It's an easy trap to fall into. A hotel wants to revamp its website and has a quick trawl through the web to see the latest concepts. It finds a web designer who assures the client that all the latest online bells and whistles
will be just the thing to entice potential
guests. The result is a website that is so
teeth-clenchingly annoying that the punter is put off before he even thinks of setting foot in the place.
This is a familiar whinge from travel writers, whose needs are often different from an average holidaymaker. We're usually up against a deadline and need to find basic information very quickly. A phone number, for example. Or an address. These would be quite handy to have on the opening page. Too often they're not. And I don't want to know about a toll-free number that doesn't work for international callers. (US hotels, I'm looking at you.)
But surely travel writers aren't the only people who sit impatiently while an elaborate intro wastes your precious time. If a website gives me the choice to "skip intro", I always will. There's nothing in the intro that shouldn't appear in the main site.
And then there's music. It doesn't belong on hotel websites. End of discussion. No arguments. The mute button goes on at once.
Photo galleries are lovely, useful and all part of the fun. Please make them easier to click through. Don't have each photo open its own window. It's very tiresome.
My biggest bugbear is one that involves a fundamental reason for choosing a particular hotel: the room rates. I want a list of tariffs for all types of rooms and showing the different seasons. A minimum and a maximum. Very simple. What I don't want is to have to input my dates before I'm told what offers fall on those dates. I need to know early on if the hotel is within my price range. Going through the whole inputting-of-dates rigamarole is another time-wasting nuisance. It also doesn't endear me to the hotel, as I automatically assume that it's afraid to be honest in its dealings. Why does price have to be something to hide? I'm fully aware that hotels want to have the flexibility to drop their prices at certain times and will offer incredible discounts. But I'd rather have a reasonably clear indication of the price range to begin with.
When I read flowery prose about the "essence" and the "philosophy" of the hotel, my eyes glaze over. And then I get angry when they neglect to tell me important information about the hotel's layout – such as that new annexe they built that is a 10-minute walk from the hotel.
But all of this matters not a jot when I can't get on to the site to begin with – because it's only in Flash. So that immediately excludes iPhone and iPad users, those people who are being continually bombarded with brilliant new travel apps for their devices. So don't forget to ask that clever web designer to come up with an HTML version too.
I'm curious to hear what experiences hoteliers have had with their websites and how they've affected business. Feel free to pass on your thoughts.