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Online Hotel Booking Reviewed

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Online hotel booking reviewed – are the major chains doing it right?

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According to a Toluna survey of over 2,000 UK consumers, 53% of respondents found and booked their holiday online, while 30% conducted online research first, then booked their reservations offline. This means that over 80% of users research their hotel and travel options online, making this a very important step in convincing the user to book. (Source)

With so much information readily available, consumers are more inclined than ever before to research all the options available to them before committing to buy. Customers are becoming increasingly picky, visiting as many as 22 different travel points of contact (websites, social media, travel operators etc.) before making a booking, according to the EyeforTravel Social Media and Mobile in Travel Distribution Report.

In the travel and tourism industry, companies need to embrace emerging trends in how consumers are seeking out their travel information; these days we turn to social media, review sites and word-of-mouth recommendations, in addition to considering personal factors such as budget constraints and what genre of traveller we are. It is the travel companies’ challenge to determine what it is customers actually want to buy from them and how they want to find it, both before the booking takes place, during the travel consumption window and after the trip has taken place.

When we consider the hotel booking experience specifically, the online market place has become flooded with search engine providers – think booking.com, hotels.com and trivago. And with many of these sites delivering a fairly effective booking experience, the hotels themselves often fail to supply similarly high levels of UX design on their own websites; perhaps becoming too reliant on these third parties to seek out and provide their bookings for them.

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Types of users

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The fundamental question that hotel chains need to ask themselves when developing online user experiences is: “What does the user look for when searching for a hotel to book?’ Each hotel brand needs to start by identifying the specific types of customers unique to their offering. These are broadly categorised into leisure or corporate customers, but even these two consumer groups have deeper segregations within e.g. family, couple, elderly. For example, Four Seasons is a luxury brand aimed at leisure travellers – think spa retreats and weddings – whereas the hotel chain Ibis is geared towards business-savvy travellers. In other words, different users want different types of information to help them make their decision. (Source)

So what information is it that drives the user towards making their final choice? Studies by Kotler and Keller and by Law and Hsu revealed that location is amongst the most important factors when considering the choice of a hotel, which leads us to believe that the location search/browse feature is one of the key features on any hotel booking website. Price is, of course, another significant deciding factor. A Travel Zoo survey found 64% of users said price was more important than the destination and that finding a good deal was really important. This is supported by the Toluna survey, which showed that 56% of customers’ key reason for booking online was to find lower prices. As mentioned above, the increasing popularity of hotel and travel aggregator sites, such as Trivago, also demonstrates the importance of price, as these sites facilitate research and price comparisons. (Source)

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User's expectations

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So what information is it that drives the user towards making their final choice? Studies by Kotler and Keller and by Law and Hsu revealed that location is amongst the most important factors when considering the choice of a hotel, which leads us to believe that the location search/browse feature is one of the key features on any hotel booking website.

Price is, of course, another significant deciding factor. A Travel Zoo survey found 64% of users said price was more important than the destination and that finding a good deal was really important. This is supported by the Toluna survey, which showed that 56% of customers’ key reason for booking online was to find lower prices. As mentioned above, the increasing popularity of hotel and travel aggregator sites, such as Trivago, also demonstrates the importance of price, as these sites facilitate research and price comparisons. (Source)

As mentioned in numerous studies (Law and Hsu et. al.; Chan & Wong), information about hotel and room facilities are also key factors in the decision making process, as they help the users to determine the value for money they would potentially spend.

Lastly, no-one can deny the power of a good (or bad) user review. Over 60% of users take rankings into account when choosing their hotel (source fr), which is no surprise when we consider the increasing popularity of TripAdvisor as our go-to source of honest customer reviews. A lot of people read reviews on TripAdvisor on a regular basis, with more than 80% saying they find it useful in helping them make a decision.

With travellers saying that accommodation has a huge impact on their overall trip experience, it is little surprise why reviews (and so TripAdvisor) play such a pivotal role. The fact that hotels can reply to reviews has also helped in building the levels of trust between consumer and provider, with people needing to see between 6 and 12 reviews before they become truly convinced. Customers have also admitted to hating a lack of transparency on pricing – nobody likes to be hit with hidden extra costs at the end of what should have been a pleasurable holiday experience. (Source)

Based on the above influencers, we recently reviewed 4 hotel chain website designs, relating their features back to the core needs of users who are looking for the perfect booking. Many reviews focus on the booking and payment process itself; however we decided to look at what happens earlier in the process and highlighted the most common mistakes being made.

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Hotel chain website UX reviews

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Based on the above influencers, we recently reviewed 4 hotel chain website designs, relating their features back to the core needs of users who are looking for the perfect booking. Many reviews focus on the booking and payment process itself; however we decided to look at what happens earlier in the process and highlighted the most common mistakes being made.

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1. Ibis

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  • Destination

The Ibis website allows a traveller to navigate to a destination either through a map or by entering it manually to refine results, which is a good feature, especially for big markets such as France (1.2K+  Ibis hotels). The map search also features an extremely useful click-through zoom system (similar to Yelp) and searches can be refined by tourist attractions or airports, which can be helpful for both types of users (leisure and business).

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Hotel listing search results display the distance from the city centre, which is great for users who don’t know the destination city’s topography.

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  • Price

On the Ibis homepage, we can find a list of the best offers which aim to catch the leisure user’s attention and help him/her decide on a destination.

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In the hotel list view, however, whilst it is possible to sort by price (only ascending though), it is impossible to filter by price range, which forces the user to browse rather than search and refine, which is never a good way to engage your audience.

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  • Facilities

It is possible to refine the search by many different facilities such as car park, restaurant etc. On the results page, facility icons display text description hints on mouse cursor rollover, which is a useful feature, as icons can be often misunderstood due to cultural differences or problems with poor eyesight.

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However, Ibis doesn’t make it easy for business travellers to look for hotels that offer meeting/conference rooms. Users need to fill out a search form located on an enormous “ibis Business” loyalty card banner (we sadly couldn’t get to work) or use a map search.

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  • Reviews

TripAdvisor reviews are located in a sidebar on the hotel pages but you have to open a pop-up browser window to view the individual reviews. Ratings, and the number of reviews that contributed to it, should usually be enough for most users however it’s always good to have easy access to actual review content, without having to leave the page you are currently on.

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2. Hilton

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  • Destination

On the “Resort” page, there is a perfect research tool for users that don’t know where to go – choosing an area/country or what kind of holiday you’d like to have. Once in the list view, you can filter your research to choose a perfect destination. The only problem about we found is that this feature is hidden in the “Resorts” tab, a navigation menu title which may not be an intuitional place for it to be.

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The website otherwise provides a lot of information about the Hilton hotels and allows a user to search by different features, like a city, an airport, a point of interest or postcode. A map shows not only hotels but also interesting places to visit and the distance to it from a selected hotel.

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  • Price

On the Hilton homepage, there is an “Offer” section, where different options are listed across several pages. It can be quite a long list, making it tedious to go through the offers, however it is possible to refine results by selecting a location and/or dates, which makes for easier digestion of the results that are relevant to you.

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When users fill in travel dates, results only show the prices for the cheapest rooms. The website does not provide a price calendar, which would be valuable to users prioritising price over dates for example.

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  • Facilities

On a search results page, facilities aren’t stated above every hotel; however you can see them in comparison view and filter the search results by what is important to you.

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You can also find places to organise meetings and select the services you require, which can be quite time-saving, as you won’t need to call the hotel to select basic options.

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  • Reviews

Reviews are based on Trip Advisor, with the 20 most recent reviews being displayed which should be enough for the user to render an opinion about the particular hotel.

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  • Destination

The main search tool, as seen on many hotel booking websites, consists of a search engine and a map feature. Premier Inn displays the distance from any given hotel to the location the user is searching by –  this means one can estimate the price of the hotel vs. the cost of commuting to the target destination, which is a great feature (especially for a business traveller).

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The tab ‘Short breaks’ focuses on short holidays, defined by key activities. For a shopping weekend abroad, Premier Inn suggests destinations and hotels (similar approach was seen on the Hilton website).

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The hotel page provides detailed information about the location along with a route planner e.g. to find the route from the nearest airport, which is an extremely useful feature for both types of users.

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  • Price

Premier Inn is the only one of the four sites we analysed that offers a price calendar – a feature also used by various flight booking websites. The interface provides users with a lot of flexibility, and the possibility to book according to the most determining factor for them: price, location, or date.

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  • Facilities

When searching for a hotel given a location, the user can also refine the results by hotel facilities. Icons are displayed on each hotel but some of them might be difficult to understand. There are no hints being displayed when clicking on or hovering the mouse over the icons.

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For meetings and events, if you can’t find a hotel that matches your needs, you need to make an enquiry for it, which is quite daunting for a user whose decision is determined by solely wishing to book online.

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  • Reviews

The reviews are based on Trip Advisor; only the 5 most recent reviews are displayed and there is no option to read further reviews. Based on earlier research, this is not enough, as users typically need between 6 and 12 reviews to make a decision. (Source)

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  • Destination

The destination search is intuitive and the search results have three different display options, list, map or grid view. The filters and sorting options are well laid out, avoiding visual noise that many hotel booking websites suffer from.

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On the homepage, users can find ideas about popular destinations. When going to (Reservations → Trip Ideas), they can also indicate the kind of holiday they are looking for and be presented with a selection of hotels, categorised by location, matching their needs. This is a good feature, but the navigation label may not be intuitive enough. Besides, the search feature is limited, which may prove to be a barrier in exploring this section.

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  • Price

There is no possibility to filter the results by price and you can only sort by price in ascending order. Each hotel listing displays only the lowest price for the dates selected, therefore it’s impossible to look for dates with cheaper rates, unless you manually select alternatives.

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The ‘Offers’ section is difficult to navigate and understand. The website recommends downloading their app for a better display of the offers, which may be frustrating for users. Downloading an app can also be a significant barrier in proceeding with the Offers section, and a subsequent booking. Indeed, studies have shown that users are more likely to book via a desktop or a laptop. (Source)

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  • Facilities

On the results page, the facilities icons are displayed along with descriptions (Wi-Fi, free breakfast, IHG Green…), however the number being displayed is limited. A good solution is to just show the important ones and then list all the facilities within the particular hotel page. You can also refine your search results by selecting relevant facilities.

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  • Reviews

The website has a review component that manages both the display and commenting of reviews – you can even add your own review directly on the website. This saves users a lot of hassle, as they don’t have to be redirected to TripAdvisor to leave their comments. The staff also seems to respond to every comment and review – this shows that they genuinely care about customer satisfaction, which can increase the trust of many users and hence increase conversions of new users and retention of existing ones.

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Summary

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When designing hotel booking experiences, it’s extremely important to relate everything to the types of users and their core needs. We need to make sure that they find the information they desire easily and have no surprises when proceeding to making the final booking. Each of the websites reviewed above has its own strengths and weaknesses and all of them are probably being visited by thousands of users every hour – which means that even small problems can have a tremendous impact on the company’s revenue.

Let’s say optimising the map search will help us engage 0.05% more users – even that small change could mean hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra revenue every month! Detailed and complex interfaces like these are in need of constant optimisation to keep up with new technological solutions and design trends. However these interfaces are made for people – that’s why they need to relate back to the core needs, otherwise even 100 different features will not add real value to the experience.

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If you want to know more about tackling similar user experience issues,

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