The standard metric for customer conversion on travel websites is the look-to-book ratio; how many site visits does it take before someone actually makes a purchase? If a travel supplier can just get more lookers to actually book, its revenue will increase and the unit cost of distribution will fall. Thus airlines, hotels, and travel distributors track look-to-book and are constantly seeking initiatives that can improve booking performance.
But that has become harder. The complexity of shopping has increased, driving lower conversion overall. Ancillary fees and airline product changes make it even more difficult for travelers to compare among carriers. Also, sophisticated travelers are now more cautious about booking the lowest fare on the screen. So the overall complexity of the travel marketplace drives travelers to spend even more time shopping before making the booking decision, resulting in look-to-book to possibly exceed 1000-to-1.
Initiatives to reduce look-to-book generally focus on an improved web experience. Anything that makes it easier to book, reduces abandonment rates and increases conversions. Gradually more, airlines are offering incentives for booking on their websites, including unique content (greater transparency on ancillary fees and new bundled fares), as well as increased personalization based on an individual’s travel history or ancillary preferences. These are organization-wide initiatives that can impact look-to-book across all markets served by an airline.
Although we often review look-to-book on an airline basis, the metric actually varies considerably by market, based on a number of factors that are market-specific and not airline-specific. Whether or not an airline’s website is best in the industry and offers exclusive content, look-to-book is likely to vary considerably across markets based on:
Leisure traffic tends to have a higher look-to-book ratio – more shopping by travelers before they actually decide on a purchase. Therefore, leisure markets – Florida and Las Vegas – will tend to experience higher look-to-book than more business-oriented markets like Pittsburgh and Sacramento.
Level of Competition
The ratio is also driven fundamentally by the overall level of competition in a market. If one airline has the only non-stop flight, travelers will be less likely to prolong the booking decision by shopping for alternatives. Short-haul markets into a major hub – typically served by a single carrier – will drive lower look-to-book than highly competitive markets served on a connect basis over multiple airline hubs.
Another reason to review look-to-book on a market basis is fare competitiveness. If one airline’s fares are not competitive, it is likely to see lower bookings until it addresses price competitiveness. Airlines typically monitor their fares versus the competition virtually on a real-time basis – and historically, airlines have matched competitor-filed fares to the penny. These days however, with the differences in products among carriers (for example, pitch or amenities) and ancillary fees (bag fees, change fees, seat assignment fees), airlines now seek the “right” discount or premium versus other carriers in a market rather than always matching to the dollar.
While this is appropriate in some markets, in others, a $25 discount may be optimal. But if an airline deviates from the target premium or discount – even for a day – look-to-book is likely to quickly adjust. A fare that is too high relative to the target is likely to translate into fewer actual bookings almost immediately. airRM, an innovative airline revenue management system, offers a facility for tracking both competitive fares and market-specific look-to-book as part of its revenue management system.
Improving look-to-book continues to be an important focus for airlines and other travel suppliers. It is a key metric for any e-merchandiser. However, it is also important to note the variance of look-to-book by market – and to monitor market-specific performance daily. A suddenly higher-than-normal ratio may indicate an uncompetitive fare that needs to be addressed quickly.