Luxury hotel chain Four Seasons has unveiled a new website that cost an eye-watering $18m to develop.

The result of the investment is a slick, bright website, with a new booking process, social media integration and personal profile technology that allows users to set preferences and create a more targeted online experience.

It is also optimised for mobile, which provides access to a scaled-down site that includes videos, images, room rates and booking.

Four Seasons’ revamp is part of an effort to improve online revenue – though its website attracts 30m visitors each year, online bookings only account for 12% of total revenue, an increase of just 2% in five years.

Kevin May, editor and co-founder of tech travel website Tnooz, said he isn’t surprised that Four Seasons’ online revenue remains relatively low.

Many hotels use online travel agencies, such as Booking.com, to attract web bookings, so I suspect the 12% is direct-only. Part of its wider revenue breakdown will be from biz travel agents, offline retail agents, its call centre and other avenues.”

He said the new website is in part a plan to move more business online, or into a direct channel, but also ramp up its efforts to improve the brand image and give guests more tools to micro-manage their bookings.

Mobile optimisation is seen as vital for travel sites as consumers are increasingly comfortable browsing brand websites for further information, making bookings and managing their trip.

The 2012 Four Seasons Luxury Trends Report from Four Seasons reveals that 71% of its customers bring a smartphone with them on their travels and 61% bring a tablet device.

The company experienced a 200% increase in bookings completed on a tablet device in 2011.

Marin Software‘s lead product consultant Rebecca Momberg said that travel-based search marketers in particular are really missing out if they fail to capitalise on the growing mobile search market.

When a stranded traveller is searching for a hotel on their mobile, they are likely to have a high conversion rate as they probably need lodgings that very evening, which makes them very valuable.”

She said this means brands like Four Seasons not only need to appear top of mobile search rankings, but also need to optimise their sites for mobile so they are easy to use – giving the end-user the best possible mobile experience.

It’s a luxury brand and its target consumer is an affluent, regular traveller, who is highly likely to have been an early adopter of smart phone and tablet technology, therefore, they have an established level of confidence and are more likely to convert via a mobile device.”

We’ve now reviewed this website in more detail, with some user tests and input from UX experts. For a $18m websites, thereare plenty of flaws.