One giant leap for bookability: a booking platform overhaul for private homeowners

Todor Bozhinov
Jan 23 · Unlisted

What problem did we solve?

We transformed an extremely basic booking inquiry function into a full-fledged online booking management platform, including a new “24-hour booking” and inquiry statuses. By designing and bringing to life an extensive chat interface from the ground up, we made booking management a much more pleasant experience for private homeowners. Despite a rocky start, the overhauled system has achieved universal adoption among hosts active on the portal.

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Who did we solve it for?

Private homeowners (or hosts) are vacation portal Traum-Ferienwohnungen’s most important customer and user group. They’re an integral part of the guest-host equation and on this portal, they pay a yearly fee to advertise their vacation home. With this, they get access to a back-office which features booking and price management capabilities.

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Kurt Klain, our persona for private homeowners

Hosts are typically baby boomers in their 50s and 60s and they reside in Germany or countries popular with German tourists (Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands, etc.). They own and rent out from one to ten vacation homes — whether to keep a house they inherited in active use (for emotional reasons) or as a main source of income (financial motivation). The broadly-defined persona “Kurt” was often used to refer to private homeowners with these characteristics.

What was the situation before?

Traum-Ferienwohnungen started as a vacation home portal with rudimentary functionality. In a nutshell, it offers German homeowners the opportunity to put their vacation home online for a small yearly fee and get booking inquiries from potential guests.

In its early years, the portal grew exponentially, but the booking system itself remained very bare-bones. Guests could inquire about a vacation home’s availability through a form, but hosts would merely get notified of the booking inquiry. To contact the guest, they would have to write an e-mail and sort everything manually. Direct booking was not possible and neither was any kind of guest-host communication via the portal.

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A basic inquiry overview was all you got. The calendar view was useful, but a lot of real estate was wasted and no functionality was provided. 😕

A rigid availability calendar function was available, but the bookings there were to be added manually by the host, with no synchronization with the booking inquiries.

In short, the portal really only provided visibility to the customer and very little added value in the booking management department.

How did we approach it?

As a small team of four (product owner, user experience designer, front-end and back-end developer), we were tasked with improving the booking inquiry experience for Traum-Ferienwohnungen’s core customers. We began by collecting and prioritizing ideas from customer support feedback. During very fruitful workshop sessions (conducted remotely), we prototyped together in low-fidelity. Through the entire process, we followed a very agile and lean development cycle, with ideas flowing in from all sides.

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List of booking inquiries: early low-fidelity prototyping

The main challenges we faced were the monolithic legacy technology, defining a small-enough MVP and internal skepticism. We addressed these by building the new booking system as a separate module, using new technology, and by providing regular progress updates to the wider team.

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Some more modern designs employing a lot of whitespace were rejected in order to minimize the development time, keep the project small and focus on delivering functionality.

After several months of development, we launched a hopeful MVP of the booking system to 10% of our customer base. The “MVP” included inquiry status management (homeowners could now approve guests and book them in their calendar), but no chat feature. This first “MVP” proved unviable, however. Among other issues, it had to be reverted and reworked because approving a booking turned out to be very difficult for homeowners if the communication process remained separate. A chat feature as well as booking data editing were necessary so that host and guest could seamlessly agree on the dates and the price, all in one place.

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Our “MVP” had no chat function, making it difficult for the homeowner to lead a proper conversation with the guest. This handicapped the booking status management to a great degree.

With the addition of a chat feature, the new booking platform was quickly embraced by new customers and gradually adopted by existing homeowners. The launch of the optional “24-hour booking” (homeowners have 24 hours to approve a guest), impossible without a chat, provided our more tech-savvy hosts with reliable, high-quality booking inquiries.

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What UX improvements did we launch?

  • Booking inquiry status management (new, read, confirmed, rejected)
  • Filtering booking inquiries based on status and type
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  • Extensive guest-host chat interface with e-mail notifications, read receipts, file upload, lease agreement creator
  • 24-hour booking feature
  • Synchronization of booking inquiries with the listing’s availability calendar
  • Responsive, optimized for a mobile experience and consistent with the rest of the homeowner back-office’s design language
The new booking inquiry overview presented the status of each inquiry at a glance. A single click/tap and the host can get more details, reply to the guest and approve the inquiry.
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Phones are people too, they deserve some love!

In conclusion

The new booking system has brought enormous value to homeowners, saving them time and effort and providing a very useful overview of booking statuses and guest conversations.

Surviving a frustrating launch with an unluckily-defined MVP, the system has achieved near-universal acceptance among homeowners and it has elevated Traum-Ferienwohnungen’s host-side booking experience to a modern standard.

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