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Travelocity and Expedia rated most valuable brands in online travel market

Travelocity and Expedia are the most valuable brands in online travel, and their brand equity plays a key role in driving traffic to their …

Travelocity and Expedia are the most valuable brands in online travel, and their brand equity plays a key role in driving traffic to their sites, according to a new study released today by ACNielsen International Research, a business unit of VNU.



The study, the first of its kind to examine the brand equity of U.S.-based online travel providers, found a strong correlation between brand equity and the number of unique visitors to a travel web site. Based on Internet audience data compiled by Nielsen//NetRatings (a sister VNU business) Expedia and Travelocity ranked number one and number two as the most-visited travel web sites during the study period (see table 1).



Strong brand messages that resonate with consumers are very important to the online travel industry, and can make a big difference in the success of a travel web site, said Deepak Varma, senior vice president at ACNielsen International Research. Online travel marketers need to better understand their brand equity so that they can either strengthen their already strong brand positions, like Travelocity and Expedia, or take actions to boost brand equity and drive more traffic to their sites.



Awareness a Key Driver of Brand Equity



Not surprisingly, the ACNielsen study found that consumer awareness was the foremost factor driving brand equity. ACNielsen defines Brand Equity as the distinct effect brand knowledge has on consumer response to marketing activity – the relationship between what a consumer knows about a brand and what a consumer does as a result of this knowledge. By understanding a brand`s equity in the minds of consumers, marketers can develop more effective and efficient marketing plans, enhance product offerings, and hone pricing strategies. For this study, ACNielsen used its proprietary WINNING B(R)ANDS(TM) model, which has been used extensively in branding-related research throughout the world, to determine the brand equity of several online travel providers.



Differences Found in General Travel Versus Specific Travel Categories



After reviewing more than 80 travel sites ranging from online agents such as Orbitz.com and Priceline.com, to specialized sites like Hotels.com, to the sites of such traditional travel providers as airlines, car rental companies and cruise lines, ACNielsen found that drivers of brand equity in online travel clearly differ by travel category.



Travelocity and Expedia have become household names in online travel through very effective advertising, said ACNielsen`s Varma. However, when booking air travel or making hotel reservations, consumers have very specific needs and expectations, which often differ from category to category. This is where online travel category specialists such as Hotels.com can compete effectively with the generalist sites and build brand equity with consumers.



Along with driving brand equity for travel sites overall, consumer awareness is also the most important factor in determining brand equity for each of the five online travel categories studied — air, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages and cruises. However, when comparing the key drivers of brand equity across categories, the relative importance of other attributes becomes apparent. For example, when comparing the air travel and cruise categories, quality of customer service (schedule change notifications, cancellations/refunds, security of transactions) weighs far more heavily in determining overall brand equity with cruise travelers than it does with air travelers. This would indicate that there is a certain degree of commoditization in the air travel category, while in the cruise travel category, consumers base their decisions on a wider range of factors.



The brand marketing strategy for each online travel provider should be unique for each of the categories in which it competes, and tailored to the importance consumers place on differing brand aspects, noted Varma. For instance, Southwest Airlines` website provides the customer with simplicity and ease of navigation, a unique point of distinction from other airline travel sites and one that resonates well with online air travelers.



Table 1: Ranking of overall brand equity vs. versus relative site traffic



Relative



Online Travel Brand Equity Relative Site Traffic
Provider Website Ranking Ranking(*)
Travelocity.com 1 2
Expedia.com 2 1
Orbitz.com 3 3
Priceline.com 4 5
Yahoo Travel 5 4




Source: ACNielsen International Research and Nielsen//NetRatings (July 2002 – June 2003)



(*) Site traffic ranking are relative in that they compare only the 5 sites studied for brand equity, not all travel-related Internet sites.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.

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