The Customer Respect Group released findings from its latest study on how airline and travel industry corporations treat their online customers. Expedia and Marriott International led a group of 42 travel and airline companies based on how well they treat their online customers. The Customer Respect Group reports that overall, travel and airline companies are improving one-on-one customer communications, but are making their websites too large, too slow, and too complicated.

The most trustworthy sites were Expedia, Intercontinental Hotels, and Southwest Airlines. The most generally usable sites were those of Royal Caribbean Cruiselines, Celebrity Cruise Line, and Continental Airlines. The best sites for one-on-one communications were web-based resellers Cheaptickets, Travelocity, and Orbitz.

According to Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group, "Our research shows us that if a customer has a poor web experience, this will carry over to the company reputation and ongoing loyalty. There are many companies that clearly could do better in respect for the customer and thus protection of their brands, their image and customer loyalty. On the other hand, this has opened the door for forward-thinking companies to stand out and carve increased market penetration by better addressing customer concerns. The travel industry is going through a period of major changes. The web is -- and will continue to be -- one of the bigger drivers."

Overall, airlines and travel firms scored a rating of 5.9 To put this in perspective, 7.0 and above is considered Excellent; under 5.0 is considered Poor. Seven companies out of 42 airline and travel firms studied received an Excellent rating, while five scored Poor. Because of significant revisions in methodology, scores from this study are not directly comparable to previous ones.

The top-scoring firms overall are Expedia, Marriott International, Travelocity, Cheaptickets.com, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Northwest Airlines, and Orbitz.

Additional findings from the study

Leaders in the individual sub-indices were:

- Simplicity: Celebrity Cruise Line
- Attitude: Marriott International
- Communication: Cheaptickets.com
- Principles: InterContinental Hotels Group
- Transparency: Expedia
- Privacy: Southwest Airlines

The physical security of personal data, the loss of control of that data and being inundated with ongoing marketing were overwhelming concerns of the online customer, each being significant factors when choosing vendors, yet:

- Only 40 percent of the sites consistently used SSL pages when collecting data.
- Fifty three percent of sites, by default, share collected personal information with their business partners and third parties.
- Seventy one percent of the sites will routinely use collected data in ongoing marketing campaigns.

Eighty three percent of online customers feel it is vital to be able to ask follow-on specific questions to the website owner and of those, over 80 percent stated that email was most convenient. Forty-nine percent of customers felt the response to these questions was very important and reflective of future levels of service as a customer, yet:

- Only 28 percent of companies consistently provided ‘quality responses:’ those provided within a day and are helpful.
- Just 53 percent of all inquiries received a response within a day (Customers consistently state that they expect one-day turnaround.).
- Just 31 percent were received within a timeframe promised within an initial acknowledge of the question.
- Seventy eight percent provided no capacity to continue the dialog with a feedback option.
- Just 5 percent received no reply, marking a new low in the ignored rate.

Forty-six percent of customers stated that they had no patience for websites that are hard to use, hard to navigate, slow to load, difficult to read or hard to find what they were looking for. They would just leave. A further 37 percent would limit their use of the site to a minimum, yet:

- Only 23 percent of sites limited their home page to less than 150K or less.
- Fifty seven percent have no site search capability.
- Ninety percent of sites do not use resizable pages or resizable text.