Booking travel is a stressful experience for most of us – and one that only a few wonderful/crazy people relish. That said, it pales in comparison to the stress experienced by designers and marketers involved in trying to get this right for the customer.

Do Focus on the Search Box

The Internet is all about tasks. If, for example, you’re looking for hotels, you’re most likely there to find and book a hotel, right? And what better way to find what you’re looking for than through a nice, clear, easy to use search box.

Key features like auto-complete/predictive search, calendars for dates, geo-location options (particularly on mobile) should be included on the main search tool. Airbnb does a great job of this, with large, attractive imagery and videos with the search bar along the bottom, minimising other navigation above the fold.

Airbnb search box

Easy-to-manipulate filters for ratings, price, dates, features/facilities and various ways to sort the results are a must on the results page. Booking.com does this well with price and star rating readily available to alter, with a plethora of additional categorisations and extras ready to expand and filter by.

Booking.com star rating

On top of this, using maps is a logical way for visitors to search out hotels and nearby attractions, and as such is a valuable addition. Expedia make good use of Google Maps to make it easy to view exactly where the hotel is and to get a feel for the surroundings – another important factor in the booking decision.

Expedia Google maps

Basically, getting search working for your customers is a must! Get this right and you’re about half way there.

Do Use Ratings and Reviews

Social proof is a benefit to any site (who’s better to show prospective customers how great you are than your actual customers?), but this is even more pertinent for hotel bookings. Typically, I’d recommend ramming this down people’s throats as much as possible. Lastminute.com does this well with the use of the hotel’s star rating and TripAdvisor reviews on search listings.

lastminute.com social proof

The product pages themselves feature more detail, with the breakdown of the rating by category (e.g. value, location, etc.), together with the five most recent TripAdvisor reviews.

TripAdvisor Reviews

It doesn’t always have to be so in your face, but reviews that people trust are invaluable for supporting the booking. This is why TripAdvisor is so great, providing feedback that many shoppers will heavily rely on to make their decision.

Don’t Try to Hide Bad Reviews

This is more pertinent to hotel owners than aggregator-style booking sites, but it’s really important not to expunge bad reviews – embrace them and make a clear point of using this to improve your service.

Personally, I’m much more trusting of a site with a few bad reviews but with management who (level-headedly) respond to show that they’re working on improving.

Do Inject a Sense of Urgency by Shouting about How Popular Things Are

Stock checks and flash sales are commonplace on retail sites and services like Groupon. This is something that can help to drive conversion rates by creating the sense of urgency about the product – much like a bricks and mortar store not overdoing the stock on the shop floor. You want to appear exclusive, particularly when you’re selling a genuinely popular product!

This can also act as a useful tool for shoppers to help them through the buying process (e.g. cajoling the boyfriend who’s dragging his heels into booking, perhaps). Typically, this could be in the form of the number of remaining rooms, like Lastminute.com have shown here:

Lastminute.com urgency

Similarly, showing the number of people viewing the hotel at the given time, as per LateRooms.com, below and how recently it was last snapped up are both further ways to highlight the popularity (this also plays into the social proofing aspect in number 2!).

LateRooms Number of People Viewing

Don’t Overdo It!

Banner blindness – the tendency to avoid anything that looks too much like an advert – means that anything too garish and in your face runs the risk of turning people off. Spamming too many ‘hurries!’ and ‘nows!’ could risk a negative reaction. Something like ‘get it quick or you’ll regret it till the end of days’ may work brilliantly during testing, but I’d say that this could be overkill and makes the results look overly busy.

Finally, Test It

My number one recommendation for improving website user experience (and almost anything else online, for that matter) is to test out whatever you do! If you do this, you’ll be able to find what works best for your target audience and gradually hone it and refine it into a site that really gets the job done.

These are just a few recommendations for improving user experience and conversion rates on this type of site, and there are many more to consider – I’ve not even touched upon the purchase funnel, for example… watch this space!