London is the capital city by which all capital cities are measured, with some of the finest luxury hotels on the planet domiciled to its postcodes. Especially in SW1.
The Ritz is one of them. Founded by the man Edward VII called “the hotelier to Kings and the King of hoteliers”, his surname is probably the most famous name in the five-star solar system. But the brand’s confusing heritage has led to The Ritz in London, The Ritz in Paris and The Ritz in Madrid being owned, managed and marketed separately. Adding a spoonful of caviar to the confusion is the Ritz-Carlton chain, which is an affiliate to two of the three, but owns none.
The Ritz London is a true landmark hotel, a distinctive French château-like structure overlooking Green Park at 150 Piccadilly. Its website modestly claims it is the world’s greatest hotel and gives the impression that it has never had to try too hard at promoting itself.
But is that true in a world now used to booking online? How does its website stand up to critical assessment? Will the opulent brand experience in the flesh transfer successfully online?
Dig deeper and The Ritz does appear to need some help in distribution, as it remains a member of Leading Hotels of the World, and is also a partner hotel of Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz also appears on several aggregator sites (Lastminute.com, Expedia and Hotelopia all advertise against the Ritz brand, many offering discounts), so this gave me the idea to take a look at one hotel through three sets of eyes.
What I found makes interesting reading…
Peter Matthews is managing director of Nucleus
The real McCoy – the Prince of Wales’ Royal Warrant is on the header.
A remarkably conventional hotel website with heavy-handed execution (Royal blue borders on everything) and a peachy background colour that looks, er, peachy. A Flash animation greets you on the home page and a video ‘Experience the Ritz’ reminds you that the hotel remains ‘resplendently alive’, while the design structure’s lack of finesse and variation bored me to death. The ‘Book Online’ panel looks like it is recycled Travelodge.
As a conventional site, relatively easy to use, with no real surprises. The booking panel takes you into a Flash-enabled iHotelier booking engine where you have to re-enter your dates on the first of its three panels. Apart from the Ritz logo, this is a commodity experience – and not always a good one. It’s the typography I dislike most about this interface, cramping lots of information into small spaces, with lots of vertical scrolling to see what’s in mini-panels. I’d love to get my hands on optimising this interface.
There’s history here and photographs of every room type – and they are not just thumbnails. The descriptions are a bit thin though. Restaurant menus are illustrated and you can gen-up on which brew you can have when you take Tea at The Ritz (Darjeeling First Flush for me). A range of gift certificates enables for e-commerce gifting beyond online booking.
Back to iHotelier. I enter my arrival date (again). Bad. And click on other nights I want to stay, plus number of guests. Good. I see available rooms in the middle panel and pick a Junior Suite, but then see a choice of rates (if I scroll the little panel): Online Special £615; Published Rate £620. I click Online Special. I then see a package offer at the bottom of the page and the weekend I’m after is an ‘Available date’. I find a Junior Suite for £421.28 including breakfast. Good. I try to book… and get a ‘This rate has been closed out’ message. Ho hum.
Revenue generation: 20/25
Overall score: 75/100
Leading Hotels of the World once represented pretty much all the leading hotels in the world, but, as we all know, the world never stops changing. Now, in London, only The Ritz and The Dorchester remain members.
A typical travel portal often means a website designed around a rigid template with restricted information, fed with updated content via APIs all linked into a single booking engine. Yup, this is a typical travel portal design. All structure and no flair.
Searching for The Ritz had me questioning my conventions. I tried to find the UK in the drop-down country search to no avail. After several minutes I found England and then London and was then able to go on my way. The London sub-home page gave me the choice of 10 hotels, many of them surprising, as The Cadogan and Milestone, nice as they are, aren’t exactly my idea of Leading Hotels of the World. At the very bottom I found The Ritz with rates for my dates, but little content. I clicked on Hotel Details to find out more.
Not a lot of it, really. It’s all structured consistently in a conventional portalish way, a bit like the Leading Hotels book rather than anything interactive. There is a selection of images – some unfortunately cropped – with thumbnails to select from, but they are all fairly low res and don’t really do a hotel of the Ritz’s standing many favours. No link to the hotel’s own site (for obvious reasons), although the phone number is apparent.
Here you have to enter both your arrival and departure dates. Bad. If you only enter the arrival date you get an ‘Arrival date does not precede the Departure date’ error message. Bad. The rate I’m quoted for my Junior Suite (£560 per night) is better than that quoted by The Ritz itself. Good. The rest of the process in unremarkable, but I’m also asked about my preferences (beds, pillows, smoking, etc). Good.
Revenue generation: 20/25
Overall score: 73/100
Ritz-Carlton is a large, slick US hotel corporate whose connection with the Ritz name goes back to 1927, when permission was given to use it for the opening of the Ritz-Carlton, Boston. Ritz-Carlton includes both The Ritz in London and Hotel Ritz Madrid as partners in its marketing network.
This site blends structure with elegance and good quality content. It is a great example of how to design a big site. The Flash-based map, divided into six regions, is easy to navigate and as The Ritz is its only property in the UK, finding my landmark at 150 Piccadilly was a doddle. While the whole site is templated, it never feels particularly constrained or restrictive and a light touch to layout and typography provides online finesse.
This website is easy to use. Everything is intuitive and ‘next click’ is where you would like it to be. Results pages are clear and concise. Nothing jars or is difficult to use and it’s pretty damn fast, too. The site map is found at the very bottom of the page.
Not a huge amount, but all the bases are covered and it’s well laid out. The guest rooms and suites section doesn’t offer photographs, but it does offer simple tables comparing room sizes. This is useful for space-obsessed Americans and helps explain why The Ritz has its Royal Warrant – the Prince of Wales Suite is 1,900sq ft! The photo tour demonstrates well-edited quality images – some of them look better than on the hotel’s own site because they are surrounded by ‘white space’ rather than blue borders.
This site uses the Marriott booking engine (you’ll see why in a minute). Smart date boxes pre-populate your departure date one day later. Good. The availability for the same dates I entered into the other two sites showed ‘No Availability’, but offered me alternative accommodation; guess where? Yup, at every London Marriott you can think of. Bad. Accidental lack of inventory, or intentional interception of interest? This blew it for me.
Revenue generation: 20/25 (could have been another 23)
Overall score: 89/100