These issues stop your customers from accomplishing basic tasks. For example, a user on your website searches for flights and the search returns no results, or a traveler clicks on a button to rent a vehicle and the button is unresponsive. These errors can impact customers and prospects in a wide spectrum of ways. Loyal customers may be more forgiving, this time… particularly if this is a first-time occurrence. New travelers, engaging with your brand for the first time, may abandon your site and never return.
While organizations attempt to integrate testing into developer workflows, this poses a challenge for many QA and developers that are already under pressure and have limited bandwidth. In addition, we often see developers put off the routine work that helps make testing more efficient over time. This lack of strategy can keep teams in a cycle of mild to moderate inefficiency, with high team stress levels, and of course, a higher volume of bugs slipping through to production.
We note two interesting data changes from last year’s analysis and one that remains fairly constant:
The composition of bug types remains the same as last year. Functional (workflow errors), visual and content defects continue to comprise over 96.55% of all bugs found. This data suggests that the industry continues to struggle with the complexity of attaining digital quality, perhaps related to development staffing issues, meeting the needs of the increasing volume of travelers to pre-pandemic levels, and process and organizational inefficiencies. Notably, while functional bugs dropped 2.06% this year, content bugs increased 2.25% year over year, indicating that organizations are also missing the mark in areas that require little technical expertise, such as simple proof reading. The remainder of bug types found were within 1% of last year’s report data.
Crashes, typically the result of inadequate testing, improved by almost a quarter of a percent and is the lowest of the five bug types identified this year, indicating a continued focus on quality. This is good news, as research indicates that users have a very low tolerance for app crashes compared to less critical issues such as sub-par page layout or missing Alt text, for example.
Case study: Applause executes localized manual testing for a global online travel booking service, supporting over 100 million app and website users per month
In an effort to address customer loyalty issues appearing in its customer journey, a global online travel booking service – enabling travelers to browse hotels, rental cars, and both domestic and international flights – was challenged to keep bugs from escaping to production despite engineers’ focus on bug-free, high-quality code. The company needed a backup to catch any errors before landing in the hands of its customers. In addition, since its app is used around the world, the company needed to ensure it was localized for a wide variety of markets. However, as the travel booking service lacked a presence in countries such as Spain, Poland, Vietnam, China, Indonesia and others, optimizing the app would be nearly impossible for its organization alone. It decided to partner with Applause.
Within days of confirming the partnership with the travel booking service, Applause integrated seamlessly into the travel company’s testing cadence and quickly generated test cycles in requested countries around the world. After a day of fixing, updating and adding features to a build, the firm passed the build to Applause for a nightly exploratory test cycle along with a list of focus areas. By the next morning, the travel organization had a new list of issues and defects to address throughout the day before passing it back to Applause. This successful integrated approach continues today.
Since the start of the partnership, the travel booking service has expanded its QA capabilities to test across hundreds of countries and thousands of unique Android and iOS configurations, accelerating fully vetted new feature rollouts. The company now facilitates over 80 billion price searches each day, has improved channel continuity between web and mobile apps, and has boosted customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
The trip never gets off the ground with payment issues
What are some of the first things you do when planning a trip? Book your flight, a rental car, or hotel – all which typically require some form of payment at the onset. Rates for all of these core elements of a typical trip are variable and can change daily. When payments fail, not only is the prospective traveler frustrated with not completing their task(s), they face the insecurity of wondering what exactly happened after they entered their credit card numbers and submitted personal information. Even when payments do not fail, customer support issues may arise around how a charge appears on a bank or credit card statement. Charges may be unclear to the traveler, listing the name of a payment provider instead of the branded service they are expecting to see on their statement.
Real-world testing with live, in-market payment instruments is the only way to guarantee transactions work properly for customers and prospects around the world. These transactions should occur in a production environment with real transactions, as the travel and hospitality sector is predicated on financial transactions working smoothly around the world. And there’s a lot to test: loyalty points redemption, digital wallets and constantly expanding alternative payment methods, just to name a few, must all be tested on various devices.
Payments testing results may include things such as: details on bugs/technical blockers, transaction details, screenshots of receipts and billing or account statements, payment instrument or account information, POS terminal information, device/OS/browser versions, transaction videos, adherence to payment standards like PSD2, taxation laws and other compliance points.
We note some big changes this year. Functional bugs comprised a whopping 85.37% of all payment bugs, increasing 16.57% since last year. Lags and latency issues increased 2.98%. Functional issues are predominant in payment testing as functional bugs align with payment failures and lost revenue.
On the positive side, content bugs decreased 11.11% and visual issues dropped 8.64%.
Customer journey is built on data…lots of it
Our travel and hospitality customers use diverse inputs to assess digital quality and the resulting customer loyalty. A significant piece of this involves customer sentiment, customer satisfaction research around things like upgrades and special offers, retention and churn rates, the number of customer support requests and more. It’s impossible to evaluate the customer journey and experience without input from real or potential customers. In addition, many of our customers in this sector do user experience (UX) studies. Not all organizations have the specialized skills and resources – such as the wide array of OS/browser combinations and mobile devices necessary to conduct thorough UX research covering all customer journeys, both physical and digital, from end to end.
Even when travel and hospitality organizations with dedicated UX research teams expand into new markets, they may have difficulty quickly sourcing research participants that can give the appropriate real-world perspective and insights needed.
Case study: A large, global airline conducts user experience studies for its loyalty program website and app
A leading global airline wanted to gain a broad perspective on customers’ experiences around elements of its loyalty program website and app. Specifically, it wanted to understand participants’ reactions to new design proposals as well as customers’ expectation and feedback on information within their frequent flier account related to the program tracker, points earning summary, account activity and overall functionality.
The airline partnered with Applause to build the user experience (UX) study. Applause designed the study and vetted it with the airline, suggesting key research questions to address areas such as:
customers’ confidence that they understood the entire program;
their knowledge of and comfort with the frequent flyer account tracker, a key component of the program;
how new design proposals shifted users’ perception of their ability to access needed information;
what information they expect to access and their perception about the brand (e.g., is it welcoming, caring etc.).
Applause built a remote moderated study with two groups. Both groups had participants in the airline’s frequent flier program and other participants that belonged to competitors’ loyalty programs. One group worked on desktop and the other group on mobile devices.
Overall, participants found the interface easy to use, understood where to get more information as needed and liked the clean interface. About half of the participants said that after reviewing designs, they would be interested in the program because of the possibility of different types of earnings, while other participants indicated that the program seemed too complex to understand and not intuitive to use due to some wording issues. Many participants said they would like more explanation and clearer definition of terms, perhaps using icons and colors to highlight meanings.
There was no significant difference between mobile and desktop perception of information.
The Applause UX study also drilled down into very granular details to give more insight and actionable feedback. For example, how customers felt about the gauge used to depict the individual’s total points earned, sentiment around areas such as credit available or lifetime credits, or wanting to click on specific areas to gain even more detailed information when selecting an “expanded view” of account information.
Accessibility innovation raises the digital quality experience for all customers
The World Health Organization’s latest estimate is that one in six people, or 16% of the global population, lives with some form of disability. In addition, many people experience temporary disabilities due to injury, illness and aging at some point in their lives. Most global travel and hospitality providers are very clear on legal accessibility laws and related accommodations in physical spaces such as elevators or access to security lines, for example, but they are beginning to recognize that digital experiences that persons with disabilities (PWD) can navigate easily often create a better UX for all of their customers. Of course, doing this makes great sense for businesses in this vertical, as improving the UX increases the total addressable market. But it’s not just external customers that benefit from accessibility improvements. Some accessibility fixes, like addressing missing or unclear labels, enable automation engineers to build more stable automation and move faster.
As stated, executing accessibility improvements and innovation helps increase the total addressable market by enabling all consumers, not just PWD, to more easily interact with your organization by making the UX more friction-free. Still, the fact remains that travel and hospitality organizations must meet global accessibility compliance in accordance with laws around the world. 2022 accessibility data in the U.S. shows there were 2,387 web accessibility lawsuits filed, which includes an increase of 143% in companies that received multiple lawsuits year over year. Compliance is just the start to the ongoing accessibility journey. Brands big and small are shifting left to find accessibility issues earlier in the SDLC and involving PWD feedback in the design phase and throughout the development process.
Screen reader defects continue to make up the vast majority of all accessibility errors (63.01%). As this assistive technology is the most widely used by PWD, this high rate of defects should be a significant cause for concerns for travel and hospitality organizations who are working toward accessibility compliance or who want to maintain compliant status.
All other bug type distributions remained consistent, fluctuating less than 2% +/- from last year. But this is not good news. For example, color contrast issues (15.06%) and keyboard navigation (9.55%), two key components of an optimized accessible digital experience, indicate that travel and hospitality organizations are still missing the mark.
Adept localization ensures more than just translation
Nelson Mandela famously said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Travel and hospitality is predicated on serving diverse populations around the world, and gaining trust is part of the customer loyalty equation. However, when travel and hospitality providers enter new markets, they require much more than simple language translations for their digital properties. To get new customers on board, your apps need to reflect an understanding of the local language, values, preferences and processes. Seemingly small errors, like missing translations, incorrect country and region names, listing incorrect currencies or workflows that don’t align with local customs can cause customers to abandon transactions and put the business at risk.
When localization is done right, it builds credibility (and can improve search engine optimization). When done poorly, it can alienate potential customers, spark regional site blockages and boycotts, and trigger other ugly consequences. Speaking your customer’s language is a necessity for global travel brands: In a study by CSA Research, nearly 90% of non-English speaking consumers stated they are more likely to purchase a product from brands with multilingual support systems and knowledge bases and 75% said they would become repeat customers if a brand offers multilingual customer care.
The good news: The most significant change from last year is a 17.35% improvement in poor translation. This statistic syncs with our teams’ observations that many organizations are taking a more serious approach to localization testing, using locals that understand the nuances of language, culture and customs. The other general bugs grouping dropped 7.86% as well, a statistic also inline with increased attention to localization, as this category of bugs includes inappropriate cultural references or misaligned branding vis-á-vis cultural norms.
On the downside, missing translations increased 16.59%, corrupted characters increased 4.91%, truncation and overlap increased by 2.98%, and currency and number format increased by 0.73%. These statistics tend to indicate that organizations are not testing on enough browser/OS or device/OS combinations, and that there are still many ways that brands are adding friction to the traveler and hospitality user experience.
Case study: Localization testing for one of the world’s largest hotel brands uncovers significant issues and avoids customer satisfaction and loyalty issues
A global hotel brand was experiencing consistency issues with translation and localization of content across its many websites and partnered with Applause to execute localization testing on their digital properties pertaining to loyalty programs, booking flows, and legal and privacy pages. The hotel chain required in-market native speakers to test for correct translation and cultural appropriateness and fit.
Applause assembled local testing teams to test localization in Polish, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, Bahasa Indonesian, Thai, Greek and Vietnamese. The teams tested for translation, alternative meanings of words, correct currency and date format, text truncation and the use of colors within specific cultural contexts. In addition, localization testers checked for offensive text and graphics, the presence of legally required notifications, naming conventions, directional flow of written language and systems of measurement.
Since the start of this project, Applause testers have found over 1,000 issues/bugs. Examples of significant bugs include untranslated text remaining in English on the Greek website; incorrect translation of Vietnamese language around the number of guests in booking flow and incorrect date format in the Vietnamese currency calculator.
Identifying priority defects at a rapid pace has allowed for efficient triage and reporting through the combined network access of the hotel chain and Applause. This has enabled faster resolution of would-be customer support issues, consistent branding across international sites and boosted customer loyalty.
Digital quality recommendations
Digital quality is an intersectional discipline and can’t be viewed in silos. Customer experience and UX, functionality, localization, accessibility and payments, bleed into one another. To truly understand customers’ encounters with your brand, assess different components of an app or digital experience holistically, not just in isolation.
We offer five recommendations:
Localize, localize, localize. Travel and hospitality providers must fastidiously check the accuracy of localization projects by using adept local testers with intimate knowledge of language, customs and other cultural awareness. This is true for all sectors, but can’t be overemphasized for travel and hospitality where the core of the sector is predicated on facilitating movement around the world, and while doing it, making the experience as culturally sensitive, hospitable and pleasurable as possible. When providers in this space pay attention to the details – small things native to specific groups – people notice. Ensure the branding promise, for example, statements declaring your commitment to every detail of the customer experience should be backed by physical and digital proof that you mean what you say. Commit to support your customers in their local languages and cultures throughout the full experience with your brand.
Understand global accessibility laws and their reach. The travel and hospitality sector has added accessibility challenges. While most international web accessibility laws are based on WCAG, currently, the World Wide Web Consortium recommends WCAG 2.1 for accessibility, with WCAG 2.2 expected for release this year. However, many international laws reference WCAG 2.0. And there are special cases. For example, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This provincial Canadian accessibility law requires that any company in Ontario that owns and controls a website that displays content built by any vendor outside of Canada, must comply with local regulations.
Understanding the markets in which you operate as a travel and hospitality provider is critical, as fines for violations – and even cultural responses to accessibility compliance violations in certain countries – can be quite significant. Check out the specifics of accessibility issues in our State of Digital Quality in Travel and Hospitality report. If in doubt, begin by addressing functionality of screen readers, correct color contrast and keyboard navigation. They take first, second and third place in the most prevalent issues in this sector.
Focus on loyalty, test end-to-end journeys. How do you increase customer loyalty, maintain channel continuity along the customer journey and balance how and when you effectively use promotions and incentives? By testing with real customers, users of travel and hospitality products. Who better to tell you where there’s friction in your app? In addition, UX studies (as examined earlier in this blog), can be a game-changer for organizations looking to design new products or revamp existing ones. Don’t have the bandwidth or resources to test end-to-end journeys or leverage UX studies? Use your available data to pinpoint where you’re losing customers, or where they transition to being your most loyal customers. Both results can inform the other. It can help you determine which elements of the customer journey demand attention, then test to understand how you can improve and optimize. If you lack data, you need to focus effort on deliberate journey mapping to understand the various paths your customers take so you can then research and refine their journeys.
Test with real payment instruments, plan for increasing complexity and adjust testing time accordingly. Without real payment instruments, you can’t validate information in complex flows like multifactor authentication, how a charge appears on a credit card statement or whether certain payment methods or BINs aren’t working properly. Dummy cards simply can’t test for these things. In addition, as personalized experiences become the norm, travel and hospitality providers’ testing matrices — and applications themselves — are becoming more complex and harder to manage.
For example, choosing to offer new forms of payment such as buy now, pay later (BNPL), impacts testing. When a traveler books a trip and elects to pay for it over 6 months through a recurring transfer, the travel organization must build in the appropriate test period. What happens if an auto transfer is scheduled for the 31st day of each month and a month only has 30 days? Or the credit card on file expires before an automatic renewal payment goes through? Give your teams the time needed to thoroughly evaluate these scenarios.
Proactively examine how well your testing practices serve your organization and most importantly, your customers. To improve, you need to understand your current state, which may be siloed or inconsistent across different teams, products, groups and even individual team members. Find what’s working and replicate that — as well as what’s not working and needs to be addressed. Benchmark your team on its quality journey. Review the digital quality frameworks found here in the State of Digital Quality 2023 summary report. They outline core capabilities and typical processes for organizations at different stages on the journey to excellence, and provide concrete guidance on how organizations can improve quality and efficiency across the organization.
Once you’ve assessed yourself, set corresponding goals. If your organization has achieved excellence, think about what you need to do to maintain that position and how you can serve as an exemplar for other teams and businesses.
Index and data references
Use this blog and related report to better understand the gaps in your organization’s capabilities and processes and to map out a plan to improve your digital quality, regardless of your company’s current state.
For a complete view of the retail industry’s state of digital quality data, visit this year’s State of Digital Quality 2023 in Travel & Hospitality. It contains details on the following key areas:
Bug type definitions
Bug breakdown charts
Charts illustrating browser and OS combinations (desktop) and device and OS combination (mobile & tablets) and more
Readers can also access our digital quality frameworks in the State of Digital Quality 2023 summary report.