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Find the best hotel booking engine: design makes a difference

Four key design principles can help you to increase conversions and inspire direct bookings.

With all the talk in the industry about modern web design and the importance of responsive hotel websites, it’s surprising to see that many hotel booking engines still haven’t adapted to the times. Perhaps it’s just easy to say that change is hard and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but we here at Travel Tripper would argue that something is indeed broken. OTAs continue to capture more and more bookings from hotels, and recent reports reveal that the younger generation actually prefers booking through OTAs instead of directly with hotels. Part of this is due to the booking process on most hotel websites. Today’s consumers expect a level of sophistication and ease in their digital experiences, and most hotel booking engines are exactly the opposite: clunky and difficult to use. When it comes to booking engines, good design isn’t just about good looks, it’s about creating the optimal space in which to capture a booking. The newest travel disruptors know how important this is — just look at the meteoric rise of companies like HotelTonight and Airbnb, both of which place a heavy emphasis on design. What does good design look like for hotel booking engines?  Here are four principles to keep in mind:

Principle #1: The call to action must be omnipresent.  

The reserve button, and its accompanying booking widget, is your gateway to conversion. It should never be difficult to find, and with today’s web functionality, it should never disappear off the page. Modern web design allows you to make headers and other items on a page “sticky,” meaning that you can always access those buttons no matter how far you have scrolled down on a page. Take for example the NU Hotel in Brooklyn, which places its booking widget in the upper right corner of the website. As you scroll down the page, the navigation bar and reserve bar “stick” to the top of the page, and the booking widget drops down as soon as you hit the “Reserve” button. NU Hotel booking widget

Principle #2: Pictures sell.

All of us in the travel industry understand how important beautiful photography is for selling hotels. That’s why we invest in professional photos. But when it comes to the point of sale, why is it that most booking engines reduce the photo to a tiny thumbnail? Airbnb built its brand on good photography, which they say can “make or break” a listing. Its recent site redesign puts photos front and center for prospective guests, and the site also provides photo tips and free professional photography for hosts.

Airbnb listing
Airbnb puts its photos front and center.

Hotel booking engines should do the same. In our own RezTrip booking engine, we’ve put room pictures front and center during the booking process. As guests select between different room types, a large slideshow allows the hotel to not only showcase photos of the room, but also the distinct detail shots that can really capture a guest’s attention. NU Hotel RezTrip

Principle #3: Minimize clutter, maximize whitespace.

Simplicity is one of the core principles of good design. Somehow this concept has been lost on most hotel booking engines, which tend to clutter their pages with all sorts of information, from the dozens of room type options to the listing of terms and conditions. You know you’ve got too much going on when the booking page itself offers to “Have us call you” because the reservation process is too complicated.

Sheraton booking engine
“Have us call you” — just in case you don’t understand our booking engine.

In building RezTrip, one of our primary goals was to keep the design clean. We keep text minimal and use overlays and drop-down sliders to conceal information until the user needs it.  For example, room types are shown only by photo until a user clicks on “Room details.”  Then an overlay appears that provides a room description and included amenities. The screen remains uncluttered and easy to read.

Hotel Milo RezTrip


Principle #4: When it comes to choices, less is more.

We’ve written extensively about consumer psychology and how it affects hotel bookings, but it’s important to reiterate — having less options actually increases conversions! Unbounce, a conversion marketing company, highlights several interesting case studies in this regard:

  • Increasing social share buttons decreased shares by 29%
  • Decreasing webinar registration options from 4 to 3 increased conversions by 17%
  • Reducing the number of form fields in a landing page from 11 to 4 increased submissions by 160% and increased conversions by 120%

It all has to do with the psychology of choice. Too many options can overwhelm the decision-making process and lead to what is called “action paralysis.” Many booking engines by default present to you not only the base rate for each room type, but also all of the available packages and promotions as well. In this example from New York Hilton Midtown, there are eight options alone for the first room type. Counting all the room types and rates available, there are 47 options in total. And all this before you even tell them your name!

8 of 47 booking options at the New York Hilton Midtown
8 of 47 booking options at the New York Hilton Midtown

Our hotel booking engine RezTrip takes the psychology of choice into account by limiting the number of options during each step of the booking process. First we ask users to choose their room type. We display only five room types at a time; guests can easily find a specific type through the filter buttons.

Room Filters on RezTrip

After choosing a room type, guests are asked to provide their name and email. Below that they are given the option to select from available promotions and packages, with a default option selected. Not only does this break down the decision-making process into two digestible steps, it captures the potential guest’s email early in the booking process. If the guest happens to abandon the booking, hotels can easily target that guest through hotel remarketing. Park Central room offers

Remember, good design combines form AND function.

When it comes to hotel booking engines, every little detail — from the way you showcase photography to the way you present options — can influence a guest’s decision-making process. A well-designed hotel booking engine that is both sophisticated and easy to use will inspire confidence in the consumer and ultimately increase the likelihood of booking direct.

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