Considering that 59% of people rank ease of use as the most influential factor in whether they make a purchase on a travel website, travel and hospitality firms have a great opportunity to boost sales by enhancing the user experience (UX). And don’t forget the increased profits that come from repeat customers; 47% of people report that a positive prior experience leads them purchase online again.

(For more research findings on how people plan and make travel purchases online, check out the infographic, “Moving Travelers From Look to Book,” at the bottom of this post.)

Sabina Idler

To gather ideas for how to deliver the ultimate customer experience, we talked to UX expert Sabina Idler, Community Manager/UX Specialist at Usabilla, a globally respected usability startup that helps companies collect feedback on their live websites. Usabilla has worked with travel and hospitality companies like Disney, Easy to Book, Booking.com, and Despegar, as well as conducted insightful research on UX in the travel sector.

Q: What are the core components of a good user experience on a travel booking website?

A: Several factors contribute to the experience people have when visiting a website. First of all, there is the basic availability and functionality of the site that allow visitors to reach their goals, such as finding information, or booking a trip. Then, there is the usability that allows users to reach their goals not only effectively, but also efficiently and without much hassle. If these premises are met, a good user experience can be created through emotional design.

Emotional design appeals to a target group on an emotional level, building a trusting relationship. Components of emotional design are:

  • Personality, which creates a feeling of authenticity and builds trust.
  • Visual elements, which can trigger positive associations and awake desires.
  • Interactive elements, which can be fun and unusual.
  • Engagement, which is important to connect with visitors and have them tell others about their experience.

Q: What is one way travel firms can better leverage data to make it easier for customers to book a trip, rent a car, etc., online?

A: Travel website, like any other ecommerce site, can help their visitors by saving data, such as search criteria. For example, if I initiate my search with the country Spain, chances are good that I really do want to go to Spain, right. So even if I start several searches with different cities, the country should be remembered and offered as default
value.

Also common default values can make life easier. When booking a weekend trip, selecting an arrival date and then either one or two nights is much more intuitive than defining the actual departure date. Also, additional information, such as activities, or special offers related to search criteria makes content much more relevant and user-centered. Targeted marketing strategies can also help to remind visitors of their search, or purchase, and get them to return to your site for further enquiries.

Q: Between social sharing tools, reviews/ratings, and other content-related features, websites are cramming more onto their pages than ever. How can travel firms avoid clutter without stripping away details people like?

A: The central questions here are:

  • Which info is important to help visitors reach their goals quickly?
  • What gets visitors engaged, who don’t know what they want yet?

For both questions, it is important to do thorough user research and identify the people, who are going to visit the site. Then, it is important to get to know this user group in order to find out what their goals are and how they go about solving them. The best thing to do is to interview potential users, or invite them to focus groups, and ask them about their goals and motivations. Also, you should perform both open and closed card sorting sessions to learn how to structure your content in a way that makes sense to the future user.

Based on that knowledge, you can start to build first prototypes and create user scenarios. Invite users to participate in user tests to check if you did a good job translating user requirements into an appealing design. If not, go back and make revisions. Integrating the user into the design process from the very beginning helps you to makes sure you know what people expect on your site and which elements are important on the first, second, or even third level of your content structure.

For the second question, you need to be creative yourself and come up with ideas that you think might attract your visitors’ attention, trigger their emotions, awake positive associations, and evoke desires. Then invite people to test your ideas. Implement them only if they work. If they don’t, go back and do some more brainstorming.

The key to relevant information is to test, test, and test again.

Q: How are mobile and tablet devices affecting travel firms’ ability to deliver a consistently good user experience?

A: Mobile devices affect the use experience of any website. Different devices require a different way of thinking. People will browse your website according to their very specific needs and goals, and not to mention their unique context of use. One user might visit the desktop version of your site, browsing patiently, hoping to find a special bargain for his weekend trip. At the same time, someone else might be using his smartphone to look up the exact name and address of the hotel he has booked. Two different scenarios, two  goals, two devices, but only one website to meet both needs.

To make sure you offer the best possible user experience for all devices, you need to think your website through for these different scenarios. Also keep in mind that the way we interact with desktop and mobile devices differ. While we use keyboard shortcuts and a very defined mouse pointer to navigate through a website on one device, we have nothing more than our fingers on the other.

Besides the different interaction, there is also the considerable difference in available screen real estate on different devices. You will want to clearly prioritized your content for mobile use. While the desktop version can display a lot of content at once, for smaller screens you need to know exactly what matters.

Last but not least, you should keep in mind that mobile devices are likely to use mobile Internet. Optimize your content for quick loading times and make sure the most relevant content loads first.