What the travel industry can learn from Comet’s demise

Much can be learned from the recent news that UK high street electrical retailer Comet has gone into administration. A key reason cited for its failure is its inability to compete with online competition.

“Inability to compete with online competition” is a lesson for all B2C industries. Consumers are evolving – online and mobile shopping is on the rise, and increased use of social networks for shopping advice all means less time browsing and buying on the high street. Comet ignored this, and paid the price.

Despite the economic downturn the Travel & Tourism industry has continued to grow, largely thanks to a pairing of historical and deep understanding of its customers and meaningful, successful innovation. However, having weathered the storm, many travel companies now face being left behind by customers, who are spending more on fewer holidays, and therefore increasingly look for value over price. Customer behaviour and expectations have changed, moving online, onto social networks and mobile devices for their travel planning and booking. Companies are struggling to evolve with them effectively and efficiently.

So what can companies do to keep on track, and avoid becoming another Comet?

Firstly, the industry must understand how its customers are evolving. Secondly, companies must evolve with them, finding ways to better engage – adding value, creating conversations, and increasing conversions.

The evolving travel customer

The average travel customer is now online, mobile, and increasingly plugged into social networks.


Travel customers’ first destination for finding advice, planning trips, researching the best deals, and booking vacations is online. They are inspired by photos and videos, and value recommendations from friends, family and respected authorities on familiar social networks and websites. Some food for thought:

  • 85% of travellers consider the internet to be their main source for planning travel.
  • 71% of travel research and 56% of travel purchases take place online.
  • The average attention span of an internet user just 8 seconds, with research supporting the view that video content is just under 4 times ‘stickier’ than text.[1]

Multi-channel content management is a complex issue. Travel companies need to think carefully about matching the right content to the right channel to solve this issue, for example using photos and videos to inspire and draw in the customer to a type of holiday or destination, with text-based content used to recommend specific trip elements, and mobile-specific or additional sharing functions to inspire and maximise the audience, whilst building a clear path to conversion.


Customers are using social networks to share experiences online with friends before, during, and after travelling. They also expect to be able to use the same tools to engage companies and brands.

  • 81% of travel consumers value reviews by others over other sources of information
  • Of those using social media to research travel plans, only 48% stuck with their original plans
  • 52% of Facebook users said friends’ photos inspired their holiday choice
  • While on vacation:
    • 72% of users post photos on a social network
    • 46% check-in to a location on social networks.
    • 70% update their Facebook status

Travel companies have experimented with social networks, with differing degrees of success. The complexity of navigating different networks and therefore different audiences means careful consideration needs to be made before launching an effective social strategy which best fits the brand and adds value to its customers. Each social network has its strengths: YouTube and Pinterest inspire customers to explore destinations. Twitter gets messages out quickly and succinctly, and facilitates meaningful, two-way conversations. Facebook’s page-based interface, its photo- and video- sharing, and conversational functions provide a defined stage from which to showcase and discuss experiences, empowering and nurturing customers. Social elements of a company website create an empowered community of experts, enabling sharing of experiences, tips and advice with others, further adding value to company services. Choosing the right strategy is a complex task, but a company which builds a blended, multi-channel social strategy whilst maintaining brand consistency will reap the rewards of new levels of customer engagement.


Unsurprisingly, travel customers have adopted mobile engagement faster than others, using mobile applications and websites to access social networks, find inspiration and recommendations for travel destinations, and book elements of the vacation, as well as check in for flights and hotels on the go. Already, in 2011/12, while on vacation, 85% of leisure travellers use their smartphone while abroad. However, only 7% use mobile internet internationally, largely due to unaffordable data roaming charges. Data capping introduced by the EU from July 2012 will reduce costs by as much as 95% by 2014, meaning mobile usage by travel customers will continue to increase.

Incredibly, mobile has been neglected by the travel industry – only 4 of the top 10 brands have a mobile application or website. Companies should be working to remove any gap between themselves and their customers on the move, using their relative health to build innovative mobile services for travelling customers. It’s a significant move, but by building around users companies can solve the problem of dropped engagement when customers are on the go.

Capitalising Customer Evolution

Travel companies should use the health of the industry as a springboard to innovate, and evolve with their customers. By developing more engaging, experiential websites, implementing intelligent and considered social media strategies, and providing mobile data-based services to customers at home and abroad, organisations can meet existing customer demand, drive higher basket size, and grow their customer base to incorporate new audiences.

The First Step

Valtech’s experience of the travel industry, of multi-channel marketing and of industry evolution makes us uniquely-placed to help companies move in the right direction.

Our advice on taking the first step is to:

  1. think small
  2. think simple
  3. think hard about how your customers behave

We advise companies to build a strategy around people and their changing behaviour, focussing on improving online experience, facilitating online social interaction, and enabling customers to do all of this on the move through mobile-tailored solutions.

Lessons learned from this year’s peak season should provide a valuable launch pad for continued discussions with internal teams as well as consultants and suppliers. From this, informed decisions on projects can be made by Q1 2013, through which to continue to remain healthy.

It’s not too late to take action, and learn from Comet’s mistakes.

About the Author

Jack Fitzgerald

Jack Fitzgerald is a New Media expert for Valtech UK, aligned to the Travel & Tourism industry. This post is based on a more in-depth industry white paper, which is available upon request.
jack.fitzgerald@valtech.co.uk, 07775 944  807


Valtech’s Travel References

Valtech has an excellent reputation in the travel industry, having worked with clients such as TUI, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Thomas Cook, and American Airlines. Detailed case studies can be provided upon request.


For more information check out the accompanying infographic and download our white paper “Online, Mobile, Social – A white paper for the travel industry”


World Travel & Tourism Council: http://www.wttc.org/

Report from 19th annual World Travel Monitor Forum, November 2011: http://www.itb-kongress.de/media/itbk/itbk_media/itbk_pdf/WTTR_Report_komplett_web.pdf)

Econsultancy.com, “Three quarters of travel research takes place online: survey” http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8275-three-quarters-of-travel-research-takes-place-online-survey

Impact of social media on the travel industry [INFOGRAPHIC]: http://www.tnooz.com/2012/07/02/news/impact-of-social-media-on-the-travel-industry-infographic/

Lab 42 “Techie Traveller” (March 23rd, 2012). http://blog.lab42.com/techie-traveler

“The Social Travel Revolution”: http://tripl.com/infographics/social-travel-revolution/

“Digital Agenda” (MEMO/12/316 Brussels, 10 May 2012): http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/12/316

Statistics Brain: “Attention Span Statistics”, Statistical Verification by The Associated Press (Date Verified: 16 May 2012). Statistics source is Harald Weinreich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder, and Matthias Mayer: “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” in the ACM Transactions on the Web, vol. 2, no. 1 (February 2008), article #5. http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/


[1] The average proportion of words read on a standard, 593 word web page just 28%, equating to 40 seconds based on average adult reading speed. The average length watched of a single internet video is 2 minutes 36 seconds.



One Response to “What the travel industry can learn from Comet’s demise”

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>