A look at five of the best travel websites and how they design experiences that capture emotional interest to secure travel bookings.
According to ABTA, 88% of Brits took a holiday in 2019, with the average person taking at least one seven+ night overseas trip – the highest numbers since 2011. But despite impressive growth, the travel industry remains highly competitive and brands have to fight hard for their market share.
The top travel websites differentiate themselves by evoking strong emotions as soon as users land on their site. Let’s take a look at five that do it well.
#1: Airbnb: The experience is the selling point
Airbnb has revolutionised the travel and online booking experience. The concept is that you stay with locals and get a true sense of the places you visit rather than simply booking a room with a faceless hotel brand. Key to Airbnb’s success is the community built into the platform where everyone has a verified profile. Hosts and guests are encouraged to leave reviews about each other after the end of a stay and this helps future hosts/guests choose where to stay and who to welcome into their home.
The online experience of using Airbnb is as smooth as it gets. You’re logged in across devices, simply open up the app/site and you’re instantly greeted with personalised recommendations, your travel history and the familiar search bar for your next trip. Searching for and browsing places to stay is intuitive and a generous array of filters help you refine your choices. And once your card details are stored with the app, you can book within two clicks.
The offline experience of using Airbnb after you’ve made a booking can vary a lot more. But, in terms of design and online UX, this travel website deserves top marks.
#2: Google Trips: The ultimate travel planning tool
Google Trips wants to be the only travel planning and booking app people need to travel the world. You can search for flights, hotels and holiday packages or explore locations and learn more about the places on your bucket list – and this is where the platform comes into its own.
In 2020, there are still better comparison/booking sites if you want the best prices, but Google Trips might be the best travel planning tool on the web right now.
Type in one of your dream destinations and you’ll get a summary of what makes it special, with a collection of images to browse through so you can get a feel for the place. Google Trips also shows the most popular things to do in the area and it even offers day plans to help you understand how much time you’ll need to visit all of the places you want to see.
You’ll also find links to travel videos on YouTube exploring popular locations and other places in the same country or area that you might want to visit during your trip.
Recently, Google introduced a new feature that shows the most popular times and seasonal weather info so you can choose the best time to beat the crowds and enjoy the best weather.
You can also use Google Flights to predict flight prices and set notifications to get a heads-up when prices drop.
Related reading: What does the new Google travel app mean for travel agents?
#3: Kayak: The best prices for flights, hotels and more
The main downside with Google Trips is that it doesn’t search smaller online travel agencies (OTAs). Platforms like Kayak and Skyscanner offer lower prices by showing offers from smaller OTAs while it also helps smaller agencies by not locking them out of the search process.
That’s pretty important.
While the experience of using Kayak is somewhat less impressive than the other examples in this list, it serves an important niche in the industry – helping users find the lowest possible prices on their flights. The problem with platforms like Kayak and Skyscanner is that you have to visit third-party sites to complete the booking, which creates a disjointed experience. You’re basically left to the mercy of the booking process provided by the third-party website and the bar can be frustratingly low at times.
The Kayak website itself delivers a pleasant enough experience and the mobile app is better still. It’s a no-frills platform with a very easyJet colour scheme but it does the job. Searching for flights, hotels and transport is simple and you can just about book everything you need from the same platform (with some unfortunate third-party bookings). Once again, you get personalised recommendations and access to your booking history, plus you can also “explore” places to find out more about them, read travel guides and browse top destinations for inspiration.
#4: Lonely Planet: Travel guide and experiences
Lonely Planet is a travel guide website and one of the most successful publishers of printed travel guides. Its website acts as an online guide to locations around the world, designed to draw users into booking experiences, flights, hotels, insurance, car rentals and just about every possible type of booking associated to travel.
The website aims to draw in traffic from casual travel searches like “things to do in San Sebastian” or “travelling in Spain” and attract users who are clearly still planning their trip.
Lonely Planet does a great job of romanticising the notion of travel by focusing on cultural and natural strengths of each location. Its website is filled with guides to Vietnamese coffee, traditional food in Kyoto and the cultural arts of Buenos Aires – all reinforced with dreamy images and videos that almost take you there but leave you craving more. The website guides you through the “Top experience in” your dream locations and always keeps you within a few clicks of making it a reality by booking through the site.
#5: Luxury Retreats: No-compromise travel
Luxury Retreats makes its target market clear with the emphasis being on the value of each booking rather than the volume. This website is for people who are looking for the best – pure convenience – and they’re willing to pay for the benefit. So the Luxury Retreats website needs to communicate this through the visual design of its website, of course, but this isn’t the most important aspect.
More importantly, the browsing and booking experience needs to communicate that sense of luxury and convenience too.
Overall, the website delivers on this. It provides a smooth browsing and booking experience that could rival the likes of Airbnb. Although, this probably has a lot to do with the fact that Airbnb bought Luxury Retreats in 2017 and basically replaced it with an older version of its own website.
This older framework is a more minimal, stripped-back design than the current Airbnb website and this lends well to the Luxury Retreats experience. The pages are clean, uncluttered and dominated by images showcasing the luxury villas, resorts and apartments. Users can book a range of additional services along with their accommodation – anything from housekeeping and airport transfers to spa services and a butler.
So there you have it, five impressive travel websites leading the way and getting it right in a super-competitive industry.