What Travel Websites Do People Actually Use?

expedia expedia.com online travel website
Alamy

You probably have your own online travel planning regimen, but are you using the same websites as everyone else?

Tnooz reports on the most popular travel websites last month, listing what online travel agency, lodging and destination, airline and general travel search terms were most popular. Here are some of the winners:
Top 3 online travel agency websites:

  1. Expedia
  2. Priceline.com
  3. CheapOair

Top 3 accommodations websites:

  1. TripAdvisor
  2. Booking.com
  3. Hotels.com

Top 3 airline websites:

  1. Southwest Airlines
  2. Delta Airlines
  3. United Airlines

Top 3 travel search terms:

  1. mapquest
  2. google maps
  3. southwest airlines

You can see the top 10 in each category at Tnooz.

Do these results surprise you?

How Can Airline Websites Improve?

I recently visited the mobile website for midwest-based Sun Country Airlines, where I could check a flight status, view schedules or check my itinerary. Basically everything except what I came to do: book a flight. The confusing, unattractive, user-unfriendly design of airline websites is a common complaint of travelers, and a problem that the designers at Fi (Fantasy Interactive) have attempted to solve.

Their mock website and accompanying video highlights high-quality images, visual details such as weather temperatures, street maps and city sights, and a seamless, all-in-one-screen experience from flight booking to seat selection to flight status. Their design makes the airline more than a transportation company. It makes them a travel authority, tour guide and most importantly, a source of inspiration.

This wasn’t the first attempt at an airline website overhaul. In 2009, user interface designer Dustin Curtis published an open letter to American Airlines on his website, along with his idea of a website redesign. This was followed up by an anonymous response from one of AA’s designers, who was then fired for his message to Mr. Curtis. Funny enough, his vision of a new AA.com is pretty similar to what the airline unveiled this year with their new logo, with large images, links to deals and news and an overall streamlined look.

For something completely different, check out Anna Kovecses’ minimalist and vaguely retro design for American, along with a user-generated blog community where you might leave travel tips for frequent flyer miles.Delta relaunched its site last year with features including a travel “wallet” to store receipts to make their site more “customized” to travelers. Swedish designer Erik Linden’s gorgeous layout for a new Lufthansa site can be found online, but a visit to the German airline’s official site shows the same old crowded page. JetBlue.com has been consistently appealing and easy to use, touting the “jetting” experience rather than just a seat. Travel industry news site Skift has a nifty slideshow comparing booking sites now and from their early days. (The major innovation seems to be images over hyperlinks and text.)

One thing many of these designs have in common is suggestion and inspiration. Airlines seem to assume that most of us go to their website with a firm destination in mind, burying their route map deep in a sub-menu for us to hunt down. Yet if we are to be loyal to one brand or try to use frequent flyer miles, a map of their flights is the first destination. My husband is trying to make “million miler” status with American, and tries to book with them as much as possible, maximizing the distance and number of miles. While I can search for destinations from JFK, and even sort my number of miles, it’s harder to figure out what international destinations (such as Seoul) are served from another departure city. Shouldn’t the goal be for the airline to be one you want to return to, rather than a site you quit using out of frustration?

What matters to you in using an airline’s booking site?

How Does Music Affect Your Hotel Decisions?

music
Library of Congress

Music is becoming common on hotel websites, but does it really make us want to book a room?

A scientific study has come up with the answer: yeah, kinda. The journal Psychology of Music has published an article titled, “Congruency between instrumental background music and behavior on a website.”

As the author states in the abstract:

“Instrumental music (jazz and djembe) was played or not [played] while participants browsed the website of a well-known seaside resort and participants were instructed to select a type of accommodation. It was found that djembe music was associated more with a choice of outdoor accommodation while jazz music was associated with greater interest for hotel accommodation. Both music conditions showed a significant difference from the no music control condition. The ability of instrumental music to prime different memories and feelings is used to explain these results.”

So basically when we hear jazz we think of sipping bourbon in smoky interiors, while djembe makes us want to dance the night away in the moonlight. Um, OK.

Reading the article further, it turns out there’s a whole field of study devoted to figuring out what background music will do to our buying habits. Classical music makes us buy more expensive wines, for example, and playing French music will make us more likely to buy French wines. And here I thought the major determining factor was the physical attributes of my date.

The results of this study are pretty impressive. Eighty percent of the participants in this experiment picked a hotel room when they heard jazz, while 62.5% of the djembe listeners picked camping. For those who didn’t hear any music, 27.5% picked the hotel and 30% picked camping. It appears that mood music is aptly named.

Of course, hotel websites looking to get our money have to pick the right music. More often than not it’s some cheesy tune that makes us turn off the volume, or even worse for the hotel, click on another website. The annoyance factor is even higher if the music is clogging your slow connection or starts ringing out across your office, announcing to everyone that you’re slacking off.

So instead of spending money on music for their websites, perhaps hotels should spend more on music in their rooms. While Blind Willie McTell isn’t around anymore to play his 12-string guitar while you scarf down all the pillow mints, there are plenty of out-of-work musicians who would be happy to serenade you for a small fee.

Nature Valley Trail View Adds Sequoia National Park To Virtual Hikes

Nature Valley Trail View now offers virtual hikes of Sequoia National ParkIn March of last year, Nature Valley launched their Trail View website, giving deskbound outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to take a virtual hike through three of the most popular national parks in the U.S. The website employed technology similar to Google’s Street View to give us the opportunity to explore more than 300 miles of trails in the Grand Canyon, Great Smokey Mountains and Yellowstone. Now, just in time to celebrate National Park Week, the site is adding yet another spectacular park to the mix.

Nature Valley has announced that starting today an additional 50+ miles of trail located inside Sequoia National Park will be available to virtual explorers. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia is of course best known for the trees from which it derives its name. The Giant Sequoias are known to grow to heights in excess of 200 feet, putting them amongst the largest living organisms on our planet. With the addition of the park to the Nature Valley Trail View site, you can now take a stroll amongst those magnificent trees directly from your favorite web browser.

Adding another park to the website isn’t the only upgrade to Trail View today. The site is also becoming more mobile friendly in an effort to accommodate smartphones and tablets as well. That will include the ability to download .pdf files with information about the parks and specific trails too. This could become a handy resource for travelers headed out to one of these destinations who might need a little help finding your way around.Nature Valley’s commitment to the national parks doesn’t end there, however. Over the past few years, the company has been a tireless advocate for the parks. Through its annual Preserve the Parks campaign they’ve managed to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the National Parks Conservation Association. With another $500,000 donation this year, the four-year total will exceed $1.8 million. This is in addition to some fantastic park restoration projects that conducted with volunteers who are eager to help protect their favorite parks as well.

As a fan of the national parks, I truly appreciate the efforts that Nature Valley has put forth to help preserve some of our most amazing landscapes. Their work is helping to ensure future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy these places as well. And with their Trail View website, they allow me to take a virtual escape now and again, which certainly comes in handy when I’ve spending far too much time indoors.

[Photo Credit: Dcrjsr via WikiMedia]

ZocDoc Helps You Find Doctors, Make Appointments While Traveling

ZocDoc helps you find medical assistance while travelingThere is nothing more frustrating than having to seek medical assistance while traveling. It is bad enough to have something unexpected come up while you’re at home, but at least your personal doctor is generally only a phone call away. But while you’re on the road it can be difficult to find a specialist and booking an appointment can be a real challenge.

That’s where ZocDoc can come in very handy. The service, which is available on both the web and as an Android and iOS app, allows users to quickly and easily find doctors, dentists and other specialists based on location. The website version of ZocDoc searches based on zip code while the mobile apps use the smartphone’s built in GPS chip to locate options that are near by. Searches can be narrowed by looking for specific specialties (allergist, cardiologist, orthodontist, etc.) and you can even add a search criteria based on the insurance provider you’ll be using.

When the search is complete, ZocDoc presents all the available options in a clean and easy to read format that includes addresses, reviews and a listing of the next available appointment. Tapping or clicking on an open date and time allows the user to then quickly and easily book that appointment.

Putting ZocDoc through its paces, I was impressed with just how simple the interface was both on the website and the iPhone app. It really is very easy to use the service to locate a doctor. Booking an appointment couldn’t have been any easier either and the whole process took just a minute or two to complete.

For now, ZocDoc only works in the U.S. but for travelers who frequently move about the country, this could be an incredibly useful app. If you find yourself frequently on the road and occasionally needing medical assistance of some type, this service will come in very hand. While not expressly built for travelers, it certainly is a resource that we’ll all be happy to have if we ever need it.

[Photo Credit: U.S. Airforce via Wikimedia]