Peter Matthews – Site Seeing: Luxury hotels

A new year and new trips to book. I, like the growing masses, don’t think twice about searching and booking online for something as prosaic as a hotel room in London. So, being a dedicated luxe-trotter, I wanted to up my serotonin level with some pampering and tapped ‘five-star luxury hotel London’ into Google.


I was surprised to see seven out of the top 10 results were individual hotels who have edged aside, quite literally, many of the previously dominant portals, who now have to pay for their clicks in the right-hand column. It would seem Google doesn’t think portals can be all things to all men any more.


From the results listing I decided to ignore Claridge’s, The Dorchester and Luxury Explorer. This was counter-intuitive but I can’t review our own clients and partners can I? So I pick: The Landmark, The Milestone and The Hempel.


Each of these independent hotels performed well in natural listings, as do the aforementioned luxury greats.


Never before has it been easier for an independent hotel to project its brand to the public and generate direct, full-margin revenue online. No wonder travel agents are having such a tough time.


Before Christmas there were nights when you couldn’t book a good hotel in London; everywhere was sold out. It was nuts, but a yield manager’s dream.


Single occupancy rooms in a top-notch hotel went for £600 on at least one night. In January and February it’s all a bit different, so let’s find out how successful the three search engine stars were at converting my interest into a booking…



The-Hempel.co.uk


The Hempel is the brainchild of serial boutique hotelier Anouska Hempel. The London-based designer has worked on a number of high-end properties such as Blakes (London and Amsterdam) and the Warapura in Bahia, Brazil.


Design
The Hempel is described as ‘an architectural statement in original design and luxury’. It is, but its website is not. Only the meanly sized photographs begin to communicate the chic minimalism on offer.
Score 14/25


Usability
This website stretches its ‘square’ idea too far, creating a fundamental problem. On the web this means a square letterbox you have to peer through, limiting the size of the text on the primary navigation and the size of the images. Links are barely visible, non-resizable and therefore not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act. As well as being slow to load, there are several aspects that hinder easy orientation – the room sections are titled ‘Reservations’ and if you click on ‘More information’ you are presented with a different navigation bar.
Score 12/25


Content
In terms of content, the site ticks most of the boxes and also contains comprehensive menus and floorplans. However, the website’s most powerful assets are the virtual tours – but these would be far more effective if they were more prominent, rather than concealed in the ‘Events’ section.
Score 20/25


Revenue generation
The (iHotelier Flash version) booking engine has been designed to save time by including everything on one page – this is counterproductive as booking becomes fiddly and confusing. The site enjoys a prominent position for a highly competitive search term, yet it would convert a lot more visitors if it was quicker, more inspiring and offered a more intuitive booking engine.
Score 14/25


Verdict
A stunning hotel with a disappointing website. The landscape designer of the beautiful Zen garden could have done better.


Overall score 60/100



Landmarklondon.co.uk


The property opened in 1899 as the Great Central Hotel, opposite Marylebone station in London. Its owners had grand plans for the property to stand as the gateway to London for passengers arriving from the continent via a cross-channel railway. The hotel was bought by a Japanese company in 1986 and a major renovation project began, ahead of its reopening in 1993 and subsequent renaming to The Landmark in 1995.


Design
The splash page has the look of an American hotel, jerkily depicting the hotel’s lavish Victorian façade and soaring internal atrium. The website at large is even less impressive, particularly the quality of the graphics – the primary headings are so pixelated they make you nostalgic about your old ZX Spectrum.
Score 14/25


Usability
Just like The Hempel’s site, this is slow to load; it seems that the use of Flash has impaired the website’s speed, if not its search engine visibility. Secondary navigation is strangely located in the bottom right of each page, and is easy to miss on first glance.
Score 14/25


Content
The site covers everything from civil partnerships, weddings, conferences  to Jewish celebrations and the content is spread out over several different pages. This may have had a positive impact on the site’s page rank, yet the need to constantly click is not helped by the sluggish load time.
Score 17/25


Revenue generation
The booking page is the most gobsmacking I’ve ever seen. It pops up and kicks you between the eyes with every imaginable option presented on one scrolling page. Unfortunately, the visual reference to the room you’re booking is right at the bottom. Interesting, but how well does it work?
Score 16/25


Verdict
Attention-grabbing at first, but ultimately unwieldy.


Overall score 61/100



Milestonehotel.com


This property has been named by some reviewers as one of the top five hotels in London. The Milestone is located in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea and is actually two grand Victorian houses that were renovated in the 1920s into a luxury hotel. A major and mysterious fire severely damaged the hotel in 1986 and it then fell into disrepair until 1998, when the Red Carnation group bought the company and refurbished the entire property. It now comprises 45 rooms and 12 suites.


Design
This site has a decidedly ‘small corporate’ feel to it, with little to capture the imagination and too many small images. It is, on the other hand, clean and legible. An ill-advised inclusion is the animated advert for ‘Wine dinners at the Milestone’ – this and other clip art ads cheapen the propositions. The template of the special offers section clashes with the rest of the site.
Score 15/25


Usability
The Milestone’s is by far the quickest site out of the three, and structurally the most rational at top level. The logic breaks down occasionally, such as the ‘Health and fitness’ section appearing in ‘Accommodation’. Secondary links for the individual rooms are perhaps slightly too concealed. Download time is slowest when viewing special offers, which are hosted at iHotelier. 
Score 17/25


Content
There’s a fair amount of content to browse, including destination guides and extensive room details such as floorplans and image galleries, if you can spot the links. Refreshingly, the destination section recommends local restaurants other than those owned by the hotel.
Score 18/25


Revenue generation
Fatefully, this site uses the same iHotelier booking engine providers as The Hempel, and while it’s better implemented it’s never going to get my vote.
Score 15/25


Verdict
Functional, but blander than the actual hotel experience


Overall score 65/100

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