The online travel industry is big business. In a recent report, The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) found that four in five people in Britain chose to book their holidays online in 2018.
Effective UX and great content design makes life easier for travellers looking to book a great value holiday online without the hassle of a longwinded and frustrating customer journey. So, I’ve compiled a list of excellent content design and UX features from a variety of popular travel websites and will explain why they work so well.
Interestingly, 86% of those who booked a holiday online in 2018 used a PC or laptop to confirm their booking, according to Statista. This is despite an average 24% of all touchpoints being mobile while researching travel destinations. My examples will include a mixture of mobile and desktop features to reflect these findings.
Before I begin, I’d like to give an honourable mention to TripAdvisor and AirBnb for their continuously outstanding UX, but for fear of repeating ourselves here at Econsultancy please forgive their absence from the list on this occasion.
1. Booking.com’s accessibility filters
Faceted navigation in ecommerce is rarely exciting, but when it comes to best practice, booking.com is unparalleled among industry competitors.
At the time of writing, there are 24 filter categories on its desktop site, from expected classifications like star rating and budget to preferred hotel chains and distance from nearby landmarks. You can even filter specifically for ‘Genius’ properties – those eligible for discounts in the loyalty programme.
It is particularly worth noting the number of accessibility options available, too, which are unfortunately still a rare sight on many other travel websites.
The breadth of options is invaluable to those with precise requirements. Customers can whittle down properties that meet their demands without needing to contact hoteliers separately to double check or make special requests.
However, if you’re casually browsing, it’s understandable that some might find the sheer amount of choice overwhelming, which is likely the reason that a slightly more condensed version appears on the booking.com mobile app, for the smaller screen,
2. Skyscanner’s cookie choices and price alerts
While cookies can have their pitfalls, they can be great time savers upon returning to a website.
Most of the travel websites I tested had saved my last search and automatically applied it to the search bar so I could pick up where I left off previously. Although this isn’t unusual, it’s a very useful feature that reduces the need for users to input search terms, filters and dates repeatedly over time.
I particularly appreciated the clear cookie notice offered by Skyscanner when I first entered their mobile site, with tiered options I could select or deselect based on my preferences.
Skyscanner offered a ‘price alert’ pop-up after clicking through to compare flights. By connecting easily with their Google, Facebook or email accounts, customers are kept regularly informed of the fluctuations in price for the dates and locations they have searched for. This functionality makes it faster for the user to return to their place after a break from the site, skipping pain points that might deter them from purchasing in the future.
4. Skyscanner’s clearly-labelled sponsored listings
With the thousands of results comparison websites dig up in just one search alone, it’s important that users can find the results they want without being duped by sneakily-placed sponsored listings.
One of my favourite elements of Skyscanner’s UX is its transparency. Namely, that sponsored search results are clearly labelled as such, which elevates trust between the brand and its users.
This is where countless other websites, particularly within the travel industry, fall down, as a recent report by the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) highlights. The report explicitly names Expedia, Booking.com and Agoda, among others, and proposes the following changes to industry standards:
- “Making it clearer how hotels are ranked after a customer has entered their search requirements…
- “Not giving a false impression of the availability or popularity of a hotel or rushing customers into making a booking decision based on incomplete information…
- “Being clearer about discounts and only promoting deals that are actually available at that time…
- “Displaying all compulsory charges such as taxes, booking or resort fees in the headline price. Sites can still break that price down, but the total amount the customer has to pay should always be shown upfront.”
This context is why I found the clarity on Skyscanner’s results page so refreshing.
5. Booking.com’s loyalty programme
The gamification that comes hand in hand with loyalty schemes can encourage long-term brand loyalty by offering perks and discounts to their most engaged customers.
Let’s turn to Booking.com for this first example. Although we can probably agree it’s not the prettiest website around, it has a loyalty scheme that keeps me coming back for more.
Here’s a look at my logged-in account dashboard on the mobile app displaying my loyalty status (‘Genius Level’).
Genius Level 2 grants a 15% discount, free breakfast and the occasional free room upgrade on selected properties. This is, in fact, the highest reward level on the site, with the user needing to have booked and stayed at five places within the past two years to qualify. It is the hoteliers themselves that bear the brunt of these Genius discounts (in addition to their commission fee) in exchange for a higher ranking on the site, which could explain the scheme’s modest rewards. However, the perks are good enough for me to revisit any time I’m looking to book my next break.
Note that Booking.com inspires further interaction through the completion of account profiles and by asking its users to post reviews of past stays. The brand has also joined forces with third party loyalty scheme Avios, allowing customers to collect four Avios points for every pound spent on the Booking.com website, regardless of their Genius level.
6. Virgin’s ‘essential information’
Holiday giant Virgin is especially customer-centric when it comes to choosing the information it displays to its site visitors.
Something they will particularly value is a section in their destination pages titled ‘essential information’, which offers a glimpse at local time, currency, language, flight information, tips on getting around and visa requirements.
This insight helpfully prompts customers to consider other aspects of their trip that they’ll also need to plan for once they have booked. For more tropical destinations, information about average temperature and rainfall is also added.
7. Virgin’s influencer-inspired imagery and copy
Anyone who’s ever been on Instagram will know the popularity of travel influencers and the beautiful images of the destinations they visit. This has driven a noticeable increase in quality of images and other graphic elements across many travel agency and comparison websites. Great visual design impacts user experience by capturing and holding attention, while also providing a professional, trustworthy aesthetic.
The slick design we all know and love from the Virgin brand is ever-present on its Holidays website. I really enjoyed the scrolling experience on the desktop homepage below the fold, particularly the ‘Destinations we love’ section.
I loved the use of typefaces here, placed over some spectacular photography that really draws the eye. I was also pleased to see some of Virgin’s infamous wit within the introductory copy (‘Cuba – Discover a truly revolutionary holiday’).
8. Skyscanner’s considerate cross-selling
User experience must, first and foremost, be designed with the end user’s needs, questions and problems in mind. Balancing this with upselling, good conversion rates and high order values can be a delicate task.
Skyscanner demonstrates clear consideration for its customers by placing ad-style images on the right-hand side bar of its desktop website. These ‘ads’ promote Skyscanner hotels and car hire in a way of upselling that’s genuinely useful for the customer whilst also not intruding on or distracting from their current booking activity.
9. Kayak’s dynamic content
Comparison website Kayak employs dynamic results as part of its engaging interactive map feature. Detecting my current location as a starting point, the website calculated hundreds of the best prices for flights to destinations across the world, visualising them on the map. I could then simply change my preferences on the top toolbar, such as dates, length of flights and budget, and the visuals would update according to my selections.
A pop-up sidebar on the desktop site even suggested relevant seasonal events, such as pride celebrations, starting from the closest destination to my location, and then sorting by date.
10. EasyJet’s tutorials
Simply assuming a user can navigate your site easily is a big UX faux pas. Instead, rigorous testing is the best way to ensure customers can find the information they need quickly and painlessly, otherwise brands can expect high abandonment and bounce rates.
The easyJet Holidays search tutorial, pictured below, is a prime example of successful UX testing by keeping its customers’ needs in mind. The mobile and desktop sites picked up that it was the first time I’d used their search functions, so it made sure to clearly point out the filter and sort options on the toolbar.
I appreciated the explicit effort on the part of the brand to make my search experience clearer and simpler. After all, not everyone instinctively knows where to look for or how to use filters, which is why many of its customers will welcome this tutorial feature.
11. Skyscanner’s tooltips
Customers can also make use of the handy tool tips on Skyscanner results pages to find out more details about each listing, for example dates of arrival and any layover locations if unrecognised from their abbreviations. This feature ensures all information is kept in one place in an uncluttered fashion, whilst reducing the necessity for users to go searching on the wider site for answers.
12. Virgin’s special offers
On any given hotel landing page, Virgin displays a list of special offers recommending various upcoming dates, departure locations and trip durations with the best value prices. This certainly avoids having to faff around inputting dates into a calendar repeatedly to find the best deals – perfect for those who are flexible.
13. EasyJet’s integrated social proof
Reviews and other user generated content can capture truthful and transparent opinions, photographs and ratings from verified travellers on which others can base their purchase decisions.
We’re returning to easyJet Holidays, which integrates TripAdvisor reviews into its interface. Users can glimpse a summary of a hotel’s TripAdvisor rating straight from the search results or click on the ‘reviews’ tab on each landing page. Although not as comprehensive as scrolling directly through TripAdvisor – you can only read the five most recent reviews – it allows customers to access social proof without needing to leave the page.
In contrast, Secret Escapes encourages users to explore user generated content by clicking on external links to TripAdvisor and the hotel’s main website among others. This is also likely for good reason – despite users being directed away from the booking process, it keeps the landing pages relatively spacious whilst simultaneously bringing attention to what the travel company considers are the main points of interest.
It is unsurprising in both these instances that TripAdvisor was the review source of choice. It would be hard for any travel website to compete with the level of social proof the travel website provides.
15. Secret Escapes’ product photos
Perhaps predictably for a luxury travel brand, Secret Escapes features impressive visuals. Clicking through to the ‘design collection’, customers are met with a lovely clean page, bringing all the focus onto the photography for each property (which were already selected for their visual appeal).