User Experience and Travel
Top UX Tips for Booking and Reservation Websites
When people begin to look online for their next holiday/vacation, the research to booking phase is typically 5-6 weeks. In this time, they’ll visit 38 of your competitors' websites and absorb numerous reviews & social media posts before pressing that book button.
Google neatly sums up the customer journey like this:
I-want-to-get-away moments: a.k.a. ‘dreaming moments’ that happen when people are exploring destination options and ideas with no firm plans. At this stage, people are looking for inspiration.
Time-to-make-a-plan moments: a.k.a. ‘planning moments’ that happen when people have chosen a destination. They’re looking for the right dates, the right flight, the right place to stay, and all the things they’ll do while they’re there.
Let’s-book-it-moments: a.k.a. ‘booking moments’ that happen when the research is done, and people are ready to book their tickets and reserve their rooms.
Can’t-wait-to-explore moments: a.k.a. ‘experiencing moments’ that happen when the trip is underway. Travellers are ready to live the trip they’ve been dreaming about—and share it with others.
If customers are viewing on average 38 sites before they make a decision, you’re going to need something memorable to differentiate. Here’s some practical tips that you can try out.
The most important user interface element on your website. Onboarding customers to the results page is the key objective for your search.
Taking the Goldilocks approach to designing your search will cater for the different types of customers looking at your site. Too complicated and users will instantly shy away from it. Any type of learned behaviour just adds another barrier. Too simple, then the results output could be too sketchy, or it doesn’t offer enough flexibility. As the Google definition shows, different customers will have different needs at different times of the purchasing funnel.
You’re not going to be able to please all of the people, all of the time, but there are still some general rules for creating good and easy-to-use forms.
Don’t hide search. The search bar should be upfront and centre. A/B testing on your site should determine the best position. In the sites we’ve launched, the position that generates the best conversions is slap bang in the centre. The poorest returns we’ve seen is when the search bar is placed at the bottom of the screen.
Bundle complexity. A great example of complexity in search for travel is the number of guests/party members. What you want to avoid is a separate input box for every type of party member (Adults, Children, Infants, Pets etc.). That quickly becomes one big form. Take a look how Ryanair handles this. By combining elements, you’re able to make the form simpler to use.
The calendar. So important, it has its own section below!
Make it stick. Your search bar should be visible at all times. As users scroll a page on the site, be sure to pin this to the top of the screen.
The second most important user interface element on your website. Get this wrong, make it too fiddly or don’t provide a version that works at all on a mobile device, then you’re going to be waving goodbye to a lot of customers. If there’s only one aspect of your website you have time/money to invest in this is it.
Some of the basic practices for creating a good calendar:
Setting the right date. Make sure the current date is set. Don’t let customers chose dates in the past. Unless you’re Marty McFly.
Show two months. We’ve seen better conversions by showing two months in the calendar dropdown as opposed to just one. This really becomes a huge benefit when a customer’s chosen dates straddle two months.
Make the duration selection visible. If a user wants to book from a Friday to the next Friday, highlight those dates and the ones in between for a clear visual reference. Bonus points to those of you who will highlight the dates as the user hovers over the date ranges.
Offer fixed durations? Make sure your change-over days are clearly marked. Block off non-changeover days. There’s nothing more frustrating for a user than being allowed to select dates to then be told that you don’t allow holidays to be booked on these dates. If you offer fixed duration of say 3 nights, 7nights and 14 nights, make this obvious to the user as they go to select their departure date (see above for tips).
Don’t forget mobile. Design your calendar so it works on a small screen. Don’t have users pinching and zooming on dates. Avoid pop-ups (poor usability) and try and present your calendar as almost a separate part of the application. If in doubt, just use the native calendar functions within iOS and Android devices.
If you offer short breaks alongside fixed break durations, you could be in for a whole world of hurt in trying to implement this into your calendar. Typically, users are comfortable in seeing an ‘any day to any day’ style approach or a ‘this is our check-in day’ on a calendar. We’d advise to keep your short break information on the property listing page itself, rather than complicate and muddle the calendar.
Poorly executed search results affect customer experience. No one likes seeing ‘sorry no results found’. Let’s dig into some ways we can make these pages work better for you.
Carry the dates through to the results. We’ve seen plenty of examples where dates go missing on the results page. Pushing the dates through qualifies to the user that they’re looking at the right set of results and makes it easier to fine tune the selection period.
Show more than one thumbnail photo. A la Airbnb, show a mini carousel of 3 photos for each listing. Customers will always be image driven. If they can narrow down their preferences before going to the detail page, it removes a level of frustration.
Don’t neglect filtering. Show everything available upfront and let the customer filter the results. Try to avoid doing it the other way around, where users can filter on the initial search. This is bound to yield fewer results and make it seem as if you don’t have much choice.
Paginate. Avoid the load more feature. In user testing we’ve done here, people still struggle with this on mobile devices and jumping backwards and forwards between results and detail.
Don’t go icon crazy. You know all those great features a listing has. Try not to sum them up in an icon. And if you do, just list the most relevant. If applicable to you, we find customers look mainly for; Sleeps, Bedrooms, Wi-Fi, Pet Friendly, Pool or Hot tub. Generally speaking (and depending on your business) everything else can be saved for the detail page.
Open results in a new tab. Whatever intuitive user interface you may have devised, users still fall back on native browser functionality such as the back button. So, take advantage of this by opening the results in new tabs. This way, the search results which frees you up from the technicalities of page position, session data and pagination mismatches. If it’s good enough for Airbnb, then it’s good enough for you.
Clear and transparent communication are the focal element of harmonious relationship between your brand and customer. Travel customers are working to strict criteria, with dates and price being at the top of the list. Any hidden information, such as a booking fee being added at the end of the checkout, breaks that bond of trust.
So how can you take care of a customer’s concerns on a travel website?
Be upfront. Remind customers to check information about the fees on their own and direct them to it. If you’re charging a fee, let customers know why.
No fees are also important. If users are not charged for some services, make sure to include that information as well, so that a user doesn’t have to worry or go check it somewhere else.
Communicate each point as clearly as possible. If the Wi-Fi access is free only in the restaurant area and users will have to pay for it in their rooms, they should be aware of it. Aside from price, not giving enough detail is one of the major reasons customers abandon travel sites.
Often overlooked, post-purchase interactions are crucial to providing the customer with a sense of reassurance.
Post-purchase communications include things such as;
Trip confirmation emails
Welcome packs with directions & instructions
Balance reminder and payment emails
Offers to review a trip
Some of these are crucial to the customer’s trip. Failure to send out an acknowledgement email when a customer books results in that unease and a series of phone calls to your help desk will follow.
Here are some pointers on nailing the post-purchase scene.
Tell customers what emails will be sent. When the customer completes their purchase, tell them what to expect next. If your emails have a habit of turning up in spam, then let the user know this.
Personalise recommendations depending on a customer’s location. Personalisation lets the customer know that they’re not just another sale. You can let them know about a great coffee shop or unknown but great restaurant. These small ‘inside’ tips build up trust between your brand and the public.
Reviews. If you don’t have any automated review software, such as Reevoo or Feefo, then ask customers to rate you on services such as google reviews or Trip Advisor.
69% of travellers will check social reviews before committing to purchase.
At the ‘can’t wait to explore’ moment, customers are the most socially engaged with your brand. They are more likely, during this period, to be leaving reviews and sharing stories and photographs.
Getting this shared content needn’t be difficult.
Use third-party reviews. Use the Trip Advisor API to display customer reviews on your site. You can also use the Instagram API to bring in photographic content.
Perks in exchange for reviews. By leaving a review, customers could earn loyalty points or money off vouchers for their next stay with you.
Write review forms for them. Use prepared forms to increase engagement. Multiple-choice answers and some smart form logic reduce the burden on your customers.
Russell has headed up numerous successful digital transformation projects for the travel and destination market for over 6 years. Having worked in digital and marketing since 1999, he has worked with clients such as Away Resorts, Lake Lovers, Duchy Holidays, and The Headland Hotel to name a few.
If you would like to hear more about how the creation design, development and digital marketing teams can work with you to convert more of your online visitors into customers, we'd love to hear from you.