Travel website Roadtest – Hotel brands

Travel website Roadtest – Hotel brands

We assessed eight hotel websites on design, navigation, content and online booking to find out which is leading the way on the web


Hilton


Hilton is one of the oldest and best-known brands in the industry. In addition to its named brand, it operates the mid-market ‘Scandic’ brand, which accounts for 142 of Hilton International’s 403 hotels. The company employs more than 71,000 staff in over 80 countries.


Design
On the homepage, the UK site tends to focus on the functional. Few images are present and little indication of the nature of the product is provided at this stage, creating the feeling of a site designed primarily with the corporate market in mind. Hotels sourced through the search functions have a tendency towards distant outside photos, and only when the individual hotel is entered does a user start to get an idea of what a Hilton property is about. The design of the Hilton website suggests that a conscious decision has been made to prioritise functionality over aesthetics.
Score: 11/25


Navigation
The Hilton site scores well for navigation. Considering the amount of information and detail, it is easy to move around. Finding featured properties is simple, as are functional location maps.
Score: 20/25


Content
The Hilton site is full of hotel content, although how and where it is featured is sometimes perplexing. On entering the homepage of a particular property, the details of the rooms as well as the location of the property, look like they have been given the lowest priority because they are based at the bottom of the page. Aside from this, content is generally excellent. The only other grumble is over viewing the ‘Photo Gallery’ link of one particular in property in Germany that I reviewed, from the search results page. It contains no room pictures, even though when you view the full property details, there are perfectly good photos in there. I like to get an idea of the style of rooms before deciding whether to book.
Score: 18/25


Booking process
I ran into some problems during the booking process. Having sourced a hotel in Amsterdam that showed as ‘Available’ for the search, when I tried to book I was told it was no longer available.
Score: 16/25


Total: 65/100



Holiday Inn


Holiday Inn is operated by InterContinental Hotels Group, which claim to have more guest rooms than any other hotel company in the world with more than 540,000. IHG’s stated business plan is to manage and franchise hotels, while normally its business partners own the property itself.


Design
No mistaking the distinctive colour of the Holiday Inn website, although many areas of the site do seem to be well integrated with the overall group and its various brands. This is another site that leans toward functionality, but perhaps this is an integral part of the brand itself.
Score: 15/25


Navigation
The searches are fast and easy, although the apparent default setting to show any property within a 50-mile radius of the desired location is not something I imagine will appeal to all. Nevertheless, the focus on clearly showing property locations does score well, along with phone numbers for each hotel. However, it’s a shame that when you click on ‘Hotel Search’ it only brings up a map of the UK. This area of the site does not seem to work so well if you wish to travel anywhere outside of the UK.
Score: 12/ 25


Content
The amount of content in the Holiday Inn site is outstanding. Numerous high-quality photographs, amenities, directions and even nearby attractions are all presented in a useful way, giving potential customers all of the information they could need. My only gripe is in the ‘Hotel Home’ area where the text of the description seems to float randomly between bold and normal text, which is not very appealing to the user. Still, top marks
for content.
Score: 22/25


Booking process
Despite the slightly clunky search process, the booking process is easy, well thought out and nicely presented. No problems with this area.
Score: 20/25


Total: 69/100



Marriott


Marriott International is a well-known brand with US headquarters. It has nearly 2,800 lodging properties in 70 countries.


Design
Much better. The Marriott homepage is spread right across the full width of the page, which instantly creates a good impression. Plenty more imagery immediately grabs the visitor’s attention and a strong sense of brand is established within seconds.
Score: 21/25


Navigation
Marriott scores well for navigation too. It has a box to enter which US state you wish to visit, which is a shame because to me it suggests that the UK (and other) sites are an afterthought. Sites such as this should customise their country pages so this irrelevant area is not shown. Generally, navigation around the site is excellent. Others could learn a lot about the well-located keyword search, which makes finding what you are looking for simple. Establishing the location of each property took a bit longer, but help is readily available with call-centre phone numbers on each page.
Score: 20/25


Content
All of the information one could possibly wish for. The user gains a clear perception of what kind of property the company offers. In addition to the vast number of pictures, amenity details and descriptions, high scores too for the hotel leaflets in various languages. I am not sure why it was felt the ‘Printable Hotel Fact Sheet’ should run to four pages as I am sure that one would do. Nevertheless, it is hard to fault this site on content.
Score: 22/25


Booking process
It couldn’t all be good. A six-step reservation process is just a bit too many these days. Furthermore, I brought some room types up through an ‘Availability Search’ only to be told they were not
available when I tried to book. The amount of information is still excellent and cancellation terms are well communicated. However, there is little indication of the hotel policies toward children and so the site is not well designed for family reservations. Finally, I found a few too many rooms showing the price excluding tax. We Brits like our prices inclusive and I found this frustrating.
Score: 11/25


Total: 74/100



Novotel


Novotel is one of the ‘mid-scale’ brands within the Accor Group. It accounts for 412 hotels based in 56 countries, although the group in total offers nearly 4,000 properties.


Design
The Novotel site creates a good first impression. Plenty of the company’s trademark blue colour is shown, and the homepage is well designed. The text is spread out, creating an uncluttered look. Good use of colour is made for the icons and special deals.
Score: 18/25


Navigation
Searching for properties is an easy process. However, many of the location maps do not appear to be of a high quality and I certainly would not want to use them for exact details. Finally, the company appears keen to avoid taking too many phone calls judging by how well hidden any numbers are. Despite the rising number of online bookings, many companies still acknowledged that numerous people will always wish to speak with someone before committing to a paid booking.
Score: 13/25


Content
Content is very good. Each hotel is neatly summarised on its own homepage and this is backed by plenty of details on amenities and services. Lots of pictures allow the client to get an excellent idea of each hotel. The level of detail on the hotel maps is not great, and the fact they are shown as pop-ups becomes annoying. They could go that extra mile in terms of more details on tourist information and the presentation of this. However, overall Novotel content is hard to fault.
Score: 21/25


Booking process
While the booking process is quite simple, there are too many steps involved. I often found rates that did not include breakfast or tax, even though they were compulsory within the particular rate type. This produces a lack of clarity. Furthermore, prices are prominently displayed on search results pages but only upon closer inspection is it clear the rate shown may only apply during some of the stay and not every night. Having already entered the date and length of stay, the site should be clearer on the total price.
Score: 15/25


Total: 67/100



Hyatt


The Hyatt Corporation is a Chicago-based hotel group that offers 215 branded Hyatt hotels, based in 43 countries worldwide. The company offers higher-end accommodation and is currently developing a number of hotels and resorts, particularly in Asia.


Design
Another homepage that makes full use of the width of the page, seemingly allowing better use of space. The images used are nice and clearly place the brand – although the page is a bit static, with no rolling images or news bar. This theme continues throughout the site.
Score: 15/25


Navigation
The Hyatt site is not overly complicated, which means navigation is simple and straightforward. I am not convinced that it is necessary to include separate hotel search options by various kinds of Internet connection. It seems that as most Hyatts offer this facility, the client ends up with an alphabetical list of its properties in every country. Surely it would be better to simply include this information when a hotel has been sourced? Contact telephone numbers are fairly easy to find, while location maps are excellent.
Score: 17/25


Content
Top marks to Hyatt for its content. The Virtual Tour and Locations Maps are all of high quality and good to see. The Photo Tour is excellent, although it’s another site where this is contained in a separate window, and users must click through every photograph rather than picking the parts of the hotel they want to see. This may well be deliberate though as the photographs are extremely good, although strangely well-hidden when a user clicks through on each ‘Visit Hotel Site’ from the search results page.
Score: 21/25


Booking process
The booking area is easy to find. The prices are well laid out and very clear, with additional requirements such as children sharing with parents all seamlessly taken into account. Restrictions and cancellation policies are clearly detailed.
Score: 23/25


Total: 76/100



Millennium


Millennium and Copthorne hotels plc is a group that owns, manages and/or operates more than 100 hotels worldwide. The group is the youngest of the sites being reviewed and has 10 properties in Europe.


Design
The homepage is actually the first to be ‘centred’ in the middle of the webpage itself, which creates a newspaper column feel when navigating through the site. Millennium uses beige colours and plenty of images to establish the feel of the site, and the overall effect is a pleasing look aimed at the higher end of the market.
Score: 19/25


Navigation
The site clearly shows what products the Millennium group offers although its job is that bit easier given the number of hotels on sale. Customers must make sure they choose the discreet tab ‘Find a Hotel’ if they actually wish to review the property before buying, because once you embark on an availability search no further opportunity is provided. Location maps for each hotel are only available in the ‘Contact Us’ section for each property and this may not be clear to all users. Overall, navigation is good.
Score: 16/25


Content
Millennium’s site has reasonable content although it falls short of the standard set by some other sites. Little effort is made to indicate what local attractions might interest travellers, while the quality of the maps is not high. Many online hotel sites now prefer to offer mapping solutions from third-party specialists, which provide the option to zoom in or out and gain a better understanding of a hotel’s exact location.
Score: 14/25


Booking process
One of the fastest-booking processes reviewed and the number of steps before gaining a confirmation is kept to a minimum. I could not find any mention of child prices, or opportunity to book children with parents, so the site could do with some improvement towards family bookings. Some hotels don’t appear to offer rates with breakfast included, while in others the amount of rate types available is a little too extensive.
Score: 19/25


Total: 68/100



Best Western


Best Western International claim to be the world’s largest hotel chain. It offers more than 4,000 hotels in 80 countries worldwide, 290 of which are based in the UK. All properties are independently owned and managed, allowing for a large range of properties to be offered from city hotels to beach resorts.


Design
Creating a strong brand is tricky for Best Western due to the sheer scale of product on offer. Nevertheless, the homepage is another where information is centred in the middle of the page. Lots of colour is used as well as a variety of different images and this communicates a wide-ranging product in a pleasing way.
Score: 22/25


Navigation
My main complaint was that if you make the mistake of logging into the .co.uk website then you may be fooled into thinking that Best Western only offers UK hotels because there is no way of searching for any other properties. If you need any other location then you must enter the .com site. Aside from this, the site is fairly easy to navigate although there is no good map search facility.
Score: 17/25


Content
Just about all information that a customer could need is provided. The site could do more to include details of local tourist attractions, particularly as a significant amount of its client base will be leisure guests. Some of the area maps appear unclear, but the interactive maps are excellent and the link to a local weather forecast is a nice touch. A shame that the number of photographs for each property varies greatly, along with the quality.
Score: 18/25


Booking process
Hotel availability is only checked at a relatively late stage and no alternatives are offered if the particular hotel and search proves to be unavailable. Numerous different rate categories came up on some searches and I couldn’t help but feel that some of these were unnecessary. At one hotel I searched for a single room for three nights and was presented with 25 different price plans. Aside from this, the booking process seems logical enough and family bookings are well catered for on the system.
Score: 15/25


Total: 72/100



Thistle


Thistle is a well-known UK hotel brand and offers 47 hotels across the country, including 18 in London.


Design
The Thistle site appears to be on the functional side. It is logically presented but a bit bland and static. Some of the images used are too small to be useful in establishing a style; however, all of the expected areas are included in a clear fashion.
Score: 15/25


Navigation
Customers must be careful to use the ‘Hotel Finder’ icon on the left side if they wish to review a property. Using the main search function in the middle of the homepage will not allow this option and only gives availability and pricing. We tried to enter the ‘Thistle Auctions’ section but apparently this scheme ended nearly two months ago, which begs the question, why it is still featured? The site generally has good navigation although it is quite a long process to find the interactive maps for each individual property, which is the only way of establishing the exact property location.
Score: 16/25


Content
The quality and number of photographs were the poorest we encountered, which is a shame as overall the amount of content is quite good. It was good to see the ‘Local Guide’ icon for each hotel, although at a couple of properties this did not work, while at others the information was very general and of limited use. The interactive maps are very fast and useful, although the lack of details on each hotel’s rooms was disappointing.
Score: 13/25


Booking process
If a customer knows which hotel they want, then Thistle’s booking process is amongst the fastest available. I am uncertain why so many hotel sites choose to show consumers extensive details of rack rates available when much better-priced deals with equally flexible conditions are also available, but Thistle is not alone in featuring these. Prices are fairly clear, although family bookings are not well catered for online due to the lack of information about child pricing.
Score: 17/25


Total: 61/100



About the test:


Major hotel chains are becoming ever-more focused on winning direct bookings from the consumer via their own website. The website and online booking process provide the opportunity to introduce potential guests to the concept, pricing and overall experience on offer, long before they have even arrived for their stay. The brand itself can be developed considerably at this early stage, if the correct balance of content, design, ease of navigation and price is addressed effectively.


But the major hotel groups operating in Europe face a number of challenges if they are to attract a substantial amount of their business this way. The European market differs markedly from that of North America, where chain hotels account for a majority of properties. Europe is packed full of independent properties, many of which can arguably offer a more ‘localised’ experience for the potential passenger.


Furthermore, operators and online retailers are becoming highly sophisticated in their own Internet solution. They will always be able to offer a wider range of accommodation to the consumer, in addition to other travel products. Many have spent years developing their brand and online user experience.



Testing criteria:


DESIGN – How appealing is the overall look of the website? Does it provide a strong and attractive brand that is likely to appeal to the potential client? How successfully does the site develop a strong image from the moment the customer is engaged?


NAVIGATION – How well does the site show what products are offered and how easy is it for a customer to establish their location? Are help and explanations readily available to avoid losing a confused user? How well does the site navigation process work and is it fast?


CONTENT – Content is king right? How much information does the website provide and will it give the consumer the confidence to pay online?


BOOKING PROCESS – How many steps are involved in the booking process? Does the site effectively communicate prices and deals on offer, as well as any restrictions that may apply?



The author:


Robert Turner is head of the business development team at Travco. After initial spells in contracting and sales at Travco, Rob started the business development department in 2001. His team is responsible for communicating with the company’s global client base, competitive and internal performance analysis, content delivery, key account support as well as providing direction in overall strategy. He still works closely with the sales team, particularly in the Asian, North American, South American and UK markets.


Travco has emerged in recent years as a world-leading wholesaler of hotel space to the travel industry. The company controls a vast amount of hotel space that it distributes in real-time to more than 1,000 airlines and tour operators globally, including many of the industry’s leading and most successful companies.

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