It is a curious irony that you end up needing a holiday after trying to book a holiday online. 

I still feel that travel is an area that is lagging behind, when it comes to ecommerce and the user experience (which often leaves a lot to be desired). These sites need to work so much harder than their retail counterparts, for all kinds of reasons. 

Booking a holiday is a leap of faith if you’re visiting somewhere for the first time, and the pre-customer experience is absolutely vital. Attention to detail is paramount.

But every year it’s the same: I brace myself before spending countless hours researching possible destinations, knowing fine well that I’m going to encounter all manner of frustration during the process.

Here are 13 UX issues that I’ve come across over the weekend, while trying to a) find a hotel / villa, and b) hand over a not inconsiderable sum of money in return for c) a fantastic experience. Many of them are easy to fix. Some may seem trivial, but putting any doubt in the mind of the prospective buyer is a dangerous move.

No price information

I guess this is a business decision, but in 2013 I expect to be able to a) see prices, and b) book online. Moreover, the ‘Prices and Booking’ label in this expandable section suggests that there are prices to show.

There aren’t. Why not show a price range, at the very least? 

Autosound / autoplay

I’d be willing to bet that there isn’t a single person in the world who appreciates videos and sound that automatically start to play. I typically open up lots of tabs when researching holiday destinations, and hunting through 30 tabs to find the page that is offending my ears is the opposite of ‘magnificent’.  

In addition, this page was difficult to read. Small, light grey, unformatted text against a white background is a bad choice for readability.  

No date dropdown

For reasons I cannot fathom TravelSupermarket makes you manually enter dates as text. Perplexing.

Let me choose how many nights I need

Last year the Four Seasons launched its new website, as part of an $18m investment into its web strategy. It looks stunning, but there remains some room for improvement, as far as the user experience is concerned.

A question: Do you ever go on holiday for 11 nights? I suspect the vast majority of travellers go away for either one or two weeks.

As such it makes sense to allow people to choose the number of nights they want, and automatically calculating the check out date… something I can’t do on the Four Seasons site.

‘Make an online enquiry’

Dodgy labelling aside, it’s 2013! Again, this may be a business model issue, but we live in a world of APIs, and sites that are plugged in to booking engines are much better for those prepared to buy online.

The reliance on this sort of enquiry system makes for a disjointed, tardy experience.

Images you can’t click

Those high contrast ‘Our review’ and ‘Book now’ buttons are fine, but I instinctively click on images, which are more alluring and which seem to attract my mouse pointer.

A small thing, I know, but very easy to fix. 

Isolated dates

This is all too common: date drop downs where months do not mix. If I want to check in on Saturday 27 July I need to scroll through to the next month in order to select Saturday 3 August as my check out date.

Why not show the dates in this panel?   

Stale data

This might as well say ‘Last updated more than six months ago’. It may be an error, but it instills a lack of trust in the booking process. 

Thumbnail overkill

The product page on this website leads on images, as many travel sites do. When it comes to holidays, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

But I don’t think this is the best implementation. I prefer to see a big image, and at least a little description text without the need to scroll. 

Truncated dates

The twentysomething of July…?

Dubious prioritisation

In this example, the booking functionality has been demoted by the ‘get a quote’ form. If I hadn’t scrolled down, I would have assumed that I couldn’t book online.

I wonder how many people leave this page without realising that you can in fact book online.

Big wheel keep on turning

It’s still whirring away. Does this five-star resort always keep people waiting? 

I do have one suggestion…

This form appeared immediately after I clicked ‘Offers’. Not exactly the best timing!

Yes, we see these forms on all kinds of other websites, but I encountered them a handful of times during my holiday research. 

What other common user experience issues have you noticed on travel websites? Do leave a comment below…