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Background

I have been asked to review a (very) beta version of a travel site (http://barrheadtravel.traveltek.net/holidays.phtml old site: http://www.barrheadtravel.co.uk/) and was wondering if any one else had experience in this sector.

My thoughts are that the site will probably promote holidays via two common user scenarios:

  1. User does not know where they are going and is looking for inspiration

  2. User knows where they are going and needs an effective search engine to secure appropriate booking details

I need advice on

  • most important factors to consider when users book a holiday, be it cost, duration of flights

  • how results from searches for hotels should be displayed

  • how the booking engine should compensate for alternative holidays should a search return no results

  • how the site should *focus the user on booking a holiday

There are various reports including http://cache.usabilla.com/press/Usabilla_Travel-Sector_2011-Q3.pdf which are fairly interesting but if you have larger scale studies I would love to hear about them.

Notes: by focusing I mean there will come a time during the 'booking process' when the system will stop offering ideas and alternatives and start removing features

sites I like: http://www.tablethotels.co.uk/ and http://www.welcomebeyond.com/

booking engine I like: http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/17/2011/10/Hipmunk-large-1.jpg

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One annoyance I see fairly regularly with both accommodation and travel operator sites is a failure to deal with 'vague' enquiries. Sites assume that an actual booking is about to be made - rather than easily answering the 'about how much would it cost to go away at round about this time of year ?' question. –  PhillipW Nov 8 '11 at 13:28
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@PhillipW you should try booking flights to a destination where you are not sure about the departure location - eg which london airport is cheapest/operates flights to that destination. Impossible. –  colmcq Nov 8 '11 at 13:45
    
I agree with Phillip. The single most annoying thing about most travel sites is that there's no fuzzy logic. "I want to leave NY and go somewhere in the PNW in March. What are my optinos?". Also see Amtrak's site for the absolute worse way to handle a travel booking site. –  DA01 Nov 8 '11 at 17:14
    
I feel a bounty coming on... –  colmcq Nov 8 '11 at 22:40
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@DA01 I love Google Maps for fuzzy logic for finding places, it's a great example but I've never seen anyone put anything similar together for travel. –  Ben Brocka Nov 12 '11 at 17:26

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted
+50

Things that come to mind for a travel booking website is that most people come there with unrefined questions and don't want to complete a full booking on the first attempt. They need to check it with other people, or find out if they can actually have those dates from work, etc.

For the unrefined questions, one thing is the fuzzy logic mentioned by PhilipW: being able to search with broad, vague terms. I would specifically include searching for different aspects, many travelling sites focus primarily on country or specific city, for example, while I may go looking for 'beach' or 'mountains' or 'any city in southern France' or 'something historical' - more generalized and not always on the aspects you might expect. Apart from fuzzy logic, good tagging and multiple routes to select are nice.

Many traveling sites include a pattern where you can filter the results on several aspects, the refining search pattern ( http://patternry.com/p=refining-search/ ) This works quite well - and probably even better if it would also allow to exclude specific results ('show all but').

Then there's the issue of users not completing their booking right away. People will probably come back, and finish their booking, if it is as easy as possible to reproduce the results they had. Ways to achieve could be:

  • allow people to bookmark searches and specific results, and probably generate urls that can be mailed to other people
  • allow people to start booking and come back to it later (of course, mentioning that any reservations will either be made at the end, or will revoke after a certain period of time, that's fine.)
  • store information (about number of adults/children, departure date, place of departure) until changed - it is annoying to consider several scenarios and having to enter that it's two adults flying from Bruxelles leaving on the 17th of November on every single search, or redoing it all when you have to book (of course you have to confirm, but default to the information that has already been entered).
  • generate nice summaries for searches that can easily be saved, mailed and reproduced, including the terms that have been searched for. Even better if people can include those aspects

Third, on your current design: avoid listing essentially the same trip on all ten rows of the front page. Good concepts of grouping those travels are important, indicating price range and options and allowing for further exploration rather than duplicating all those Majorca travels. (I know it's a test site - but it happens on real sites quite a lot.)

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Good answer. Sites which don't store information (bullet #3) are particularly annoying. –  PhillipW Nov 17 '11 at 21:15

I do work for a travel site and there many many different aspects to consider. I haven't seen a lot of sites the cover both your goals well... Many are either about inspiration or about booking. That is not to say that online travel agents (expeida or travlocity) haven't tried do inspiration they just aren't very good at it.

I think you are having trouble getting an answer for this question because it's a little too broad.

I think you could start assessing this website by doing a completive analysis of the travel space that it intend to compete with. What does conventional wisdom say? If you are looking for good travel market research I would try PhocusWright. http://www.phocuswright.com/

As far as displaying results, price is pretty primary to almost everyone's search for everything about travel. A holiday or vacation is a big investment.

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I want the same user experience that I'd get from a knowledgable real-live seasoned traveller working at a high street travel agent.

I want to be able to enter my details once. Exactly once. Not more than once. Not even twice. Just Once.

I want to progressively give more information to narrow my choices, but I never want to feel that I might be losing out by giving that choice, therefore I would like to see how making a choice is kneecapping my choice, or whether it's hardly affecting it at all.

I want to specify a geographical location, but I'd like to also consider similar types of location, but I've never seen a travel site that lets me enter more than one specific region, but if I say I'm interested in Wales, then maybe Cornwall, Scotland, Lake District might be nice - but I don't want to have to say that, otherewise it feels like I'm doing the legwork.

I want to say I'd like a dishwasher in the apartment, but I don't want to feel that I might have missed out on a superb half price deal down the road that I could bought a damn dishwasher with the difference it cost!

I want to be told that I could double my choice and potentially save 40% if I dropped from 3 rooms to 2 (we can get the kids to share a room if need be), bit I want to still keep the option of 3 - ie 2 or 3 is fine.

I want to specifiy a range of dates, maybe 1 or 2 weeks anytime between in July and August, butI don't want to have to check individual weeks and specify one week and then two weeks.

I want a dynamic interactive presentation showing my criteria, the number of matches and how much each criteria is affecting the choice available.

I want sliders to tweak the relative importance of my criteria (dishwasher, kitchen, pets etc) or to define the min and max of a range (dates, duration, rooms).

I want to be able to sort the results based on further preferences (price, airport, board basis, etc)

I want to be able to come back next week and not have to enter any information again.

I want to mark items to be on a wishlist (favourites)

I want to be notified if something new becomes available that fits my criteria

I want to be able to see reviews especially from someone else that matches my profile (my criteria + a few details like 2 adults + 2 kids, 1 dog, likes modern living and countryside) - it's important to me what other people think.

I want it smart

To be fair, I want a lot.

To be honest, I'm not going to get it.

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I started some comps with the feedback from this question in mind. Don't be so hopeless, have small faith in my entrepreneurial spirit! –  Nic Nov 17 '11 at 22:31

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