Peter Matthews – Site Seeing: Generations

The worst thing that could happen to anyone is getting older. Though being young isn’t always great either. It can be like living in a concentration camp. Not my words, they’re Woody Allen’s, but I understand where he was coming from.


With a daughter recently returned from a gap year she planned online, and an 80-year-old mother threatening to take up surfing, I’ve realised that, having been in the vanguard of Internet users, I’m now just an ageing net-head with potentially different needs to my children and parents.


Now that its use is mainstream, we need to consider the generational complexities that are of increasing importance. It has made me wonder in more detail how travel websites serve their differing age group target audiences, and whether there are identifiable needs and traits for each group?


Do travel sites treat teenagers like inmates in a concentration camp (a travelling concentration camp with loud music that keeps the prisoners up until 4am and follows the full moon from Goa to Kerala to Phuket)?


Do luxury sites targeting 40-something investment bankers cater for their suite desires and whims? And do travel sites for Silver Surfers provide user experiences that provide for the fallibilities of advancing age?


The last point reminds me of the days when, as a 20-something designer, I was asked to walk around a supermarket in something that resembled a space suit (they called it a sensory depravation suit), which was supposed to emulate what it was like to be 70. Scary. I couldn’t reach the products on the top shelf, read any of the ingredients on the labels I had designed, or even open the packaging… Is it the same online?


Peter Matthews is managing director of Nucleus


STATravel.co.uk


Beloved of gap-year students, STA combines ideas, recommendations and advice with community – blogs, podcasts and useful advice supplied by previous young travellers. Voted one of the UK’s coolest brands in 2006/07, it certainly seems to have a following.


Design
Conventional travel portal meets next generation content. Perhaps a little bit tamer than you’d expect for a student site, but I guess it doesn’t need to make an effort to make the brand sexy as it has a fairly fluid flow of customers who recommend its services to the following year’s party-goers.


Usability
I loved the idea of its Trip Planner. It helps you string together a whole round-the-world trip with connections and prices in a very visual map-based way. London>Delhi>Udaipur>Jaipur>Mumbai took just a few minutes. However, it soon became confusing and impractical. While the idea has great potential, it guided me on some circuitous routes (Barcelona to Istanbul via Warsaw!) and didn’t validate/register my departure dates. So, after I’d chosen a dozen places to visit I was told the itinerary couldn’t be saved because I hadn’t chosen dates, when I had infact picked them off the site’s very own calendar. In the end I was very disappointed.


Content
Lots of information, advice, recommendations, checklists and links to other helpful services, such as visa specialists. Very close to being a one-stop shop. My only concern was the trouble I had finding any hotel availability in India, having been tempted by the prospect of a room in Goa for £9 per night – that’s less than the price of a cappuccino at Claridge’s! I tried almost every Indian city in its hotel finder and got zippo availability. Either it has sold out or there’s not enough inventory in its booking engine…


Revenue generation
Booking flights is simple, although the hotels concern me, as mentioned above. There is a phone number on almost every page, so if there’s a problem online, help is but a few pence away…


Design: 20/25
Usability: 21/25
Content: 21/25 (due to the Indian hotel fiasco)
Revenue generation: 20/25 (ditto)


Overall score: 82/100



Saga.co.uk


Design
I’m 50. I know because I got a birthday card from Saga in January, but I also know I’m too young and too impatient to put up with this site. Does getting past 50 mean they think you go and make a cup of tea between clicks? Does it mean we aren’t turned on by good design? No! We want slick, we want fast, we want interesting. This is cronky, clunky and boring.


Usability
The site is conventional, at least, so it will only frustrate Silver Surfers, not scare them with new-fangledness. I found the first step of choosing my length of stay/departure airport for a resort holiday a waste of clicks as all the drop-downs only gave me one option. Pretty frustrating. I then tried a cottage break and was told to phone. The Classic Journeys navigation took me off to a non-Saga site. Booking a hotel in the UK took me off to Hilton. This is a commission-splitting marketplace of affiliate sites, slowed down with an extra helping of middle-age javascript (presumably to bring the user experience down to geriatric pace). It would be a nightmare for anyone with a modem connection over the electric telephone.


As if this wasn’t enough, while text-size changes are possible within the body copy, all the navigation and booking processes use images that do not resize. I don’t need glasses, but some Saga customers might have quite thick ones…


Content
Lots of it, but I can’t wait until I’m 90 for it to download.


Revenue generation
You save £30 when you book online, but unless you’re retired you haven’t got the time to burn. On my Powerbook (increasingly popular with the groovy over 50s), the holiday booking process simply doesn’t work and I couldn’t get beyond entering the number of passengers. Discovering the reason in the javascript source code, I also discovered this site uses Prophet as its analytics package – state of the art – so at least Saga knows how many users it annoys.


Design: 12/25
Usability: 15/25
Content: 20/25 (but that’s only a generous guess)
Revenue generation: 18/25 for PC users (0/25 for Macsters)


Overall score: 47-65/100



Oneandonlyresorts.com


Oneandonly.com is an online dating agency and, as the new Oneandonlyresorts.com website is built entirely in Flash, the real site isn’t indexed well by Google and is hard to find without adding a suffix to your search – ‘hotels’ or ‘resorts’ will do. Being of a determined disposition, this is what I did and, hey presto, I’m in the Maldives.


Design
Big, beautiful black and white images of beautilicious 30-somethings, interlaced with sharply scripted narrative and a coating of a Debussy-esq ocean orchestration. That’s how to tempt upwardly mobile investment bankers with plenty (at least until recently) of income to dispose. Nice type and layout, but a different take on site design that you’ll either love or hate.


Usability
One of my team admitted to being freaked out by this site’s navigation. It’s a nice idea, original, which is always welcome to someone who looks at websites for a living, but for the general population (and this time-poor target market, too), it all might be too frustrating. One of the gripes of sites built entirely in Flash is that you can’t bookmark anything to go back to later, which can be a real time-waster. The primary navigation disappeared once you were in secondary level, meaning you had to go back to home and choose your next item, which is too much too-ing and fro-ing.


Content
In this latest version of the site, the black and white images remain a real brand strength, but I found lots of the menu items were dead ends; with no info once you clicked on the link. Nice use of video in some of the resorts, which, again, were bang-on brand.


Revenue generation
Two of the six properties feature a horrid white-label Worldres online booking engine, completely at odds with the attention to design detail found elsewhere. All the other resorts feature an okay-looking e-mail reservations form, but the split-level functionality suggests even One&Only is now stepping boldly into the 20th century.


Design: 22/25
Usability: 19/25
Content: 21/25
Revenue generation: 16/25


Overall score: 78/100

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