Web Site Usability: The New Differentiator to Keep Customers Coming Back
By Maurice Martin President, COO & Founder, iRise Inc. | January 27, 2012
By now, every hotel and travel company executive has figured out that a good Web site is as critical to their operation as an inviting lobby or a responsive front desk. But as many a perplexed customer will tell you, just having a Web site is not enough. A good site must be as clean and inviting as the room itself. And it must be as friendly as your staff.
Ease of use, or usability as Web designers call it, is especially important. You would not expect your guests to return if they couldn't locate the pool or gym, couldn't find a parking spot or valet, couldn't order room service or locate the menu to your restaurant. Likewise, potential guests who have dropped in on your Web site need to be able to locate the amenities there, as well-directions to the property, 3D walk-throughs of the rooms, lists of services and nearby attractions. And these days, visitors also expect to be able to view your room rates, easily determine whether you have vacancies and book a room.
If your site thwarts these activities, rather than encouraging them, you either lose a customer, or your guests will phone the customer service number for help, thereby defeating the very purpose of having a usable Web channel.
Many hotel executives also don't realize that a big benefit of a hotel Web site is in cross-selling and up-selling. A well designed site can suggest a larger room, an additional meal or a booking with a business partner. It may also offer exclusive entertainment packages for events or attractions which require a specified hotel stay, thereby pulling in the traveler by selling a bigger experience. But here again, the look and feel of the Web site will determine your success.
One simple way to approach Web site usability is to follow the same standards you uphold throughout your hotel: your rooms are clean and inviting; your desk clerks are trained and efficient. Both elements help reinforce your brand. Similarly on a Web site, the design should be clean, inviting, helpful and intuitive. That means balancing graphics with text.
For example, if the site is too graphics heavy, the page will load very slowly for the user and could make the experience so lengthy that the traveler abandons the process. Conversely, if the page has too much text or not enough slick photos, it may serve to undersell the hotel experience. The happy medium lies in the middle and the way to understand that is to conduct a user group where you can test out your proposed site look-and-feel and get user buy-in up front.