I love to travel, it’s one of the primary reasons why I decided to become a digital nomad. The flexibility to live and work wherever I’d like, unconstrained by accrued PTO and a cubicle is liberating. But as much as I love to roam about, I absolutely hate the thought of making travel plans – it’s a necessary evil and travel websites don’t make the task any easier. Oftentimes the consumer experience is challenging, at best.
I just came back from vacation in Arizona, now planning an escape to Hawaii in December and dreading the process. I’d rather have a travel agent do the legwork, particularly when traveling with a large group of friends. However, when I travel alone or with a companion, handling my own travel arrangements is the most practical (yet exhausting) solution. What fatigues me, is the sheer number of websites I need to visit and the excessive amount of time expended.
Like many travelers, I have a pretty intense travel planning routine. Here’s some insight into the chaos.
Step 1: Search for Packages
I start by comparing packages between Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz on my laptop. I then grab my iPad to look at the properties on the Hotels.com app. The sizes of the photos on aggregate sites are notoriously small and the interactivity a bit clunky. Plus, the photo gallery UI on the Hotels.com iPad app is a much more enjoyable experience. I also visit Oyster and TripAdvisor to see authentic traveler photos.
Step 2: Compare Rates & Amenities
I then compare the package room rates to those on the hotel’s website. Oftentimes hotel websites will post seasonal rates and promotions that aren’t listed on aggregator sites. They also offer perks like dining credits, spa deals and complimentary Wi-Fi. I eliminate hotels that don’t provide the amenities that are most important to me.
Step 3: Browse Customer Reviews
Next, I’ll head over to TripAdvisor and Yelp to read customer reviews and I’m not alone. According Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report, 66% of respondents trust online reviews and commentary from non-friends and family– ranking third among sources by which consumers find to be the most credible. And when I travel out of the country, these reviews are even more helpful for activities and tour recommendations.
Step 4: Check Available Flights & Book
The last step of my planning process is securing a flight. I usually head back to Expedia, while comparing prices with the airline carrier websites. I also visit SeatGuru.com to see what sort of inflight amenities are available (i.e., Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, DirecTV, etc.).
Finally, I’m ready to book and all of this literally takes me two weeks!! With all of these disparate resources, I’m worn out. There’s got to be a better way; a more seamless experience, a single destination that lets me accomplish my planning goals in an easy and intuitive manner. One that provides an experience that caters to my unique needs and wants – sadly, none exists.
While brands have widely adopted some variation of personalization in their customer outreach, true integration into the travel industry’s digital consumer experience (in my opinion) is sorely lacking. The semblance of personalization generally presents itself as a username in the corner of the account center and a first name in the subject line of an email – that’s the extent, but there’s so much more to offer.
Having worked for a rewards company that partners with the leading airlines and hotels around the country; I get it, these websites are transaction driven. Getting customers down the purchase path quickly is the priority – that’s the bread and butter, it’s what keeps the lights on. But travel is so much more than transactions, it’s about personal experiences and creating memories. Wouldn’t it be great if a balance could be struck between the two? Creating a valuable tool to connect with consumers pre/during/post trip; one that is intimate, hyper-personalized and void of friction would be game-changing.
A Better Experience
I’ve wanted to design and build a travel site around exploration and discovery for years. A radical departure from the cookie-cutter travel sites that we’ve been accustomed to using. The idea is to take a holistic approach to travel planning from booking to landing and everything in between. I decided to dust off some ideas that I’ve been ruminating on and put together a high-level prototype (low functionality). While not an extensive exploration, I hope these thought-starters will both challenge and inspire folks in the travel industry to retool the experiences they provide to their consumers. — Cheers!
Allow users to choose how they want to engage with the site. Unlike most travel sites, where users are shoehorned down the booking path, the idea behind the split homepage is to afford users a choice–book their travel plans or explore and discover travel experiences.
Users can narrow results by keywords, price, location and property amenities. Results can also be narrowed down by continent, enabling users to view results throughout the world.
Users that choose to explore the site versus booking, are able to personalize their results by completing a series of short exercises. Select the type of vacation, sort/rank property features and pick desired accommodations.
The details page is designed to be more helpful to users, providing valuable information and features to help them in the decision-making process. Going beyond brochureware, these pages feature the following content sections:
Know Before You Go – prominently highlights useful information about the property (i.e., Check in/out times, resort fees, etc.)
Around the Neighborhood – an interactive map, displaying attractions in the vicinity (i.e., restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, bars, etc.)
Recent Reviews – reviews from guests, sharing their experiences
The page has ample whitespace, which allow users to absorb the content quickly. Users can toggle between departing and arriving flights vs. having to click through to another page on the site. Useful features and clear descriptive copy helps users to determine which flights best suit their needs. The Seat Map button shows users (early on in the process) what seats are available, the copy beneath the number of stops informs users of any layover details, the Features area shows users what amenities are provided on the flight and the Miles Value area shows users how many miles can be used to purchase the flight if they are a part of the airlines’ rewards program.
The travel board is meant to be a digital pinboard, like Pinterest. Users can upload videos, photos, save and create price alerts. There’s also social integration, wherein, users can log into their social media accounts, add their friends and chat about their upcoming trip. Additionally, the site can dynamically populate boards with helpful travel alerts and unique content like staff written articles and promotional advertising that are contextually relevant.