The recent havoc cause by the volcanic ash cloud has shown that the travel industry, which is totally dependent on web-based communications and transactions, needs to learn some harsh lessons.

According to the TradeDoubler Insight team, stranded travellers searching in vain for a way home caused disruption in new ways to the web-dependent travel industry. Traffic and conversion trends to all travel sectors turned on their heads, sites crashed, and e-commerce staff themselves were redeployed to man overloaded call centres.
Transactional traffic to airline sites dropped significantly in the midst of the volcanic ash travel disruption and ,due to both confidence and availability, conversion rates halved in many cases.
On 21 April, when the airspace re-opened, traffic to flight sites was still slightly down, and the conversion rate jumped 36% – which was not the massive jump the airlines hoped for. This is mostly likely the result of alternative means of transport already put in place by stranded travellers in the interim.
On the other hand, traffic to other sectors, such as ferries and trains enjoyed up to 250% boost while UK airspace was closed. Providers included in the study enjoyed record volumes of bookings, although availability of inventory was an issue. The good news for these sectors was that, once airline travel resumed again, traffic dropped but remained higher than the same period prior to the disruption.
Deeper analysis examined successful purchase paths before, during and after the disruption. Navigational paths and use of media by consumers remained stable, apart from a significant uplift in use of paid search links – perhaps due to the urgency experienced by distressed travellers.
Interestingly, for rail travel, click paths also remained unchanged, most likely a result of availability. While users were heading to these sites with the intention to purchase, many simply found that trains and ferries were unavailable – hence the increase in non-transactional traffic during the period.
The analysis was performed on UK traffic and conversion data, by the TradeDoubler Insight team. The team also works on client-specific assignments, identifying new sources of transactional uplift by mining and modelling underlying channel data.