Building Complex Travel Sites and Taking the Online Customer Experience to New Heights.
This billion dollar travel group needed to integrate several different applications, including an advanced search engine, merchandising capabilities, databases, and AJAX technologies into a seamless online experience for 19 million customers. With Sitecore managing their sites, Thomas Cook Travel Group has taken online travel to new heights, offering an outstanding experience for customers while improving the bottom line.
Thomas Cook Group plc is a leading international leisure travel group, with a portfolio of market leading travel brands across Europe and North America. Each year more than 19 million people choose to travel with Thomas Cook Group plc, buying their holidays from Thomas Cook Group’s network of more than 3,000 owned or franchised travel stores, online or through a call center. Thomas Cook Group plc is a €12 billion revenue business, employing 33,000 people globally and operating a fleet of 97 aircraft.
The Thomas Cook Group started an international initiative to improve their online presence and increase their total number of online sales for their two main sites, www.neckermann.nl and www.vrijuit.nl , as well as more than 1,000 co-branded sites including www.centerparcs.neckermann- reizen.nl, www.deltalloyd.neckermann-reizen.nl, and many more.
Working with Delaware Consulting, a Sitecore partner based in Kortrijk, Antwerp, Shanghai, Harbin and Atlanta, they outlined some objectives for an ecommerce platform, including:
- Building a standardized B2C Internet “front office” for their Classical Tour Operator Package products. In essence, they wanted to provide one platform to support multiple countries and brands, but without each site having a mass-produced, “copied” feeling
- Increasing their number of total online sales
- Offering a better overall user experience, which included providing customers with the most accurate and up-to-date pricing and availability
- Obtaining a higher Look-to-Book Ratio
- Limiting their dependency on IT for ecommerce operational tasks
- Lowering the ecommerce operating cost
- Implementing both a seasonal and on-request content upload process with direct validation reports
- Providing a robust search engine solution, while giving customers the ability to search the way they want to search
- Providing measurement points for customer behavior on the site
Delaware Consulting knew that there would be integration challenges in bringing together a content management system with merchandising and other applications, including:
- Being able to integrate with existing booking systems
- Integrating interfaces over different product data sources, and payment systems
- Finding a .NET content management solution that would seamlessly integrate with other applications including Fredhopper Access Server, SQL Server SSIS, and AJAX technologies.
Delaware Consulting recommended Sitecore’s CMS solution for two key reasons. First, Sitecore is based upon the .NET framework, the most modern technology for web deployment, and secondly because Sitecore provides an extensive range of well-documented API’s, allowing fast and powerful integration development.
The structure for the new web sites incorporated several elements, including:
Customer Service: This is where site visitors can opt in to newsletters/emails, and find contact information, FAQs, Contact Center coordinates, Terms and Conditions, News, and Travel Information. In this section of the site, Delaware Consulting is using Sitecore to:
Separate the content and the layout, with CSS styling, data templates, and page layouts with XSLT renderings
Allow users to easily change the content using the WYSIWYG editor and in-context editing features in Sitecore
Create language dependent URLs without any parameters
Merchandising functionality: This is where the rubber meets the road and where customers get to see more details about a particular destination or trip package, search for additional information, and are enticed into booking a trip.
Typically, sites are set up for site administrators to manually edit and change the merchandised products, but this can be very labor-intensive, updates cannot be made outside of business hours, it’s error-prone, and it doesn’t scale. However, because of Sitecore’s open architecture, Delaware Consulting was able to seamlessly integrate the Fredhopper e-merchandising solution, which is loaded with product content, availability and all pricing information. It also offers a library of prebuilt merchandising components, and gives business users full control over the merchandising by applying dynamic business rules. Not only was Thomas Cook’s staff able to leverage all the great content and functionality from Fredhopper, they were also able to enrich and enhance all that material within Sitecore to deliver the perfect set of compelling experiences for the site visitor.
Search functionality: Search is often the number one way visitors access content on a site, and Thomas Cook knew they needed their search experience to be as compelling as the rest of the site. To achieve this Delaware Consulting integrated the Fredhopper Access Server, which provided a “facet-based” search and delivered a smooth, adaptive results system that allows users to quickly narrow their search results down to the exact information they were seeking.
Product Channels: This feature drives customers into different sections of the site, depending on their interests. These product channels are driven from the product database, which has also been built on top of Sitecore and is a fusion of Sitecore and Fredhopper content. A benefit of being structured on top of Sitecore’s robust architecture is its flexible workflow support, editing capabilities, role-based security, validation reports and conflict resolution capabilities. It enables the business users at the Thomas Cook Group to continuously optimize content for online sales, and include things such as video feeds and interesting links.
Price and Availability Cache: Pricing, availability, and promotion information is maintained in one of Thomas Cook’s mission critical SQL Server databases and periodically (every 30 minutes) the information is transmitted into a Fredhopper repository where Sitecore can quickly access it. This ensures that the Thomas Cook Group is always offering the most up-to-date prices and availability, and even ongoing promotions while maintaining the integrity of core internal reservation systems.
According to Peter Oyserman, Vice President, Delaware Consulting, “This was clearly a huge project, and it’s not often that you see a Web Content Management Solution involved in application type sites. However, Sitecore’s architecture allowed us to bring together several different technologies to seamlessly create an amazing customer experience. Sitecore offers great integration capabilities, and we have taken advantage of that to deliver a top-notch solution to the Thomas Cook Group.”
Today, with Sitecore managing the Thomas Cook sites, they have a much more flexible product publishing process and a highly configurable eCommerce system serving multiple brands for multiple countries.
Says Oyserman, “Sitecore has allowed us to take information from a merchandising system and extend and enrich it to create a compelling user experience on the site. The ability to transparently add layers of other technologies allows complicated, application-type sites to scale, and we can provide our clients with the best possible solution.”
According to Wim Vermaesen, Thomas Cook, “We really like the configuration possibilities for the end user by combining the strengths of Sitecore and other technologies, such as Fredhopper. This gives our customers a compelling, interactive experience, and as a result, our sales have increased."
Solution Special Ingredients:
Sitecore for Product Content Upload Process, Product Database, Application Configuration and wCMS
Fredhopper for merchandising and Facet Based Search
- SQL Server Database
- SQL Server Integration Services
- AJAX Technologies