Survey: Online travel firms still share personal data

Although online travel firms provide more information about their policies and are more responsive to customers, many of them continue to share users' personal information with outside parties, according to the Third Quarter 2005 Online Customer Respect Study of the largest airline and travel firms. The study was conducted by The Customer Respect Group.

Travel firms were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, and averaged a score of 7.2. That's up from 6.8 in the first quarter. By segment, car rental companies on average scored highest at 7.6, Web-based resellers and passenger transportation firms scored 7.3, hotels rated 7.1, airlines came in at 7.0 and cruise lines scored 6.7, according to The Customer Respect Group.

Nine travel related Web sites received "excellent" scores - 8.0 and above - including Marriott International, Alaska Air Group, Enterprise Car Rental, InterContinental Hotels Group, Northwest Airlines,Travelocity, US Airways Group, Avis and Orbitz.

And while car rental companies overall were very good at responding to online inquiries, they were also most likely to share personal data, according to the survey.

Web-based travel resellers and passenger transportation firms were generally the least likely to share data, while airlines and cruise lines were generally poor at responding to online questions, The Customer Respect Group said.

"The travel industry has improved from the last time we surveyed them, particularly in the areas that are customer-facing like responding to e-mails, and they are better at explaining what their policies are," said Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group.

"The area where there has been a drop has been in hidden areas like sharing personal information -- that has gone up but people haven't noticed that yet," Golesworthy said. "So there's a lot more capturing of people's information. There's been an increase in the numbers of organisations that force you to opt out of marketing as opposed to opting in. And the amount of sharing of personal information has gone up as well."

In fact, 38 percent of the online travel related sites either share information with outside parties or are vague about their policies, Golesworthy said.

"While there have been improvements in many areas, such as transparency of policies, responsiveness and even attitude, there is still a major unseen factor which is troubling," said Anthony Naylor, director of research for The Customer Respect Group, in the statement. "The sharing of personal information outside the organisation is still too big a temptation for many travel companies. There really is an impact for those companies that continue this practice."

Data for the survey was conducted during the first three weeks of July.

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Linda Rosencrance

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