Not content with a top ten, we thought it time for a top 12...
As we approach the end of 2016 and take a look at how web trends have evolved during the last year, it is clear that the shift towards improved user experience has gathered pace - especially in the travel industry. In 2014 alone it was found that roughly 80% of travellers use the Internet to search for the travel information they require, while 50% of European hotel bookers actually book their trips online. For travel business owners, it is clear that success lies in ensuring that your website caters for these savvy users, but it is also vital to provide a seamless experience for the 50% (and rising) of visitors who browse from a mobile device.
Aiming for success is one thing, but many business owners and clients have asked us: which components actually make a good travel website and provide a great user experience for my clients?
1. A clear, easy to use booking system
Understandably, customers can be quite cautious when booking holidays. They are paying a lot of money for a service that is not instantly delivered - unlike many services that we would purchase today, the majority of holidays are booked one to three months in advance. Due to this, users need to be able to complete an online booking efficiently while trusting the provider, whether that provider is an OTA, a hotel, an airline or a tour operator. If for example, your booking forms are overpopulated, full of unnecessary fields and confusing, users will tend to drop off fairly quickly and look for a more user-friendly competitor.
2. Customer reviews
Customers are free, right? Bargain.
You may not think it at first, but you will begin to realise customers are one of the best promotional tools you can have. Dimensional Research conducted a survey about customer reviews, the results showing that customer purchases were directly affected by both positive reviews (90%) and by negative reviews (86%). It’s extremely rare that I would make a purchase myself without checking other customer experiences first. Reviews can make or break a business, and can not only help promote your service but help you to improve it too.
UK-based Holiday Cottages, for example, keep their top customer feedback rating front and centre:
3. Bold, crisp images
This point is rather self-explanatory but is not always followed as the importance can be overlooked. When you are browsing for somewhere to stay or somewhere to visit, the first thing many people do is check the images you have available. These images will capture more than a description ever could and therefore need to be bold, large (within reason), crisp and bright. Not only should the quality of the uploaded image be good (high resolution) but the picture being taken also needs to be captured correctly to ensure maximum appeal.
High-quality images create a sense of a high-quality product; we'll let you decide what low-quality images create…
4. Simple search filters
Many travel websites provide a lot of various options to customers and the user journey can become quite complex. An effective filter allows a customer to refine their search quickly and efficiently, helping to keep them engaged and satisfied. For example, typical filters for flight aggregators usually include:
- Direct or indirect flight
- Departure times
- Return times
- Journey duration
- Choice of airline
These options can usually be altered with the results updating in real-time as opposed to requiring a page reload; this ensures that customers quickly find information that is directly relevant to their choices. Amongst so many different booking options, simple and logical filters will help to keep customers browsing for longer, eventually proceeding to book.
5. Key information, front and centre
Customers will be able to make quicker purchasing choices if they are presented with key information in the right place, at the right time. Someone looking for flights via an aggregator, for instance, should not need to click through multiple pages to find out about the airline, flight durations, departure times and, essentially, the total price.
For example, SkyScanner has a great results page that gives customers a preview of all key information, including airlines, flight duration, outbound and return times, the number of stops, and the price - all within the results page. This sort of information is enough to make a decision on whether or not the presented results are right for you, which is what makes this design so effective.
6. Map integration
Including a map integration such as Google Maps on a travel website is a must. Customers often use Google Maps to check out nearby attractions and plot routes to get to places from where they are staying. A good map integration also highlights useful places in a given area such as restaurants, cafés and bars.
Hotels, OTAs and tour operators can make the most of flexible APIs to create unique integrated maps, keeping customers engaged and confident that they are making a good choice when booking.
Expedia do a great job of flagging landmarks close to their featured hotels:
Customers who browse travel websites are often doing just that - browsing. Some users are just window shopping without the intent to make a purchase. With some form of bookmarking functionality, businesses can enable customers who are both window shopping and looking for a holiday to save deals for a later date (providing they are still available). This allows the customer to revisit the same offer and instantly make a purchase. Without a way to bookmark a deal or a service, you might find a customer forgets about it or can’t find it again, therefore resulting in a missed sale.
8. Responsive design
Mobiles are becoming the dominant browsing device and should not only be considered but specifically catered for. Responsive design has been a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm since April 2015, which alone should be a reason not to neglect mobile design and user experience. If your travel website is not responsive, roughly 50% of your customer base is likely to be unsatisfied. Customers not only make initial purchases on travel websites but they also return to review information about their booking or related services, often on a mobile device during the weeks before departing - or whilst waiting in the departure lounge!
Waiting, waiting and more waiting. Today, nobody wants to wait for their web browser to open, let alone the site that they are visiting to crawl at a snail's pace. Site performance can be the life or death of an online travel business, with customers coming or going based on how quickly they can reach their end goal. Whether that goal is retrieving information or completing a full booking - efficiency and speed are game changers.
10. Pre-departure communication
If a customer has made a booking through your system, it is a travel provider's duty to keep them informed of any information that has changed. It is simply good service to remind them of their booking and the related details prior to departure. Keeping customers in the loop is not only useful but it is reassuring. By engaging your customers in good time with relevant information regarding their booking, you can increase satisfaction and therefore future customer retention.
11. Logical navigation
Travel websites attract people from young to old and from tech savvy to technically inexperienced. Catering to every possibility is extremely challenging but vitally important and potentially very rewarding.
One of the most important aspects of a website is your navigation; quite simply, it’s how people traverse and locate the website's content. There’s no need for the navigation to get complicated and too multi-layered; keep it simple and logical, guiding customers through the content like a well-mapped journey. When targeting people of such variety - as many travel websites do - it is important to keep it sweet and simple for everybody.
12. Expansive content
Displaying services, offers and pricing alone is sometimes not enough. Travel businesses can use their websites as a platform for feeding information to customers, creating inspiration, desire and, ultimately, leading to an intention to book. For example, a Spanish-specialist tour operator can help to fill last minute beds by posting a blog about New Years in Madrid. This information will peak the interest of some customers, hopefully resulting in more site visitors and increased sales.
The choice is varied and broad; a travel website can use videos, infographics and articles to keep their customer base informed, thus communicating their brand as knowledgeable and authentic.
Visit Maine, for instance, do a fantastic job of integrating beautiful video footage into their homepage, bringing the destination to life and making their key visual content a central part of the online experience:
Reduce a customer's steps through your travel website by implementing useful features like real-time search filters and a simple navigation system. Cater to all people and all devices with a simple and responsive design, making information available as soon as the customer needs it. Ensure your site is as quick as possible by cutting out unnecessary processes. Keep your customers engaged and informed and remember:
With great performance and seamless usability comes great customer retention.