Technology: website ‘widgets’ for travel companies

If you run a travel website, widgets can be a simple, cost-effective way to provide users with useful information such as weather updates and news alerts. Linda Fox explains.

Not that long ago, a widget was something in a beer can which helped to create a better head.

In the online world, it has taken on a whole new meaning and come to be seen as a downloadable tool you can put on your website or desktop and use to provide additional information.

Anything from a banner advertisement to video clips, weather and map feeds are widgets (For example, the advert above this text.)

The online-savvy world has been quick off the mark to take up widgets and you only have to look at sites such as MySpace to

What is a widget

A widget is anything that can be embedded within a web page. A widget adds content to a page that is not static. Widgets tend to be third-party originated, although they can be home-made. Widgets are also known as modules.

see how consumers are using them. However, travel companies may want to take a more cautious approach before deciding on their own widget strategy.

According to Ollie Wenn, managing director of travel software design specialists Zolv, widgets providing maps are currently most popular within the travel industry.

“Maps are king of the widget. We have used Google maps and Microsoft Live maps for our customers as well as weather feeds and news alerts.”

Wenn views widgets as a way of helping companies to drive conversion by providing consumers with more information.”travel, knowledge and information is a key variable in driving conversion, so the more you can give, the better,” Wenn said.

However, he also acknowledges that sites can have too many widgets and therefore travel companies should think about what will be useful to their customers.

There may also be a cost implication. Many companies offer free downloads while others charge for their content. In addition, you will probably have to pay more if you want to brand third-party content with your own look and feel.

To date, not that many travel companies have adopted widgets. Thomson has been trialling an iGoogle widget. Consumers can download the widget to their iGoogle page and it enables them to search for Thomson holidays.

TUI Travel new media director Graham Donoghue said the value of widgets has not been proven yet.

“I’m not sure how useful they are. They are a bit gimmicky. I would much prefer to focus the team’s effort on customisation.”

Student travel specialist STA Travel has taken widgets a step further and unveiled four mini applications on its site last July.

The company offers a weather tool, trip comparison, travel to-do list and special offers.

Where widgets seem to have taken a real hold is within sites such as Facebook, TripAdvisor and Worldreviewer.

Facebook is a good testbed for widget developers, while Worldreviewer has developed three of its own – a weather tool, video reviews and maps – and is offering them to travel and hotel companies for free.

Managing director James Dunford Wood said widgets are a way of strengthening Worldreviewer’s brand presence and building up additional content

Whether a widget?

  1. Think about your customer and what might be useful and add value versus what might be a case of gadget overload
  2. Think about the sources you are downloading your widgets from – are they trustworthy?
  3. Should you pay for your widgets or get them free from the hundreds of sites on the web?
  4. Consider that the content is from third-party sources so it may not say what you want or behave the way you want. For example, you have a weather-feed widget, which you turn to while searching for a holiday to Barbados and it informs you and your clients that rain is forecast.
  5. Do some research by looking at what the large travel companies are doing with widgets online.
  6. Don’t be afraid to play around with a few widgets

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