Study: Online Hotel Booking Problematic – By Beth Cox

The hotel industry as a whole has a ways to go when it comes to making the room-booking process user friendly, says a new study by a U.K.-based travel and hospitality consulting company.

In fact, things are so bad designwise that many customers are confused by the prices displayed, and about half the time they cannot determine whether a displayed price is per room or per person, according to a report from Southampton, England-based Travel UCD, which calls itself a “usability consultancy specializing in front-end design of travel and hospitality Web sites.”

The company said its 50-page report, entitled “Hotel Booking Process Design and Usability,” studied the user interfaces of 87 travel agency, hotel booking agency and hotel chain Web sites.

Only 48 percent of rates displayed on search results pages explain whether the price is for a room – the hotel industry standard — or for a person, which is the holiday/vacation industry standard, Travel UCD said.

However, most of the major U.S. sites — Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Hotels.com and Priceline.com — made it very clear.

For example, checking for rates on a five-night stay at London’s Le Meridien Grosvenor House in June, the search results at Expedia clearly stated that the price was per room –an average of $408 per day for the Royal Club Executive Class room.

A check at Hotels.com for rooms on the Strip in Las Vegas made it crystal clear what one was paying for. A Travelocity check in Boston also made it clear. Priceline specifies that when you name your own price, it is per room, per night.

Asked how the top U.S. travel sites rated, a spokesman for Travel UCD said only that the study included Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline, “however, the purpose of the report is not to comment on individual sites but to provide a sector overview, with recommendations on where the industry can improve.”

The report says that many hotel Web sites are unable to offer rooms for child occupancy, or, conversely, accept bookings for child occupancy when legal regulations forbid such reservations.

“With online hotel reservations predicted to reach 20 percent of all online travel bookings by 2005, Web sites are striving to achieve maximum user stickiness,” said Alex Bainbridge, Travel UCD senior consultant and author of the study. “Many sites do not meet the usability needs of their customers, despite the keenness of consumers to book on the Web. The majority of problems are simple design errors…”

The report, targeted at hotel groups, online agencies and e-wholesalers, measures each site’s efficiency and error count, and examines the learnability, memorability and user satisfaction of each.

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