Why Are Eighty Percent Of Travel Sites Failing Customer Expectations?

The travel industry is changing.

As the world’s population grows and migrates from region to region, it adds to the number of people traveling back-and-forth from their new homes to loved ones in their countries of origin. Additionally, the hyper-competitive tour industry continues to invest big money to entice vacationers and sightseers to venture to new places far and wide. Be it planes, trains, cruises, or automobiles, people are getting around to motels, hotels, hostels and resorts, and the amount of money generated is huge.

In 2014 alone, the total contribution of travel and tourism to the global economy was estimated to hit $7.58 trillion (both direct expenditures and corollary economic stimulation), with $2.36 trillion of that being a direct contribution due to money spent on travel itself, according to data from Statista.

In the midst of this, the sustained spread of the internet in all its forms – both traditional and mobile – is shaking up the way companies interact with customers, and vice-versa.

According to Statistic Brain, 148.3 million travel bookings are made online each year. While mobile is gaining traction, desktop-placed bookings are about 78% greater in number than those placed on mobile devices as of 2016, according to Statista.

There are a lot of moving parts in travel bookings, so to speak, and every step in the process is important, especially at the beginning.

A poor user experience due to web performance issues at the outset can lead to site- and booking- abandonment, and the companies with slow-loading sites are certainly losing a ton of money in the process.

With that in mind, we included the travel industry in our new report, “Multi-Industry Web Performance 2016 State of the Union – Desktop Edition.”

We wanted to examine the real-world experience of users accessing the top 50 global desktop travel sites as ranked by information technology company SimilarWeb, and examined the web performance of these sites to see what was going on with their web performance.

This complements our mobile-focused last report, 2015 State of the Union: Mobile Performance of the Top Travel Industry Sites.

According to our research, the travel industry is falling short of users’ expectations of their online experiences with these sites, with the vast majority loading key content outside of the critical three-second window, after which users will begin to abandon slow sites, according to multiple studies.

[You might also like: Why it takes so long for news, sports and travel sites to load]

Key Findings

While the full report contains a good deal of information, there are some key themes that emerged in analyzing the web performance of the top travel sites.

• Travel and hospitality sites had a median Time to Interact of 4.1 seconds, 1.1 seconds outside the three-second target. Every second counts!

• Similar to the results of our recent mobile report on the industry, JavaScript played a part in the slowdown, but the desktop versions of these sites were generally more image-heavy than their mobile counterparts.

• The sites generally also failed to cache static content, with 58% failing to do so. This causes the servers to have to fetch the data repeatedly when they otherwise wouldn’t have to.

• The median page size was 3.3 MBs, with 92 requests. That’s much larger than the average page on the internet, which weighs in at around 2.2 MB, according to HTTP Archive.

• 26% of sites tested scored an “F” for image compression on WebPagetest.org, with just 6% earning an “A” grade.

Finding 1: Travel Sites Are Bloated With Too Many Requests

Each element that makes up a website requires round trips to the server. These requests can be for HTML, JavaScript, images, trackers and a bevy of other elements, and importantly, each request adds up to the total load time of a web page.

The median page tested had 92 requests – not svelte by any means. Of concern is the fact that 42% of the sites were loaded with more than 100 requests, topping out at 268 in one instance. Even if each request was only 50 milliseconds, when there are 200 of them, you’re looking at 10 seconds of load time.

In reality, multiple requests tend to end up being several seconds each. The site of a major airline included in our testing had a Time to Interact of eight seconds, meaning it took that long for key feature content to be loaded and accessible to the user. That same site, with its 268 requests, had a total load time of over 17 seconds.

While the number of requests was a huge factor, the fact that one of those requests took 11 seconds alone certainly played a role, as seen in the screenshot of a small section of that site’s content breakdown.

Image Source: WebPagetest.org

Remember, requests add round trips to the server, and can add up to a wait that will likely exceed a user’s patience. Cut any that aren’t absolutely necessary.

Finding 2: JavaScript Is Slowing Down Travel Sites’ Load Times

JavaScript is used for everything from social “sharing” buttons to trackers and other interactive elements. Many site designers include it to keep their page engaging – unfortunately, contributing to slowdown runs counter to their objectives.

If you look at the image of the content breakdown in the previous section, you will notice that almost all of the requests with the longest content download times were for JavaScript.

When sorted by the how long each request took to download, it’s obvious that JS requests weighed in quite a bit, with the biggest offender circled in red. The combination of the Time to First Byte and the actual content download means one of the limited browser connections was hogged for a good while.

Image Source: WebPagetest.org

Here it is again, in waterfall view:
Image Source: WebPagetest.org

If users leave a site for being too slow, they certainly won’t be using any social media buttons included on the site they abandoned.

[You might also like: eCommerce Closes in on Three-Second Pageload Target]

In short, minify JavaScript. As the Google Developers website recommends,
“JavaScript minimization tools give you another way to reduce your overall download size. These tools work on JavaScript source code for your webpage. The tools remove unneeded spaces and comments, and sometimes even change the names of variables in your program to shrink the file size even more.”

When size is a problem, shrinking things down should be a no-brainer.

Finding 3: Travel Sites Are Failing To Properly Optimize Images

It makes sense that travel sites would want to use big, beautiful images to help sell bookings. After all, you want to know where you’re going. But when the result is a bloated, slow website users are likely to abandon, were they worth it?

58% of the travel sites we tested scored an “F” rating from WebPagetest, with another 12% getting a “D” grade.

One popular Chinese travel site ended up with a TTI of 7.7 seconds after un-optimized images took their toll.

Image Source: WebPagetest.org

Grouping the requests by the content download time reveals a laundry list of image requests, which add up quickly, just as JavaScript requests can. In fact, image and JS requests typically make up the two largest pieces of the page composition pie, with images typically accounting for around 60% of a page’s weight.

Image Source: WebPagetest.org

In this case, the image requests begin early in the loading sequence, with six large ones in a row taking up those connections.


In total, this site had 86 image requests, out of a total 148 requests.

An analysis of the images using the WebPagetest showed that the majority of them could be better optimized.


In the example above, the image could be compressed to be over 45% smaller while still retaining a high level of quality.

Image compression is a core performance technique that minimizes the size (in bytes) of a graphics file without degrading the quality of the image to an unacceptable level. Reducing an image’s file size has two benefits:

• To minimize the amount of time required for images to be sent over the Internet or downloaded.

• To increase the number of images that can be stored in the browser cache, thereby improving page render time on repeat visits to the same page.

Compressing image files lightens a web page’s overall payload. Fewer bytes mean reduced bandwidth and faster pages.

Multiply these bandwidth savings by a large number of images, and you end up with a significant positive impact on load times. Skip it, and you end up with unviewed images.


While these performance bottlenecks are worrisome and certainly have an impact on potential customers, they can be fixed.

Adopting web performance optimization best practices benefits everyone:

• Site owners save money on bandwidth when they reduce the amount of data sent out to browsers

• Companies reap higher conversion rates when prospective travelers follow through with bookings

• Brand perception is improved, and

• Customers accomplish their tasks more quickly and with less frustration.

It’s a win-win scenario, and the travel industry can’t afford to leave money on the table by ignoring what can be fixed.

Find Out More

For a list of web performance optimization tips and strategies, read our full report, which also covers the ecommerce, news and sports industries. Getting actionable information will set you on the right path, so you can set your customers on a road to new adventures.


Get the full report, Multi-Industry Web Performance 2016 State of the Union – Desktop Edition, which also covers the top sites of the ecommerce, news & media and travel industries, and find out how to best optimize your site.

Download Now

Matt Young

As a technology evangelist and writer for Radware, Matt Young delivers research and articles to the application delivery and web performance community. Before joining Radware, Matt was a top blogger for BlackBerry and he also served as the Web Editor for Avaya and as a freelance technology writer in the Greater Bay Area. Matt has a Journalism degree from San Jose State University.

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