The full report goes into more detail about the different aspects of each site, but for the purposes of this blog post I’m interested in how they deal with content and help to facilitate consumer research.
The winners in the ‘Discovery & Inspiration’ section were Hotels.com and Airbnb, while Thomas Cook came bottom of the pile.
Here I’ll take a look at what influenced the top scores and see whether I agree…
Content marketing in the travel sector
Consumers visit travel sites at different points in their purchase journey and with different tasks in mind, so operators have to cater to a broad audience.
And as pointed out by Ryanair CMO Kenny Jacobs in our recent interview, it’s advisable to try and come up with a unique angle rather than opting for generic holiday information that could be found anywhere on the web.
This means that sites have to provide inspirational and informative content, as well as giving people the ability to begin their search right away.
During the initial research phase consumers are likely to visit many different sites and take their time over selecting a destination.
Therefore sites should allow visitors to save searches, view past searches and easily share information with other people via email or social.
Hotels.com was praised for providing a prominent search tool alongside a widget that displays recent searches. Furthermore, it provided inspiration for travel deals in the form of call out boxes on the homepage.
Personally, I felt that the search tool was excellent and it offers a comprehensive auto-complete function.
The search results page was also well designed and offered a huge range of filter options, including star rating, proximity to a certain landmark or the facilities on offer.
Consumer reviews are also prominently positioned, with a rating on the 0-5 scale also translated into a description (e.g. five means outstanding while four equals excellent).
Looking at the product pages, there’s a huge amount of relevant information and a great range of photos. For example, there are 17 photos for this hotel in Faliraki, which is available for the princely sum of £13 per night.
However there are areas that could be improved upon. For example, the share icons are quite small and the email function didn’t work when I tried to use it.
Also, searches don’t return any content specific to that destination. Hotels.com does have travel guides for most major destinations, but users have to actively seek it out.
It might instead be a good idea to return links to destination content alongside hotel ideas, even if this risks distracting people from making a booking.
Airbnb also scored highly at this stage of the report, and it certainly offers an attractive website with a prominent search tool.
The search results page uses a simple, uncluttered design and features a handy map feature, while product pages are thorough and display a huge number of images.
But there were a number of features missing that I felt slightly undermined the user experience.
For example, the search results page doesn’t include a star rating and I couldn’t work out a way of sharing the properties either by email or social, though this may only be an option for logged in users.
And as with Hotels.com, I feel that Airbnb could do more with its content. The homepage promotes a range of excellent city guides that provide useful information and photos on different neighbourhoods.
However I couldn’t access these guides from within the search results or product pages, which is when they might come in quite handy.
Users searching a new or unfamiliar city would benefit from being able to quickly access information on the neighbourhood in order to help them make a more informed decision.
Airbnb does deserve praise for its thorough reviews though, which it can rely on thanks to its active community.
The full Webcredbile Travel Industry Report 2014 can be downloaded here.