Peter Matthews – Site Seeing: Cruise

Holidays. What do you look for in a holiday? For me it’s all about escaping from the hordes, finding somewhere serene to relax and just be with my family. As I stay in lots of the loveliest hotels in the world and get spoilt in suites wherever I go, when I go on holiday I don’t want any of that. For me, a Tuscan hilltop with a 20-minute drive to the next house is just about perfect…

I suppose that means I’m not really cut out for cruising. But plenty of Brits (and Germans, Scandis and Americans) are. According to recent research, more and more of us are choosing to cruise our holidays away. In the UK we spent £1.55 billion on cruising in 2006, an increase of 16% over 2005, with 6.5% of all holidaymakers now taking to the water at least once in a year.

Undoubtedly, this means we will learn about cruising, research options or book a cruise online. From personal and professional experience, many cruise operators – Ocean Village excepted – have been slow to take advantage of this opportunity, citing complex itineraries as a reason as to why booking online isn’t feasible.

Rubbish. I’m of the opinion that that the industry back-end systems have been configured around travel agents, brochures and codes and few have yet bothered to invest in re-purposing them for customers to book direct.

So, I’ve taken a look to see if anything’s changed – and set about finding out whether cruising online is still a bruising experience.

Peter Matthews is managing director of Nucleus

Is there a connection between EasyJet and EasyCruise? Many would think so, but, from a web perspective, I found Stelios has yet to optimise the broadband boating experience.

As an admirer of the carefully detailed website (auto travel insurance addition apart), I was disappointed at this rather amateurish approach. Very Web 1.0, with the zero being the mark out of 10 for finesse. The text is too small, navigation is awkward and promotions create visual mayhem on the home page. There are pop-ups galore and pages that look untouched by designers.

Weedy navigation makes it hard to find your way around. ‘Book now’ should be visually distinct from the other links, but it isn’t. There’s an overuse of pop-ups – for example, on ‘our ships’ – and an over-reliance on PDFs. Navigation is not intuitive and you need several clicks to get any useful info. If you can bear going back to the home page you have to find a link at the bottom of the page or look for a retro-fitted hyperlink. This content architecture needs completely rethinking.

Destination guides are provided by Lonely Planet, which means they are knowledgeable and well written, but Google will ignore them. There’s lots of information on places to go, history, etc but long, scrolling pages means it isn’t nice to use. The maps are not detailed enough and there isn’t a successful linkage between destinations and itineraries – it doesn’t flow well. Photos are okay. Itineraries do not have much more than a title – no enticing intro text or correlating images.

Revenue generation
Prices look good value for a cruise, but only if Greece floats your boat for now. The association with EasyJet should be good for sales – but the online experience is in a different (lower) class. When you eventually get to it, there’s a decent booking process.

Design: 15/25
Usability: 15/25
Content: 18/25
Revenue generation: 20/25

Overall score: 68/100

P&O almost invented cruising and should know a thing or two about luxury on the ocean wave. In the vanguard of converting us all to cruising, the website clearly differentiates between ‘new to cruising’ and ‘cruised before’.

The home page and main landing pages utilise a busy mosaic of navigation, video and images below two rows of navigation and the logo. Rounded corners sit awkwardly against each other and the space the whole module uses means that page content is pushed to the bottom third of the screen. It’s definitely a busy interface; less would certainly be more.

Much of the navigation is duplicated in the mosaic panel or in the text, which suggests the information architecture isn’t clear enough. I found myself wanting to book a trip and yet not knowing where to go next. The panels on the right actually provide the itineraries, and the third level is the first point when you can book. It’s a case of the architecture not being able to cope with quantity of content.

There’s a lot of it. Lots and lots. In fact, there’s probably too much. Videos too – of the ships and places to visit. Click on ‘view cabins’ and there are pop-ups detailing every cabin on every ship, but all you get is a description of the space with no photos. There are also webcams of all the vessels although when I tried to get a sneaky peak, Oceana was out of ‘satellite range’. Worryingly, the ship appeared to be at sea somewhere off the coast of Bermuda…

Revenue generation
On this site, you can book online and it actually works pretty well. In addition, there’s a choice of many different cabins on most ship itineraries. Unfortunately, all the suites were booked for the slot I wanted, so I’ll have to try another time.

Design: 17/25
Usability: 17/25
Content: 21/25
Revenue generation: 21/25

Overall score: 76/100

Silversea makes little attempt to convert first-time cruisers, suggesting that its target audience knows what it wants. But this brand suffers from schizophrenia online. If you go through the dot-com site to the UK site you get a different UK site from the one that’s advertised via Google pay per click…

The UK site is a bit down-at-heel compared with the dot-com US site. There’s no flash introduction, just a simple white interface with clear navigation, but nothing to e-mail home about. The smallish images, many of silver-haired men with younger women, set the scene, within static templates. Some images are too pixated for this end of the market. Disappointing.

The website’s architecture is logical and clear until you go down into destinations or individual ships. Destinations depend on long lists, many of which aren’t hyperlinked to the content you expect. When browsing the suites and cabins – which look a cut above most competitors – it’s easy to forget which ship you’re looking at. Some pages are very slow to download.

The dot-com site offers a ‘virtual voyage’ featuring ‘panos’ and videos galore (Call me odd, but I’d like to make every panoramic cameraman spend a whole day looking at their own hideous work before breaking their cameras into small pieces). The UK-promoted site, thankfully, offers nothing quite as ‘sexy’. Infact, it’s the bare minimum here, much of it presented in lists that don’t take you where they should. Rather frustrating.

Revenue generation
Special offers are easy to get to, but other itineraries are almost impossible to discover. There’s still no online booking, so an e-mail enquiry is your only hope, or you could request a brochure…

Design: 16/25
Usability: 17/25
Content: 16/25
Revenue generation 5/25

Overall score: 54/100

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