In this post, or seamless meld of my personal and professional lives, I will highlight a few user experience blips I found when booking a holiday to Austria.
On reflection, it occurs to me we might all be over-excited about new developments online. Wearable technology and cross-channel CRM are both all over tech and digital marketing news, but how far are we from websites working to the user's satisfaction?
As progress brings more examples of 'good', the 'bad' becomes even more annoying. The whole experience of booking my holiday left me realising that one of the main benefits of package holidays remains the same: they take the hassle out of having to interact with more than one service/company in the travel sector.
None of the company websites I used were bad at all, in fact, I was impressed by OBB (Austrian Rail) and Olotels, but the cumulative effect of small user experience hiccups meant that booking tickets and accommodation filled an evening with moderate pain.
Can a holiday ever truly be 'last minute' until travel sites are optimised further? Here are the problems I faced.......
OBB: it's all about the timing
I wanted to book a train ticket from Salzburg to Vienna, and found OBB easily in the SERPS.
One of the great things about the OBB website, which I enjoyed using, was its English site, served to me without asking, complete with accomplished translation. They'll be taking so many bookings online that otherwise would be made e.g. at Salzburg Railway Station on the day by a nervous customer.
However, I still had a few hiccups. Firstly, when I start to type 'Salzburg' in the departure station field, I get the autosuggest options shown below. There are too many, and this immediately knocked my confidence.
Adding 'main city centre station' or similar, underneath the major station, would help English language visitors.
The second error was fairly amusing but then annoying. When selecting a time for your journey, the options, shown below, are 'Morning', 'In the morning', 'Afternoon' and 'Evening'. This immediately got me singing: 'meet me in the morning...56th and Wabasha'. I do a decent Bob Dylan.
To compound this error, when served results for 'Morning' (turned out to be roughly 3am to 7am), there was no handy option to select 'show later trains', 'show earlier trains' or similar. It was easy to click back and start again, but an experience not as good as it could be!
On the whole, a good website that's nearly there.
Ryanair: confirming negatives
I wanted to book a return ticket to Salzburg. There's been enough written about Ryanair but I have two gripes from my booking.
Firstly, one has to confirm a bunch of negatives. I understand the sense in getting me to actively select 'No, I don't want travel insurance', but it starts to feel a bit dirty when I have to check 'No, I don't want exclusive Ryanair luggage posted to my address'.
On a lot of travel websites, one can click dismiss or cancel quite easily on one of these purchase suggestions, or indeed (the holy grail) can read the information but only have to click in the event of actively wanting something.
Ryanair, on the other hand, insists you select 'no' from a dropdown, which isn't immediately obvious. When you miss one, you get an error on clicking continue.
Secondly, the site wasn't without actual bugs, I thought. Looking at the possibility of including transport to Stansted, I clicked to check out coach timetables, and was taken again to flight schedules (?).
After investigating travel to the airport in a separate tab, with my tickets safely in the basket, I returned to Ryanair and hit continue but the site served an error in chrome.
The error message gave no hints as to what had gone wrong, or advice on what to do (refresh, start again etc). I decided to start again in Internet Explorer, but I'm sure many would've abandoned, and booked later, or got lost somewhere, looking at other holiday options.
Olotels: emails to spam and printouts at the hotel
I was directed to Olotels from my Ryanair booking and thought 'what the hell...I'll look here'. Well done Ryanair and Olotels, last minute booking and previous pain mean I'm happy to look where you throw me! I booked two hotel rooms in Salzburg.
Again, I found the website easier than some others I have used and overall the experience was fine. But, again, some little pain points....
When I had booked the rooms, the confirmation page (see bottom of this section) told me I needed to take a print-out of the confirmation to the hotel. This was annoying.
No doubt the hotel in question requested this, but I was instantly given doubts - do bookings get lost? Why can't I check in with my name? Can't I show the booking email from my phone? Will I have to buy a bumbag!?
I then found that my confirmation email hadn't arrived in my inbox. After a while, I found it in my spam folder. But how many other travellers book with a Gmail address, and how many lose their print out, and how many really should buy a bum bag?
There is probably work Olotels can do to help deliver their emails into my inbox.
LateRooms: searching for Salzburg
I went to LateRooms.com to look for a hotel room in Vienna. Whilst I was there I did a quick look for hotels in Salzburg, too, in case I'd been ripped off by Olotels (I hadn't, but my life is full of this kind of self-flagellation). What I found was that LateRooms wasn't particularly good at knowing where Salzburg is.
If you type Salzburg into the search bar, without selecting any suggested search terms that pop up, you get a good list of hotels in Salzburg centre, and a column showing distance from your destination, as per screenshot.
However, if you start typing Salzburg, and then select the autosuggest of 'Salzburg', as many would, thinking that this would yield better results, one gets a broader search with pre-set larger geographical range around Salzburg.
This doesn't sound like a problem, but when you do this, the handy 'distance from location' column is removed, and you are served with some hotels that are a long way from Salzbrug centre (without it being immediately obvious). Again, see screenshots.
The map below, shows the location of the cheapest hotel served when I searched with this method and then sorted by price. It's in Filzmoos, which I'm sure is as lovely a town as its name is enjoyable to shout across an office, but it would leave me short of my destination.
Of course, I'd have to be stupid to not Google the location of the hotel, but people are stupid, and people are often in a rush when booking last minute. It's not unreasonable to select a city on autosuggest, and assume the hotels can be booked without too much investigation.
So, to reiterate what I said in the intro, the cumulative effect of small user experience hiccups meant that booking tickets and accommodation filled an evening with moderate pain.
So, I'm now looking forward to the holiday, and to buying a bumbag online.