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No 2000/5 - Paris, Monday, August 28, 2000

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  eIndices of American online hotel chains. Top priority: Give the sites a human touch  

eIndices are a classification system devised by eTourism professionals for eTourism professionals.

Our unique aim, over the past year, has been to analyze the quality of websites using the methodology we have developed through our experience as Internet consultants in the eTourism sector.

We study the sites to find out whether they have the qualities needed to ensure that they will be successful in the medium term, but we do not analyze their turnover or whether the products they offer are good value for money.

In analyzing the sites of the American hotel chains, we found that the great majority had three major faults:

  • They are impersonal and cold.
  • Their search engines are limited and often unreliable.
  • Hotel presentations are often mediocre.


The ability of a site to welcome its users in a warm and friendly way is one of the prerequisites for online success.

As I analyzed the sites, I was struck by how cold and impersonal most of them were.

Of course, users visiting websites are looking for efficient, top-quality service, and an extensive product offer. Even so, does this mean that they should be confronted with anonymous-looking sites, where the brand's logo is about the only recognizable and welcoming factor?

I first noticed this lack of warmth and user-friendliness in the actual texts on the sites. Although I admit that an overly friendly tone is not necessarily suitable for the target clientele of some of the hotel chains, does this mean that the texts need to be hardly more personal than a police report.

Very few of the sites analyzed have made an effort to write intelligently about the hotels they are presenting, or even simply in the texts introducing the various sections. Do they think that the average user is so uneducated that it is not worth the effort of giving him anything better than a vaguely improved list of details?

Our analysis also showed that the general quality of the graphic navigation items and very often the photos, too, is very poor.

Whereas all these hotel chains have luxurious brochures printed on top-quality paper, it seems that as soon as they go on the Net, this desire for quality disappears. We are presented with lifeless sites, showing barely more than a number of unsophisticated tables with a few pictures. In short, the sites are characterized by a general feeling of drabness.

Yet, even if users do primarily go to a site to book a room, I do not see what is to stop the site giving them something to dream about. Don't the basic rules of marketing apply on the web too?

Another point which particularly struck me is the lack of smiling faces. The Internet is, in itself, a rather impersonal media. What is more human and warm-hearted than a nice smile? And is this really so difficult to put online?

Unlike most of its competitors, one site stands out particularly in this respect: the Radisson chain.

Not only have great efforts been made to write warm and intelligent texts throughout the site, but what's more, all the photos show people with lovely smiles.

Radisson has made its site much more welcoming than its competitors'. Personally, I think that this hospitable attitude is a prerequisite to converting users into loyal customers.



Of course, this is not all there is to making a website successful, but when once all the sites have reached a degree of technical perfection, and they all have great search engines, what is going to set them apart from each another in the eyes of the public?



In the meantime, their search engines are still far from perfect.

In fact, on most of the hotel sites, users can only do a "basic" search, using criteria such as town, region and country. And, when a so-called "advanced" search is possible, this often only means that users can say what level of facilities they are looking for in a hotel.

The sites which stand out the most in this respect offer extra criteria such as: beach, golf, tennis, skiing, or family holidays and activities for children.

Giving users the possibility of searching with this kind of criteria is something the web is quite capable of and it is a shame the sites are not offering this.

The European hotel chain, Lucien Barriere, allows its visitors to choose hotels that fit the following criteria: romantic, a family stay with children, business, sports, fitness, gastronomy, etc.

I would like to know why none of the American sites we analyzed is capable, for the moment, of offering a similar range of search criteria, on top of the usual ones.

I also noticed that, even with reduced criteria, the results are often not very reliable.

I searched USAHotelGuides for hotels in the city of New York with the following advanced search criteria: golf, beach, skiing and fitness. The site came up with 80 hotels in New York with these four characteristics. What an amazing place New York is!



As well as impersonal and over-simplified texts, as mentioned above, the descriptions of the hotels themselves are often extremely poor too. There are frequently no photos, or very few, of the hotel, its bedrooms, lounges and restaurants. In fact, it is up to the user to "imagine" what the hotel will be like before he actually goes there.

In addition, when photos are provided, they are often of such poor quality that they are more than likely to put the customer off completely. Once again, these photos would never be acceptable in a printed brochure, yet they are put online without any qualms!

However, I appreciated the efforts made by USAHotelGuides which gives very nice presentation portfolios for some of the hotels on its books, sometimes even with video clips.

Similarly, on the whole the chains make very little effort to give any information about the area the hotels are situated in (cultural activities, diaries of events, etc.). Yet travellers often find that they have a few free hours during their stay.

The added-value this would provide customers with would also be a means of gaining their loyalty in the long-term. The sites could even set up partnerships with other sites selling tickets for concerts or sports events, enabling the user to organize his timetable in advance. None of the sites analyzed offers this type of service, yet it could set them apart from their competitors.

In short, eIndices shows that American hotel chains and reservation sites have many shortcomings, which are all the more surprising given the size of the chains and their financial means, which should enable them to set up top-quality sites.

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