It had to happen. And it happened to me just now. There comes a time in one’s life – maybe as a subconcious effort to celebrate 10 years of online travel – when everyone finds themselves wondering whether they should experience a cruise.
Whether it was the sudden onset of dotage (my children’s opinion), or just professional inquisitiveness (my excuse), I’m not sure, but for the first time ever I wondered what it might be like to spend a week or two confined on board a ship, afloat with total strangers.
Me being me, I started with a visit to Google. I tried three search terms ‘Caribbean luxury cruises’, ‘Mediterranean cruises’ and ‘small luxury cruises’ and picked a site from the top of each list.
Interestingly, my first search showed how easily it is to be led astray online. I found Royalcarib.com at number one in the passive results for my ‘Caribbean luxury cruises’ search. But the site wasn’t what I expected.
It turned out to be a travel agency trading heavily off Royal Caribbean’s brand equity. Whether this was with the brand’s blessing or not wasn’t clear, but it once again highlighted the frequency of brand interception in the world of online travel (a subject close to my heart and theme of a recent Nucleus survey). It reinforced my view that third parties are often better than the big brands at optimising their websites.
Anyway, even with an abundance of search enquiries for cruise-related phrases in all the main search engines, cruise operators still reliant on travel agency distribution for bookings. Let’s find out whether the operators are catering for customers’ appetite for online information and booking, or lack the nous to convert this latent interest.
Royal Caribbean offers adventure and activity-centred cruises in the Americas and Europe, which you might not guess from the name. The overall tone of the site suggests it is aiming for a younger market than most operators.
Certainly not the strong point of this site, the design is well… boring. One template, small images, (except on the homepage) and lots of white space relieved only by American Brutalist heading typography leads to an anaemic brand experience – where are the sexy images to seduce you into impulse booking? The best thing about this design is that it’s unobtrusive.
Great. Copious amounts of information for cruise virgins and old-hands alike. It’s direct and snappily written. The interactive tour of the ship, if you can find it, had me spending far too long looking at all the facilities (including an ice rink for goodness sake!), but perhaps that was because the other graphics on the site were small and frequently unenticing.
Clear navigation and site structure with a ‘you are here’ breadcrumb trail immediately gains lots of points. A variety of ways to find the right cruise, by different search mechanisms and various browsing routes again makes for a good user experience. On the downside, there are some cross-browser issues to resolve and the ‘Our Company’ section brings in a whole new set of navigation and a reliance on pop-ups for imagery.
While not featuring in the top 10 for ‘Caribbean luxury cruises’, it’s pole position on natural search results for ‘Caribbean cruises’. Finding a cruise and checking out activities and accommodation is easy so there’s no reason why people shouldn’t book online. However, in issue 2.0 of Travolution, Jo Rzymowska, Royal Caribbean international sales and marketing director, said that online bookings were still in single digits.
There’s lost potential here, as the site doesn’t convey the active, adventure-driven holidays that the company offers. The website relies too much on the power of text to bring the customers in.
Overall score 73/100
A site promoting two ‘small luxury ships’ sailing different waters: a well-defined Hebridean Princess proposition sailing between Scottish islands (wonderfully endorsed by the Queen’s summer charter); and a less well- differentiated Hebridean Spirit, cruising the Med, Indian Ocean and others. Both claim to be luxurious and closer to yacht chartering than cruising.
Evocative images and clean design, but most of the text is hidden below the fold line and forces scrolling, causing confusion as to where you are within the site due to a fatally flawed content architecture. There’s also no visual differentiation between the two ships, so it’s easy to find yourself looking at the wrong product.
Plenty of well-written information. Images are often views of the various ports of call rather than showing the cruising experience itself. Nicely produced maps look authoritative and landing points often link to culturally interesting trips ashore. It obviously targets the sophisticated luxury explorer, who, with better architected content, would easily be convinced.
The navigation is confusing and there’s far too much of it. The contextual navigation only serves to worsen the situation by combining static and changing elements. The lack of consistency and poor architecture of the site lets the side down.
All revenue comes through telephone booking (number and call-back featured on every page), so this site is an online brochure with call-centre conversion. The ‘Instant Callback’ call-to-action is probably racking up a call-centre telephone bill, as trying to find out information from any other part of the site is likely to end in frustration. The prominent ‘Check Availability’ link throughout the site leads to a disappointing bog standard ‘Contact Us’ page.
The great product is let down by a poorly architected site. Rethink the content architecture and navigation, then add an easy-to-use booking engine and online sales would rise dramatically.
Overall score 59/100
Positioned at the affordable end of the cruise market, this site targets thirty to fortysomethings with or without children. Described as ‘the cruise for people who don’t do cruises’ this is a fun and games holiday on and offshore in the Med or the Caribbean.
Bright and breezy, with a clearly differentiated brand proposition. The colour coding for the different sections is not convincing and some of the coloured text and background combinations are illegible. It’s a good start but lacks finesse. It also lacks promotional call-to-action.
There’s lots of text but the images are a mixed bunch. Some are great quality but they are too small and often repeated unnecessarily. Lots of interesting dynamic Flash content is left to its own devices, when it could be integrated into the main content areas and better support the brand proposition.
Is it just me or is nobody bothering to think about how users navigate sites? The navigation is poorly thought out and leads you in and out of different sections and pop-ups until it leaves you utterly disoriented. Dropdown menus are a flickering mess on the Safari browser, the site is slow and the booking system is unwieldy.
There are very few promotional messages selling product and an unintuitive booking system. You go from colourfully named cruise itineraries (‘Beaches and Basilicas’ anyone?) to alphanumerical codes. I failed to book online after trying three times. The booking process makes you jump through too many hoops. Good job there’s a telephone booking line, though the opportunity to improve online conversion is obvious.
The brand and design differentiates Ocean Village, but at the expense of product promotion and online conversion. If this site was restructured on a well-designed content architecture with an easy-to-use booking process, web sales would go through the cabin roof.
Overall score 64/100