Having used Google to help me pick three chart-topping travel sites in pay per click and then passive search results for my first two columns, discovering that well-optimised or well-promoted sites don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with good design, I pontificated on where I’d find some good looking sites to review for this edition.
Just nanoseconds later, I concluded that luxury travel brands would be (or should be) the ones to invest heavily in good design.
And, having accumulated a fair few years’ experience in the avid pursuit of obscene luxury, I felt reasonably well-qualified to judge what works Р and what doesn’t Р for a time-poor sybarite.
I then thought of 10 well-known luxury travel brands and picked three names out of my fedora.
One&Only, Four Seasons and Abercrombie & Kent are formidable names in the world of luxury travel, so how would their websites stand up to an examination by this luxury explorer’s eagle eye?
Some of the more anal among you may have noticed I’ve yet to score a travel website over 62/100 in this column. However, I’m happy to say this review has breached that threshold, but not by as much as I would have hoped because no site as yet has managed to score highly across all criteria. Perhaps this uneven performance is due to the difficulty of the challenge Р not many have yet cracked the recipe for success.
Therefore, disappointment remains the order of the day, with plenty of scope for everyone to raise their games. For me, luxury is about making the most of my time and never being forced to do what I don’t want to do.
A&K claims to be a “world leader in luxury travel… setting the standards for luxury travel”. The first problem is working our which world leader? US Abercrombie & Kent, or the UK Abercrombie & Kent? In just two clicks the Internet exposes brand schizophrenia.
Clean and on-brand. The animated slide shows add a touch of class to an otherwise generic travel site, with identical templates for all sections – journeys, villas, hotels and retreats – so it’s easy to lose track of where you are. Large images at the top of each page are visually appealing, but force text below the fold line, creating long scrolling pages.
Initially I had trouble finding A&K’s properties. Eventually I found a link at the bottom of the blurb for each destination. On further inspection I also noticed a subtle navigation bar on the right hand side that links to properties and another on the left for destination information. Once I had adjusted to this navigation system the site was less painful to browse. Even so, it takes five clicks from the homepage before you get individual hotel information.
There is extensive information on each destination – history, what to see, what to eat, shopping, location map. Hotel entries contain an adequate description of the hotels’ ambience, facilities, offers and how to get there. It would have scored higher but for some cracking errors. For instance, Château de Mirambeau is listed in Beaujolais. It isn’t, the last time I visited it was between Bordeaux and Cognac and I doubt it’s moved. The site contains a useful ‘Add to brochure’ feature. You can add your favourite hotels and print out all the content and images in PDF format.
Making money from this site is likely to be severely compromised by the absence of any online booking engine. Indicative pricing won’t be enough for some time-poor potential customers, happy to book direct.
Poor score for revenue generation compromises the overall result – this site is crying out for a dynamic packaging or hotel booking solution.
Four Seasons boasts it ‘invented luxury for the modern traveller’. It currently has 70 hotels in 31 countries and more than 20 properties in development. It also claims to be the top choice for luxury business travellers.
A corporate brand experience, pretty much as I expected, executed consistently – almost too much so for my taste. Homepage and hotel entries lack the flair associated with luxury brands and the interactive map is bland but the attention to detail is excellent. I hypothesize the dead hand of corporate correctness castrated the art director. He should have a dose of what the One&Only art director’s on.
On the whole, good and I commend the confidence with which it leaves you to browse before it suggests you book. Slightly perversely, users are forced to choose their intention (vacation, business, wedding or meeting) before viewing a hotel entry. It’s an attempt at ‘personalisation’ that often irritates. Links within each entry are very small and non-resizable and therefore not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act.
A definite strong point, with German and Japanese language versions also available. There’s a plethora of info for every hotel: images for each room type, indepth destination guides, weather, local time, good photo galleries, floor plans, etc. Search engines will love it all. The tone of voice is ‘corporate marketing’ and rather characterless, but that’s just me being picky. Overall, the content sets a standard for big corporate hotel websites.
Four Seasons is not aggressive in the pursuit of bookings – a subtle link takes you to ‘rates and reservations’. This, as I mentioned above, is a welcome approach that doesn’t force you to enter dates before you know where you want to go. However, would-be bookers might be deterred by the need to create a reservation profile, guest ID, and password.
Best overall site score to date. Delivers the brand’s promise and you get the feeling they know what they’re doing.
One&Only describe its propositions as “A rare collection of jewel-like resorts embrace individually authentic styles and personalities born of their local culture”. But there are some problems. Firstly, Oneandonly.com is a ‘personals’ site. On Google the site turns out to be barely visible unless you enter the exact full name. Then, when I eventually got there, I was greeted with an “Access denied,” message. While this was fixed the next day, it was clear some of the basics need attention…
Design fully exploits the brand imagery – which captures the flavour of the resorts and concentrates the brand proposition. However, the look and feel does not connect with good web design. The flash movie conveys a young, romantic image, with excellent, black and white photos of beautiful ‘guests’. You want to go there just to meet them. Unfortunately, when I went, I found 200 Vauxhall dealers in the resort. Don’t skip the intro – it’s the best part.
Slow to load due to inexpert deployment of Flash. Content generation relies on rolling over or clicking icons. This is not at all intuitive and is frustrating as text disappears if you accidentally roll off the icon. Text legibility is poor and you view all text through a vertical letterbox. The links at the base of the page, including ‘destinations’ and ‘rates reservations’ work only part-time.
There is a fair bit of fair content, if you manage to find it.
The link to online reservations is inconspicuous. As this site is hard to find in search engines, difficult to use once you do find it, and has so many drop-off points, it’s unlikely to convert many bookings. This is almost criminal, given One&Only’s brand equity, beautiful destinations and top-notch offline marketing. It’s a huge missed opportunity.
The brand is great, the photos also, but this is a site from a company that doesn’t seem to want direct bookings, even though with its brand strength it could easily use its website to increase margins. It’s a lot easier to book through an operator.