Research – The 12 factors that help a consumer trust a travel brand

by Paul Byrne, Senior Vice President of Development, OpenJaw Technologies

For many people shopping online is full of uncertainty; such as will I receive what I paid for, will my card be used fraudulently and what are the true intentions of the retailer? Trust is a willingness to take risks and is viewed as the most effective way of reducing this uncertainty – therefore trust is a vital component for online success in airline retail. Bob Gilbert, CEO of Captivation Marketing. Wrote a great piece on the art of  trust in travel.

Unfortunately for travel retailers, travel has a number of unique attributes that negatively impact the development of trust, such as:

  • Size of financial outlay.
  • Infrequency of the transaction.
  • Complexity of some travel purchases (flight, hotel, car, activities, multi-cities etc.).
  • Lack of confidence in using the tools to complete the purchase.

pexels-photo-386009I interviewed senior executives from a broad range of travel companies (including airlines, metasearch, online travel agencies, tour operators and activity providers) and surveyed them on what they thought were the most important factors for building online trust.

“That’s the product that we sell, trust. Customers work with us because they trust us.” – Marc Benioff of

“Price does not rule the web; trust does” goes the old quote on online ecommerce. Yet, how true is this statement now, all these years later?

Trust is important any time there is uncertainty and risk in social and business relationships. Uncertainty about the outcome of the transaction, the amount at stake and that the trustee may abuse the trust are some potential sources of risk. Trust is viewed as the most effective uncertainty reduction method.

Where the behaviour of others cannot be controlled or predicted, there is a need to reduce the overwhelming social complexity.

Predicting the behaviour of other parties, particularly where rules and regulations do not exist to reduce this complexity, assumes away undesirable behaviour, creates favourable presumptions regarding future behaviour and is the essence of trust.

Trust in online transactions is vital for success in e-commerce.

Prior research has pointed out that the lack of online consumer trust is the main barrier to consumer participation in e-commerce.

It also indicates the existence of trust in an e-tailing transaction tends to mitigate consumer perceptions of risk and increase intention to transact.

Definition of trust

trust-imageTrust is a consumer’s willingness to take risks in an uncertain situation where possible adverse consequences might arise.

This definition clearly distinguishes trust from trusting behaviours: trust is the willingness to take risks as opposed to the actual taking of risks.

In online retail transactions, consumers perceive significant risk. Trust, based upon beliefs about the trustee, may reduce risk and influence intention to transact.

Trusting beliefs

Trust may be formed based upon cognitive beliefs about the object of trust.

Cognitive-based trust is based on rational expectations about the behaviour of the trustee. Competence, Integrity, Benevolence and Predictability are characteristics of the trustee that are used to build trust.

Institution-based trust, personal disposition to trust and experience with the trustee are antecedents of cognitive beliefs and can impact intention to transact.

Brands and travel retailers may influence intention to transact by adopting strategies to reduce consumers’ perceptions of risk associated with them and by developing trust towards them.

Consumer trust in technology, which leads to web site adoption, is important for retailers as this is how they interact with their consumers on the Internet.

For consumers transacting on Internet, there is no human interaction and this has implications for trust building processes.

Travel products have specific characteristics that impact the consumer trust-building process; travel vendors like airlines, travel agencies, operators and others must be aware of these and adopt strategies to mitigate consumer perceived risk in order to build trust.

Travel trust survey

pexels-photo-271639The below survey was conducted with subjects selected across the breadth of travel companies, including airline, metasearch, online travel agency, tour operators and activity providers.

Each participant is extremely senior, familiar with the Internet, web technologies and online travel.

In addition, each has many years experience with their travel niche and with the travel industry in general and each is in a position to make decisions that affect how their consumers interact with their brand.

Survey results – The 12 most important factors for building trust

At a high level all participants cited the following indicators of trust:

  • Humanity – Contactable, accessible, eager to resolve customer problems and keep them in the loop.
  • Integrity – Transparent, open, sharing, honest and clear.
  • Security – Taking care of the security and privacy concerns of your customers.
  • Competence – Your ability to deliver on your commitments.

The 12 most important factors, based on the number of mentions are as follows:


Exactly half of the participants indicated that being human, contactable, accessible and responsive to consumers and following reported issues through to resolution and reporting back to consumers was most important.

A similar number of participants reported that acting with integrity, being transparent, open and sharing information honestly and clearly with consumers is key to earning their trust.

Just under half of the participants reported that addressing the privacy and security concerns that are of concern to their customers when purchasing travel products online resulted in greater trust.

A similar number of participants indicated that perceived vendor competence was a key factor in the creation of trust.

A majority indicated that social presence on the travel vendor web site is the most important factor for creating trust. Perceived travel retailer integrity and competence are vital to earn trust.

It is crucial to address the security and privacy concerns held by consumers to earn their trust. As might be expected, the ecommerce web site design plays a large part in earning consumer trust.

The following table displays the full results of the survey.



While much of the extant research in the field of ecommerce is relevant, travel has several unique attributes that may affect the building of consumer trust online.

Current research findings conclude that increasing social presence is vital for travel retailers.

A possible explanation for this may be the increased perceived risk because of the size of the financial outlay, the infrequency of the transaction and the lack of self-confidence in using the tools to complete the goal.

Consumer desire to reduce this risk to manageable levels appears to primarily involve social channels.

There are, of course, other possible explanations. Consumers might use the social channels as a surrogate for the offline travel agent experience when purchasing travel online.



pexels-photo-386025The findings of this study suggest several courses of action for travel vendors.

Adding features that increase the social presence of the website may result in increased e-consumer perception of the firm’s benevolence and thus increase purchase intention through increased consumer trust.

Features such as virtual communities, toll-free numbers, web chat, responsive email service, after-sales support and ask and answer boards can all be used to increase social presence.

Another important practical recommendation is to simulate the human processes that lead to the creation of trust by building an online interpersonal connection with an e-customer using personalisation, knowing the user’s history and greeting the user personally using a computer cookie.

Well-designed explanations and reasons for offering certain travel products, along with social proof – e.g. “users like you also bought this” will create trust with e-consumers.

Such travel retailers should adopt a transparency policy to build trust with consumers.

Using third party-hosted vendor and product reviews, which are perceived as being more independent, can be used to show reputation, competence, benevolence and integrity, all of which help build consumer trust beliefs in the travel company.


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