If you joined us at the Direct Booking Summit in Paris earlier this month, you may well have met our Product Designer, Chris Hastings-Spital. In addition to our usual team of Direct Booking Coaches offering one-to-one training, Chris was on hand to help hoteliers understand some key principles in UX and how to apply them on a shoestring budget. Luckily for us, he also found a bit of time to hear some of our amazing programme of industry-leading speakers, and wrote up his key learnings from the event. So, what takeaways did our designer pick up at the Direct Booking Summit? Read on to find out…
Website experience is a focus for hospitality industry leaders
The guest experience on a hotel's own website is a key factor in conversion - and no-one knows that better than a designer like me. Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised to see this view shared by so many hoteliers, industry veterans and innovative trailblazers at this year's Direct Booking Summit in Paris.
From the outset, I was encouraged by how some of the most prominent names in the industry were prioritizing their website experience. In an interactive discussion on how to prioritize a direct booking budget, Triptease co-founder, Charlie Osmond, Starwood’s Joe Pettigrew and CEO of D-EDGE, Pierre-Charles Grob, highlighted website experience as one of their top areas to focus on, and this set the tone for the remainder of the conference.
To help hotels get started on improving their own UX design, I've put together some of my key takewaways from the Direct Booking Summit, along with a download of the working document I provided during coaching sessions that gives actionable advice to help enforce user-centred processes.
Personalization is way more than “Hi, [NAME]!”
Eduardo Barea, an AB Testing and Personalization Specialist at NH Hotels, spoke on how understanding your customer and delivering what they want to see can increase your revenue per visitor, revenue per customer and conversion rate.
In my coaching sessions with hoteliers, we spoke about the journey of a typical user. If they arrive on a hotel website from a metasearch or an online travel agent, it’s likely they already know quite a bit of basic information about your hotel. The website should then focus on showcasing the experience your hotel offers. This should be targeted at that typical user and what you know they want to see.
Geneviève Materne from Hyatt Hotels Corporation delivered a fascinating talk on measuring third parties and their value. She challenged hoteliers to “understand who your average guest is” and to “profile your average guest. Then, for everything that falls out of this category, find third parties to help.”
Personalization becomes scalable and efficient with a careful use of data. When discussing meta bidding, Charlie Osmond explained that “when it’s 3pm on the West Coast and people in LA are considering your property, it’s peak time, but 3pm in LA is certainly not 3pm in Rome — the likelihood of someone from Rome booking at that time is really low. You want to be personalizing your bidding all the time based on this data.”
Simplify your website
Another common theme was the idea of delivering less content, but making it more engaging to win over your direct bookers. I noticed that many of the hotel websites I audited had a chaotic and vast website navigation. Sub-menus, chunky footers and hamburger menus were common.
Miller’s law states that the number of objects an average human can hold in their short-term memory is seven - plus or minus two - which makes huge menus a challenge for users to comprehend. Some studies even claim that ‘working memory’ is only three or four items - so website managers should be simplifying their navigation right down to help drive engagement.
A common misconception in web design is that ‘everything is important’, but as soon as you give users a complicated range of choices they are subject to decision paralysis and will eventually give up. Creating focus in your navigation provides a better experience by helping your potential customers decide what they want to do next.
This idea of keeping things simple and efficient was explored further in William Koo and Dr Wendy Lam’s high energy presentation about the SMART technique to building a hotel website; Speed, Minimalistic, Aesthetic, Responsive and Technically advanced. By keeping the visual appeal (aesthetic) of a high standard and the website size low, they managed to reduce their bounce rate by 96%.
‘Website speed’ should apply to both technical speed and your user’s ability to perform core tasks. This means you should work on making your site load with efficient quickness, as well as focus on reducing the effort your guests are required to make. Your website should be an extension of your brand, and ‘cluttered, laborious and confusing’ isn’t a good first impression.
Draw your visitors in by doing the hard bit for them — de-prioritize (or remove) your worst performing pages and focus on your best ones.
Knowing what people want is more than analytics
The real key to effective improvements on your websites is understanding your guests. That understanding is drawn out in two main ways: qualitative and quantitative.
A good hotelier will check and analyze their data from a number of sources. This helps them gain an understanding of what is working and what isn’t, but truly knowing your guests takes more than data. That’s where user research comes in.
The misconception about user research is that it requires someone skilled and formally trained to do it properly. Sure, having an experienced researcher will speed up your analysis or provide the capability to run a much larger test, but anyone can ‘interview’ a guest and gain valuable insight from it. In fact, a qualitative research study can be successful with only one participant.
Another common mishap is that many hotels hire agencies to provide research during large website overhauls, but neglect to iterate once the work is live. In reality, much of the work that will improve the quality of your website will come after you launch it. No website should ever be considered 100% complete during the launch. To ingrain this ongoing design process into your business, try to get your whole team thinking like a designer. That means empathizing with your target audience, designing for them, testing, evaluating and then iterating continuously.
To bake this design process into your team, synthesize their knowledge of your user groups into specific personas. These are great for focusing your team around the guests who matter most to your business. They can be used ubiquitously to help iterate on everything from web flows, to writing appealing advertising or even prioritizing your marketing spend. Ready to give it a try? You can find a sample persona in my Worksheet Pack which you can download below.