Every industry has its challenges when it comes to website design and the User Experience (UX). Like the UX of ecommerce websites, tailored to consumers purchasing hard goods, hotel websites must deliver a product based on a promise, hoping that an honest and pleasurable UX will build a loyal customer base and positive reviews from satisfied visitors. If the website is poorly designed, images are not enticing (and truthful), the UI is confusing or just doesn’t function properly, the hotel can become a ghost town very quickly.
For this article, we’ll focus on the top 5 hotels, Hilton Hotel & Resorts, Marriott Hotels, Holiday Inn Hotels, Hampton Inn & Suites, and the Wyndham Hotel Group , and dissect their websites to see why these work so well for the hospitality industry.
What Do People Want in a Hotel Website?
Marketing is basically simple: do your research and give the targeted consumer what they want. Undeniably, many companies don’t do this. Hotels are very personal to people and the demands are different from other industries that sell services. The consumer is trusting the beds are clean, showers are mildew-free, and there is a level of amenities and comfort for which they will pay higher rates.
PCA Predict recently conducted a survey to see what people wanted in a hotel website:
Hotel Website Features Expected by Users
- Secure online payment
- Hotel facilities clearly listed
- Access to customer reviews
- Simple booking forms
- Professional photographs
Consumers no longer expect to receive their reservation booking by snail-mail post. 74% of consumers would prefer to receive their booking by email. 15% of people, aged 25-34, prefer to receive their booking confirmation by SMS.
Top Turn-Offs When Booking a Hotel Online
- Hidden prices – 28%
- No reviews – 24%
- Complicated or lengthy booking forms – 13%
- No photos – 16%
- A site that isn’t mobile friendly – 13%
- Long page loads – 5%
Over 80% of consumers abandon their reservation because of lengthy and complicated forms and women consider picking hotels based on reviews, 35% more than men.
Creating The Promise
If you’ve ever walked into a grand hotel, you will know the awe that the opulence and design create. Hotels are magical. A great homepage grabs the user and pulls them into a promise of comfort and pleasure. If you’ve ever stayed in a bad hotel, you have probably cursed the website for a false impression of the establishment. What type of impression do the top 5 hotel websites create?
Hilton Hotels & Resorts
One of the largest and best-known hotel chains around the world is the Hilton brand. While family socialite heiresses may be one of the reasons for such notoriety, the brand is strong and emcompasses other hotels and resorts as well, with a long history of luxury for guests.
Scrolling the page immediately leads to the sales pitch for specials and exotic destinations. Placed on the page like Pinterest pins, they are a quick read, which is good, but a boring design that will not entice the viewer. A large image to promote the free wi-fi shouldn’t overpower a special in New York City and other popular destinations.
Kudos goes to the Hilton site for providing so many language choices, which shows not only that they are a world class destination, but that they are dedicated to the UX of a global clientele.
The UI/UX is delivered in simple layers, with sidebar choices along the way, allowing for the user to view rooms, amenities, etc. Navigation of the site can be time consuming when you want basic information while registering. Some users prefer that to the one large form you see on some of the other sites in this article. The important part is that it works the first time someone is making a reservation.
The Marriott chain and their other hotel holdings have grown over the past decade to become one of the top 5 hotels in America and for good reason – their UX is tied to the customer’s experience during their stay at one of the hotels.
While Marriott is known as a business destination, and they certainly promote that on their website, as well as other marketing platforms, they also take care to reach out for travelers and families by offering packages, clearly available via a link below the scroll.
The homepage opens onto one of the best assets a hotel can have – a pool! Other amenities customers want to see is the workout center, business center, any eateries on the property and, of course, the rooms that are available. Sadly, the Marriott website, as well as the other top 5 hotel websites, doesn’t show these sales points until the user has clicked through a few layers.
The lesson with websites is the quicker the user is satisfied, the better. Excessive clicking, page reloads, and more choices layers in, with no seeming end, will lose your registering customer. A good rule of thumb is that time on the website registering for a stay at your hotel should not be longer than the actual stay the user will have AT the hotel.
A small but important design aspect is the placement of the notices about saving money, price guarantee, free wi-fi, and mobile check-in. If one thinks of the above-the-scroll homepage as a postcard, the hook has to be placed within. Using the design space for the most important aspects of your hotel is essential.
Marriott has a simple, light design that hits the viewer with an inviting pool, offers quick reservation in layers, and the sales points previously mentioned. Very effective website.
Holiday Inn Hotels
The poor Holiday Inn has long been the butt of jokes because it was a large, recognizable brand that offered low rates with an assured quality level people demanded. With recent advertising refreshing the brand, Holiday Inn has done much to shake off the mildly negative image.
The website is warm and welcoming and the carousel of images shows families, business types and those on regular vacation. Images such as these strike a friendly, comforting emotion in the user. A picture does say a thousand words and, going back to the PCA Predict survey, it was important in both categories of what people expect.
While the overall design is presented in a grid-like manner, many users appreciate the straightforwardness, in a no-nonsense manner. Larger images for specials and fantasy locales would work better to entice travelers. Using images to entice travelers is not just a sales strategy based on sales for the hotel, but as a service to customers who appreciate notice such as these.
While Holiday Inn has become a global presence, they don’t seem to want to draw the international traveler with more promotion of foreign hotels and destinations. Certainly there’s all the room in the world below the scroll. Why did the designer cram everything into small spaces?
Hampton Inn & Suites
A holding of the Hilton chain, the Hampton brand builds upon the parent company’s power and offers service to the diverse groups of guests. You can see the same images being used across the Hilton’s other hotel and motel websites, but in the long-run, such familiarity within the brand is a smart idea.
The Hampton is considered a lower-priced hotel, compared to a Hilton establishment and the simplicity of the Hampton website contrasts with the Hilton site’s posh energy. Of course, as a stand alone website, the hampton site offers the same UX as the Hilton site.
The other images in the carousel on the homepage mirror other hotel sites, pitching exotic locations, price specials and business accommodations. It’s always good design and UX to present exciting content on the homepage, no matter what size hotel it is.
Wyndham Hotel Group
The “father of modern advertising,” David Ogilvy, always insisted the most important thing was to “show the product!” Not enticing customers with images of different hotels, locales and hotel amenities is a lost opportunity and a complaint among consumers who expect “professional photography” (quality of images as well as interesting shots).
With the registration form omnipresent, the Wyndham makes use of exciting images as well as brand-designed look that is elegant and builds the strength of the brand.
Website Dissection – Why It Works!
To truly appreciate a difficult process, and how to make it a better user experience, we “checked in” at the Holiday Inn website to see how the process drives the user through the UI of the site and how it meets (or doesn’t) consumer expectations as outlined in the PCA Predict survey.
We chose Burbank, California as our destination and a multi-day stay, surrounding a weekend but including prime weekday/business days. The rate quoted for the downtown Burbank location was surprisingly competitive.
Filling out the basic form on the homepage brings us to the next layer, offering different locations and rates in the Burbank area. All Holiday Inns are listed with a thumbnail image of the hotel building and surroundings, a link to customer reviews of that location, current rates and the button to the next layer of the reservation process.
The third layer bring the user to the main information about the location and amenities of the hotel. The room rate is still in the picture, but not complete. This is important considering one of the top turn-offs when booking online was hidden prices.
Straying from the reservation process to viewing rooms brings the user to a general overview of the average room. Plenty of photographs, a complete list of amenities and the rate still handy, which will rise or fall, depending on the room chosen. Having the rate follow the user, rather than resetting after another link removes the user from the registration process is essential and part of the better UX/UI websites.
One negative aspect is the website doesn’t register the user before the process (email address) so if a reservation isn’t finished, the hotel can email a user to remind him/her to finish the reservation (or at least remind the user of the hotel brand for future stays).
Another menu bar link takes the user to the seemingly endless amenities page. While images are available, they need to be bigger without clicking another link. The amenities page is the fifth layer the user has to view. Is it too many? Too few? The process isn’t over yet!
One last stop before committing to the reservation, the user can choose from available rooms (and see the different rates). Another layer in the process but an important one that should be found on every hotel website.
As mentioned before, gathering the vital information for the reservation is left to last. While payment information is the next step, separating the two so the personal information is registered first is a good marketing idea.
While the reservation process scores points for being mobile friendly, it lacks any verification technology for completing the customer’s address, phone and email details – something that could be vital to improving the UX and speed of checking out.
And then it’s time for another layer, getting the user ready to book their room. While some may consider this overkill, it’s a walkthrough process that is essential in such a personal service industry. Time to book the room and end the session… or is it?
Finally, the breakdown of all expenses on a sublink popup. This should reassure the user that there are no hidden costs (Top Turn-Offs – hidden prices – 28%).
When matched against the desires and turn-offs in the consumer survey, the Holiday Inn website, as well as the other top four hotel sites, at least meet, or exceed what consumers want. If it takes multiple pages to properly book a customer into their preferred room, then obviously it’s a process users are willing to go through for the best user experience.
Don’t Ignore Mobile Sites!
The one failing of digital marketers is that they still underestimate the amount of mobile device users, especially cell phones. Personal digital devices are becoming the standard and with cell phones getting bigger and tablets getting smaller, not to mention wearables and their soon-to-be marketing requirements. Be ready to meet the standards the digital devices will demand.
The problem with most mobile responsive sites is that they truncate the information easily available with larger screen devices. While the basic registration is easy, leading to good UX for mobile users, finding further information requires the user to dig down several layers.
Marriott, however, has a full-scrolling mobile site, offering a multitude of links without being confusing or cluttered. While UX experts still debate whether “above-the-scroll” vs. “below-the-scroll,” the faster users find the information they require, the better.
Stay There or Stay Away?
All of the top 5 hotels have straightforward, easy registration UI on their mobile sites. No scrolling, just layers for the task of booking the user into a room of their choice. Some easier done than others.
As a larger usage of mobile devices as the digital tool of choice becomes the norm, the technology, that is readily available today, will be discovered by more conservative institutions, such as these top 5 hotels. While they increase their technology usage, smaller, boutique hotels are, and will continue to use technology to the nth degree. A great equalizer, of sorts.
According to the consumer survey on hotel websites, all of these hotels need to work on their overall site design and UX. While it’s true the brand will bring interested consumers directly to the site. It is, however, unfulfilling UX design (and, of course pricing, if presented upfront) that will drive them away quickly.