How Booking.com is missing out on a great user segment!

TRAVEL. MILLENNIALS. PERSUASION DESIGN.

Of late I’d been planning for a holiday and I visited a crazy number of travel websites for booking hotels. They all had a fundamental problem. They only saw through the overt needs of a user. None of them saw through the holistic journey of the user. Let’s talk about Booking.com since its pretty popular among other travel websites - based on its Alexa ranking and the fact that it has it has about 40,000 monthly visitors (here and here for more). My first impression of the site was.. Dayum! Is it still the 90s here? They get 7.5 minutes per visitors, but are they really exploiting those minutes to their fullest?

There’s a lot of research that goes into planning for a holiday. Half the fun in traveling is dreaming up the destination and much of what I am going to delve into is how travel websites aren’t capitalising on these early moments of inspiration. From the moment one pines to get away on a holiday, to the moment they have carefully chosen a destination and made their bookings, people go through multiple phases. Planning is never easy. People usually research on travel sites for popular destinations, read reviews about them, get inspired and talk to peers. I personally find that the most exhausting bit today. Primarily because of all the back and forth, zooming in on the details for one destination and then zooming out to reconsider all the options again. Off course there are also people who are purely driven by a romanticised wanderlust, who impulsively pack their bags and hit the road. But even they have moments which inspire them. Micro-moments are critical touch points within a user’s journey when added together, they ultimately determine how that journey ends, in this case how they plan and book for their holiday. While this is quite an elaborate practice for some; for others it just clicks within a matter of minutes. Products and services can tap on to these micro-moments that lead people to their doorsteps and probably even towards final purchase.

Online products are increasingly shaping how people make a plan for their next trip. Booking.com doesn’t do a great job of leveraging on the user journey. They have all the resources for being a great travel guide, but they are just not exploiting it well. For someone who is undecided on their destination or holiday plan, the homepage of Booking.com doesn’t add much value. It’s got various cards selling me the idea of abundance of properties in randomly selected cities. I fail to understand the motive of showing cards of cities where I never showed any intent of traveling to, let alone their property count.

Homepage — Destination Cards Style#1

Keep scrolling, and you see these below… These are cards selling me apartments from different cities scattered across the globe. Yes, the interiors of these apartments are all chic and classy but so what? Does one decide their holiday destination based on the accommodation?

Homepage — Randomly selected accommodation: Apartment Card

Scroll further down and here I am shown some more cards showing similarly useless information laid out a bit differently. You got to put the designer to some use right! The least I could expect was pretty imagery but visibly nothing shines out here in this UI. Every piece of the website real estate should be carefully evaluated and must exist only if it serves a need. Would I ever be compelled to click on these cards? Well, if the idea was to introduce new destinations to the user, then they are sorely losing the point.

Home Page — Destination Card Style#2

So, what do users want? It’s certainly a tough nut to crack but once you get to know the user, its easier to gauge what they’d want and what would sell. Millennials are the most valuable demographic right now. They evaluate to about a trillion-dollar buying power and a huge influence on the older generations. According to several industry reports, millennials take the most trips — both personal and business. Booking.com can easily exploit their early moments of inspiration. If you’re selling a dream [in this case — a utopian holiday getaway], inspiring photography is the foremost important thing to invest in. Millennials compared to older generations prefer culturally rich experiences over the typical tourist landmarks. Leading them with compelling travel imagery and a promise of unique experiences and activities would be more fruitful than mere numbers of pricing and property count.

Not the price… it’s the feels!

Usually while planning for a getaway trip, if the destination isn’t already pre-decided, one would be interested to know about popular sites to visit. Locations can be promoted by marketing about their cultural events or experiences than one can have there. Showcasing upcoming calendar events like music festivals, carnivals, cultural events, across the globe is a good way to lure this segment. Allowing users to find destinations based on different activities or interests is perhaps another useful way of helping them plan their holiday. Offering value at the right time while being contextual, relevant and quick is all that sums up to great micro-moments. One would beg to defer and say Booking isn’t meant for holiday planning. But I say, why not, since they already have tons of valuable data. They have the opportunity to seamlessly connect the dots between planning, booking and travelling. Who wouldn’t love a one stop solution for all their travel woes.

UPDATE: They’ve recently added a new section that lets you pick holidays based on budget and time of the year. But I’m not sure why I’m shown those places and why I should make my decision based on just the avg. price per night. Looks like they haven’t completely understood the user behaviour here. Prices and deals are important but not the most important in choosing a holiday. The location, activities and experiences trump over them.

Seriously, what’s the deal with a carousel having 17 clicks?

I saw this experience briefly for a few days and now I see this trail of cards [below] that lets you discover new places. Hmm… that seems to pique my interest. But why is it buried at the bottom of the page. I would have never reached here unless I was deliberately looked for something.

The purpose of these cards is left to chance discovery. I may be particularly interested in looking for destinations with exotic beaches or historical landmarks, but honestly how do I do that here?

He said, She said..

Another thing about millennials is that they are a social generation, so they will scour social media sites like Facebook and twitter for nuggets of advice before they buy. This way they expect to get a rounder outlook on the product or service. Similarly reviews and ratings mean the world to them. Third Party ties with popular travels sites like Trip Advisor and connecting friends from FB would be a really great way to validate their options. So now instead of logging on to FB to find out which one of my friends checked in at Prague earlier and ask them for recommendations, wouldn’t it be great if I got all related posts and check-in here at the website. It reduces a step, and works as social proof, kind of like a vote of approval. That does bring up the question of privacy and security but it’s not too difficult to ensure all that with a well-planned and thorough collaboration.

Stop that Spiel!

Moving on, say the ‘Aspiring vacationer’ has progressed to the phase of a ‘Resolved planner’. He/she has decided on a place and the dates, but the herculean job of finding and booking accommodation still awaits. So, naturally they hit in the dates and venue and search for hotels. Booking.com being an aggregator, is a really great place to look for hotels. And once you get in to their hotel search page, you can see the range of persuasive messaging that’s slapped all over the page. You’d think they got all the leverage, right? Wrong!

It’s a common practice to create scarcity and exclusivity to get people on their toes and fast forward them to the booking phase. These are dated techniques and using them in abundance does more harm than good. Along with the rise of the Millennial market segment, comes a change in people’s buyer persona. The time has come to recognise that our traditional methods of targeting this persona aren’t as effective as they used to be.

Bookig.com — Search Result Cards for Hotels

So when you land up into the Search results of Hotels, they tell you that hotels are in High demand through various types of messaging in the same card. And this demand is reflected in about every other hotel card. It does kind of seem implausible, don’t you think? Persuasion techniques if used in moderation and consistency could actually strike the right chord. No doubt, the ability to smooth-talk is essential to the art of sales. However, another useful skill for a salesperson is to know when to stop talking. Your first impression will undoubtedly be judged on the basis of authenticity. Millennials are skeptical, and they want a real, down-to-earth presentation with the truth. If you try too hard, they will be able to tell.

Moreover, these cards are neck deep full of information. It’s difficult to form a visual information hierarchy. Their primary content, buttons and persuasive messaging are so variedly laid out; I wouldn’t be able to do a quick mental comparison between different choices if I wanted to. Removing redundant information and making cards look consistent would make it so much easier to glance through the important stuff that I’m here for.

Size does matter!

The millennial generation is always online and mobile. While most millennials use mobile phone for travel inspiration and on trip, computers are still prevalent for research and travel purchase across all generations. So, it would be good for travel sites to invest in multi modal strategies. Moving across devices is common today and consumers should be able to do that seamlessly. It’s important to nail all the relevant usage scenarios across devices. Travel apps should alleviate the user’s concerns of missing out on any important information just because they’re using a smartphone. They should help customers feel comfortable booking on mobile. It should be quick and frictionless.

And once done with the booking, contextual assistance prior and during the trip should effectively close the loop of the entire travel journey, like suggestions of what to pack, things to do, things to see, places to eat, manage bookings etc.

People browsing online have a lot of alternatives to look at and that’s why you have to make a good first impression to guarantee they stick around long enough for you to show them how great you are. Once you’ve gotten their attention you got to keep your promise and give people what they want. As a traveler I have a lot of different approaches and channels to plan my travel. But how many travel websites are actually helping me through the way. To be truly successful and out there, they need to understand the user and be present across all stages of the user journey, not just when someone is ready to buy.