Travel website roadtest – Wild West Holiday

We evaluated eight websites while planning a trip to Las Vegas and the Wild West, focusing on design, usability, booking process and content


Visitlasvegas.co.uk


This is the official tourism website of Las Vegas for the UK market.


Design


The site has a black background, which I immediately found quiet oppressive – not the most welcoming of designs. It gave the impression Las Vegas is all about nightlife and seems to ignore the daytime activities the site itself describes (ie. the Grand Canyon).
Score: 15/25


Usability
Content is arranged in a logical manner making finding information easy. There are five main sections – lodging, entertainment, travel planning, travel trade and media. What’s interesting is that the last two of these will not appeal to the vast majority of site visitors – consumers – and I wonder if these would be better off combined into an About Us section. The main conversion points – brochure requests and an e-mail newsletter – are clearly promoted above the fold to the left of the screen. This ‘hot’ area of the screen is where most site visitors will look first, so this is best practice as proven by various eyetracker studies. Overall, the site and its underlying databases of accommodation, attractions and events were fairly easy to use but are let down by the cross-site issue mentioned below.
Score: 20/25


Booking process
As a tourist board site there is no booking engine, so it is hard to award a score here. However, the flights section links off to airline websites and the databases of attractions and accommodation both provide contact details or link off to third-party sites. The ability to book elsewhere is flagged in all the relevant sections.
Score: 12/25


Content
The language used on the site caught my eye – the accommodation section is entitled ‘lodging’. To my mind that’s a very American term to use on a UK-facing site. Much of the content is not, in fact, on the UK site. Instead there are introduction pages with a little text about the topic in question and then links to search forms on the main dotcom site. The depth of content was limited; the attractions database provides a few details of each attraction and links off to their website. Overall, I didn’t feel inspired and the content didn’t engaged me.
Score: 15/25


Total: 62/100



Arizonaguide.com


This site is run by the state of Arizona to promote tourism into the area. There are English, German and Spanish versions.


Design
Arizona Guide’s designers have chosen to employ a combination of panels with different colour backgrounds. This approach works well, making the site easy on the eye. The photos are original – instead of the obvious Grand Canyon photo, the home page features a native Indian women and some desert landscapes. This suggest a desire to promote the state as more than just the Grand Canyon.
Score: 20/25


Usability
One of the best decisions the designers of this site have taken is to divide the content up with simple headings – Where to Go, What to Do etc. It features maps of different areas of the state but, frustratingly, the versions of these accessed by clicking on the overall state map are static and too small to be of use. There is another link beneath the maps to interactive maps that open in new window, and, most annoyingly, these are proceeded by a short video intro. However, the site does offer a LiveChat feature so I could talk to an operator with any questions I had; a great way of engaging with the site audience.
Score: 20/25


Booking process
Like the Las Vegas site there’s no booking engine on Arizona Guide; instead there are databases of accommodation and attractions with accompanying contact details. Instead of specifying prices there is a key in dollars to indicate how expensive a room is – which at first glance is confusing; it looked to me like a database error until I went back a screen and found the explanation.
7/25


Content
The content provided a good overview of what there is to do in Arizona, from the Canyon to the state’s history to cross-country skiing. Like many tourist board websites there was a lack of user-generated content with no personal perspectives on the attractions or accommodation; but this is hardly surprising given the impartial line tourist boards have to tred. The content made me consider visiting the state for more than just the Canyon, so it gets high marks.
Score: 22/25


Total: 69/100



Bellagio.com


The name will be familiar to anybody who has seen Ocean’s 11 or has visited Las Vegas; the Bellagio is part of the MGM group of Las Vegas hotels and has a well-established reputation for luxury.


Design
This site immediately annoyed me. Once I clicked on the ‘enhanced version’ link on the home page (as opposed to the HTML only version) a piece of classical music played loudly on a loop, drowning out the music I was already listening to. If this is the web designer’s idea of how to convey the prestige of the hotel, then he or she needs to think of a career change. Fortunately, clicking a link at the top of the screen spared my ear drums further discomfort, but the impression was already a negative one.
Score: 18/25


Usability
Auditory damage aside, the site itself was easy to use and well designed with an effective colour scheme, high-quality photos and, uniquely, floorplans of the hotel’s rooms and a 360-degree tour of the rooms (using QuickTime). This experience did help restore the site’s image in my mind, providing the sort of well-executed site experience I would have expected from such a prestigious hotel.
Score: 22/25


Booking process
Links to the reservation engine do go to the MGM reservations website in a new window, but that was not a problem. Checking prices, availability and the facilities was easy, and there was as a range of options including rooms, suites and combined flights and accommodation. The booking process was easy, although prices were in dollars and it wouldn’t be that hard to integrate a currency converter, given the international audience the hotel must attract.
Score: 18/25


Content
The content provided a good overview of the hotel and the wider services and entertainment options on offer, including the in-house Cirque du Soleil, the casino itself, meeting rooms and more. All of the written content was accompanied by high-quality photos and, where relevant, 3-D tours. However, content about attractions in the wider Las Vegas area was absent; it felt like visitors were meant to think of the hotel as the only place they needed to go in the city.
Score: 22/25


Total: 80/100



The-grand-hotel-grand-canyon.pacificahost.com


I found this site via the Arizona Guide. The hotel is owned by the Pacifica Host Hotels group, hence the rather long, forgettable URL – an issue which may impact its above-the-line advertising if it uses that URL offline and expects the public to remember it.


Design
The design is simple and functional, but it struck me that the home page text is almost beneath the fold (ie. the site visitor has to scroll to get to it). However, the site’s core functionality, the booking form, is integrated into the home page and clearly above the fold – the first thing I did was check room availability using this before I read any further.
Score: 22/25


Usability
The simple site design and short, focused copy mean the site is easy to use – it does exactly what it should; presents the hotel and offers an easy route to booking without complications – and scores highly as a result. Less is more in this case.
Score: 22/25


Booking process
This is provided by a third-party system, ihotelier.com. It is completed on one screen, with columns for specifying check-in dates, choosing a room and entering payment details. This is a lot to do on one screen. I would hope that this approach has been tested alongside two-three page booking processes and is proven to be the most efficient. There is also the option to book an online special; this was limited to booking a room with a Grand Canyon tour or Imax cinema tickets included. It would have been good to see a wider range of options – flights or transport to Las Vegas.
Score: 18/25


Content
The written content is short in length but does provide a good overview of the amenities at the hotel. The content is well written and to the point, with accompanying photos and videos of the hotel and a photo tour. As the hotel is, in its own words, “the new kid on the block” this may well change. A list of tour guides it recommends is included but, strangely, no contact details – presumably they expect you to book them when at the hotel.
Score: 18/25


Total 80/100



Orbitz.com


Given the current exchange rate it seemed a good cost saving measure to try to book internal flights in the US on a US website, paying in dollars. Orbitz is one of the most popular online agents in the US.


Design
Orbitz is a price-led service; the site design says cheap and cheerful to me – bright colours, a Las Vegas themed sale and the use of language (‘deals’, ‘sale’, ‘save’) that suggests the target audience is price sensitive. The blue box to the left of the screen is no doubt intended to focus the visitor on using the booking engine straight away but, for a split second, I actually though it was an advert over the top of the page because it seemed out of position compared with the rest of the page design.
Score: 18/25


Usability
Full marks for Orbitz; the site is easy to use without distractions or hard to understand functionality. The most time-consuming step was finding the right code for the airports. However, the site had a clear list of codes and the real issue here is the sheer number of airports in the US to begin with.
Score: 25/25


Booking process
The booking engine at Orbitz was pleasantly easy to use, with the option to choose from different products (flights, hotels etc) or combine them. The search results were clearly presented with prices and booking was easy without a long-winded registration process. Top marks for Orbitz.
Score: 25/25


Content
Like most travel aggregators, this website has limited content and is focused instead on providing details of available packages. The attractions section comprises details of available days out, including booking options. There’s enough information to make the site usable, but that’s about it – no customer reviews or advice. No doubt this is in part to keep the site focused on what it does best – providing an easy-to-use booking engine.
Score: 18/25


Total 86/100



Travelocity.com


Like Orbitz, Travelocity.com is a US-focused site that offers flights, hotels and package holidays etc.


Design
The site design suggests Travelocity isn’t as price-led as Orbitz; the choice of images, page layout and photographs suggest the site is about the quality of experience and not just the cheapest deals. However, there are special offers on the home page and text stating that booking hotels and flights together will save you money; so price is obviously still a factor. The page feels a little busy with a search form, links to specific deals, an e-mail sign-up link, RSS feed and an advertising banner for a Yellow Pages website.
Score: 18/25


Usability
The site was as easy to use as Orbitz’s, even if it had a less price-led feel. The only negatives were the slightly pushy cross-selling of hotels (see below) that got in the way of actually booking a flight, and the Yellow Pages advert across the bottom of the home page. That just seemed untargeted.
Score: 20/25


Booking Form
The booking form was as easy to use as Orbitz’s, with the added functionality of being able to search the surrounding airports – a useful feature for finding a reduced cost flight into cities with two airports. In addition to listing flights the site also suggested a combined hotel and flights package. Slightly annoyingly the site tried to push another hotel package after I had selected my flight times, and I had to scroll to the bottom of the page to skip this option – I would have preferred a link at the top of the page, as I had already ignored the earlier hotel offers.
Score: 15/25


Content
The site’s content is fairly sparse, and focused on providing details of what’s for sale, not advice or guides, which isn’t a surprise. Interestingly, when I left the site a pop-up for sister site Lastminute.com opened, suggesting that site might have something to suit my tastes. A good example of a website trying to convert every single visitor, even those who have decided to leave without buying.
Score: 20/25


Total 73/100



Grandcanyontourcompany.com


Claims to be Las Vegas’ number one tour company, offering tours of the city, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.


Design
This site is heavy on the eye – a yellow and orange background with black and red text. The home page is very busy and feels quiet blocky – overall making the site feel a little dated. Rather annoyingly the navigation menus are on the right of the page, a complete contrast to the majority of websites and the expected norm for site design. In addition, the site logo isn’t linked to the home page; a basic navigation aid that users take for granted. There’s also a lot of text on the home page – no doubt this is for search engine optimisation, but it adds to the page clutter.
Score: 10/25


Usability
The overall site design and bizarre choice of putting the navigation menu on the right-hand side make using the site harder than it should be. In addition some of the site content is only available in PDF files, which inevitably slow down the visitor’s browser while Adobe Acrobat loads. This seems hard to justify as other pages have a lot of text upon them.
Score: 10/25


Booking form
The booking options feel hidden away on some pages, located at the bottom of the page, almost as an after thought. It feels like the web designer has had issues integrating the third-party e-commerce service the site uses into the page code – it all feels a little forced together, which doesn’t help build trust.
Score: 10/25


Content
There is some useful content on the site about the different types of tour available in the Grand Canyon area, and this is one of the best features of the website, helping the visitor decide what type of tour to take. There are also a few ‘journal entries’ from past customers, which had limited impact on my decision making – links to user-generated reviews or even photos on a third-party site that the business owners can’t edit would have been more convincing. Overall, it feels like a site in need of a new design and some updating, which has a lot more potential in theory.
Score: 18/25


Total 48/100



WWexpeditions.com


Wild West Expeditions is a specialised tour operator that offers ‘unique’ travel experiences to South Dakota. It also offers customised group tours North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska.


Design
This is a basic brochure website that only presents content. The design is easy enough on the eye, if a little dated when compared to websites in more competitive travel niches. It does the job required, presenting content in an easy-to-use format.
Score: 20/25


Usability
As there is no booking engine on this site it would be hard to get the usability of it wrong; the text is big enough and the menus easy to use. It would be useful if there was a link to content that could be easily printed off, as there is a lot to read on some pages.
Score: 18/25


Booking Process
The site doesn’t currently offer online booking, which isn’t surprising given that there are a limited number of places for tours over a few weeks each year. Contact information was clearly indicated on every page.
Score: 10/25


Content
The site has a lot of well-written, descriptive content that really adds to the visitor experience. This includes day-by-day descriptions of what visitors will be doing and what they will see, which really helps the reader understand what they are paying for. The only missing elements are links to independent reviews from actual customers of the tour (as opposed to brief testimonials hosted by the site itself), but there is enough information to make this a minor point.
Score: 22/25


Total: 70/100



About the test:


Researching travel is one of the most popular uses of the Internet after e-mail and using search engines.


As more travel businesses compete online for customers and traffic costs rise, good site design and usability are becoming more crucial than ever. The sites with the best designs and the highest levels of usability can convert visitors at the highest rate when compared to competitors.


This provides them with a clear competitive advantage; sites that convert visitors at a lower rate cannot afford some of the most expensive traffic sources and will loose out on potential customers as a result.


For this Roadtest I have chosen eight websites that are useful for planning a holiday to Las Vegas and the US Wild West, including the Grand Canyon area.


Instead of choosing eight directly competing websites I have chosen four sites for each destination that cover the whole research cycle – covering destination guides, accommodation, internal flights and activities.


These sites intentionally cover all of the online spectrum, from big budget online travel agents to niche tour operators to provide examples of good design and usability.



About the author:


Duncan Parry is director of strategy and co-founder of Steak Media, a digital marketing agency with search as its core.
Steak Media specialises in search engine marketing, digital media planning and buying and mobile marketing.


Specific digital services include pay per click, search engine optimisation, display, e-mail, affiliates and mobile marketing. The company’s founders – pioneers in paid search in Europe – have experience in international multilingual campaigns, and take pride in delivering high return on investment for their clients using a mix of the most relevant and cost-effective channels.


Steak develops solutions that synchronise digital and traditional media channels to generate greater impact and response from campaigns and maximise client investment.


One of the fastest-growing independent digital agencies in the UK, it is now the second-largest independent search agency in the UK.



Testing criteria:


DESIGN – How does the visual design of the site help the visitor find the information they need to research and book a holiday?


USABILITY – How easy is the site to use? Is the functionality easy to understand, or does it present a barrier to using the site? What could be improved?


BOOKING PROCESS – How easy is it to book via the site?


CONTENT – Does the site content help the visitor make an informed decision? Is any of it user-generated? Does it add to the experience?

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Learn more