New technologies challenge the status quo and drive progress in all industries. About ten years ago, keeping the pace with new developments was not necessarily a critical business acumen, but today, those who don’t embrace change are condemned.
Hotels will always have some guests: there’ll still be that last-minute traveler lost in transition or the one who failed to plan his trip, but even the late birds will want to “catch the worm.” That is: all guests long for your undivided attention – or the “experience,” as it’s called now.
The Deloitte “2018 Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook” highlights the importance of the experience for hoteliers as one of the industry’s main and most difficult challenges:
“While the outlook for the hotel industry is generally positive, brands who fail to innovate risk losing market share. With just a few swipes in a travel app, today’s consumers can compare more hotel and private accommodation options than ever before. Along with unprecedented choice, however, comes unprecedented expectations, and a traveler that does not favor run-of-the-mill hotel experiences.”
So, here’s what you should do before anything else: do not deliver run-of-the-mill experiences!
And this matters for hotel websites too. Because Google changed the rules: it’s no longer enough to own a domain. You need HTTPS or Google will deem your site unsafe to access with Chrome – the most popular web browser in the world. While this is not a UX issue, what we discuss next will not work without compliance with Google’s new web standards.
Mobile-first rules supreme in 2018
Be prepared to deliver a mobile-first experience, because… Google demands it. This is a matter of technical SEO, but also an issue that affects the user experience. Without meeting this requirement, your hotel website will suffer. As Bridget Randolph of MOZ explains it:
“Your content can still be indexed; however, you may not rank as well in comparison to mobile-friendly websites. This may even negatively impact your overall rankings on desktop search as well as mobile search results because it will be perceived as having a poorer user experience than other sites (since the crawler will be a “mobile” crawler).”
Content-first is a thing too
The idea of content-focused design is no longer noise generated by some ambitious SEO advocates. It’s a fact. But what does it mean for UX? Less text and more visuals? On the contrary. Content-first relates to all the elements that enhance the user experience on your site: images, video, text, and the booking channel. You can always deliver a content-focused experience by implementing the timeless rules of minimalist design: white space and distinct visual hierarchy, which includes bold and relevant titles, impactful images, proper text color, and an optimized booking process.
Regarding the booking process, guests are likely to want to compare prices offered on your website versus online travel agencies. And you don’t want them to leave your site to perform this comparison. So, integrate price comparison directly on your website. For example, Fodele Beach & Water Park Holiday Resort shows real-time price comparison encouraging visitors to book directly.
The visibility of the booking window is critical to improving the booking flow. It should be present on every page of your website, enriched with compelling visuals, but also designed to allow booking in as few steps as possible.
Visual content is not limited to images and video. In fact, in 2011, U.S. photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck started something that almost became a trend in 2015 – due to a timid Facebook Ads push: cinemagraphs. Their purpose was:
“To pack more motion into a single image, you can freeze certain areas and only show motion where it’s important. Once the medium began to take shape, we were discovering new things every day, and it felt like everything on Earth could be seen in a totally new way,” according to Kevin Burg.
And it seemed to work. Adparlor reported terrific Facebook ad stats comparing still images and cinemagraphs. The cinemagraphs yielded a 117% increase in click-through-rate compared to ordinary images. Also, the cinemagraphs outperformed the static pictures by 80% in terms of Facebook ad relevance score. But despite the stats, the rate of adoption is lagging. Perhaps, because the cost of production for cinemagraphs is outrageously higher than that of producing static images or live video. But, before you deem them as obsolete, make note: TNW lists them as possible new trends. Not something to worry about, but something to consider.
For example, Olympus Villas, in Pieria, Greece, use a cinemagraph of a pool on the landing page of their website. The soft ripple of the water is eye-catching and mesmerizing at the same time. This example alone proves just how you could use cinemagraphs to enhance your hotel site. They also use video to showcase the beautiful landscape of the destination and to keep the user linger on the site. All these visuals are appealing enough to trigger the travel bug and to determine fast bookings.
It’s all getting personal
Personalization is in too. Forget that one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter strategy of the past. AI, machine learning, and a wealth of other technologies give you the opportunity to be a real host. Human-to-human experiences are in high-demand, and big brands are already stepping in. They have the manpower and the financial resources to adapt their offers to real people. Think welcoming a couple celebrating their anniversary with candlelight, champagne and gourmet treats; a family with young children finding in the room age-appropriate toys, games, and snacks for the little ones; or just you arriving to a room to find complimentary tickets to an event nearby, custom-tailored spa menus, and even the breakfast that respects your dietary needs when you wake up in the morning – vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo and the list goes on. Long story short, redefining the customer-centric experience and delivering human-to-human interaction may require more time and effort, but - in the long run - is what hoteliers should be striving for anyway. This is valid for all realms: online, via apps, and in person.
This is the 2018 main challenge: humanize the UX, because people remain human beings whether they interact with each other or with technology. Whatever you do, count on their emotions. They (the emotions) will get in the way when you disappoint your guests, or they’ll work for your business and your brand when you satisfy them. PR (as in public relations) has never been more relevant than now.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking over the experience too. Websites will comply, there’s no way around it. But with IoT, mobile-first may no longer be enough. So, try to step ahead of the game and go for omnichannel.
“Omnichannel is defined as a multichannel sales approach that provides the customer with integrated customer experience,” according to HubSpot.
What you have to remember is that the user doesn’t care about the tech details behind the experience: he/she just demands satisfaction.
Smart tech is getting smarter
Alexa, OK Google, and the like, are the “smart assistants” of the future. These are not chatbots, they are independent AI entities that can make or break your business. You will need to optimize your websites to meet the demands of these AI entities. Can you anticipate customer questions like “Alexa, book me a room with a view at HOTEL X?”
Go ahead, try Alexa, or OK Google now! If they complete the booking directly on your website, your UX is already on the right path.
Keep in mind that augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are gaining momentum in 2018. They may not be mainstream yet… but they will have a considerable impact on hotels operating in highly competitive markets. To know who your competitors are, it’s enough to type “hotel in + the name of your city” into Google search either on your desktop on your mobile, then analyze their websites, apps, social media, and other marketing efforts. There’s a strong possibility that, when you “spy” on your rivals, they’ll be ahead of the curve, having already invested in SEO, UX, apps, and the tech to combat competition. So how do you get back on track? There’s still time. Yet, tick-tock, the clock is ticking! Don’t delay revamping your hotel website to satisfy the demands of modern guest. Both Millennials and Generation Z are heavy mobile users, and they tend to adopt new trends and technologies fast. In fact, they set the trends.
Social remains relevant
Last, but not least, there are some rules you should not ignore regarding social media.
Enable your website visitors to re-share your content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like straight from your website. You never know when a social media influencer visits your site and decides to give it a nod of approval. This has the potential of skyrocketing traffic, reduce bounce rates, and increase media mentions through re-shares by followers of the said influencer.
It’s OK to discretely watermark your pictures but remember that images with a lot of text tend to perform poorly on Facebook in terms of reach and engagement. Less-is-more is the rule that applies in this situation.
Encourage guest feedback – you can use TrustYou verified reviews “to increase online visibility, improve operations, and drive hotel revenue.” Featuring reviews on your hotel website is a sign of transparency, commitment to customer experience, and passion to delivering quality services.
Concluding, UX means people-first and adapting to new technologies to remain relevant and competitive.