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Usability: An Integral Part of the Guest Experience

We often joke that a hotel having a frustratingly “unusable” website is the Internet-equivalent of giving a guest the wrong room key and then closing the front desk.

As hotel websites become increasingly interactive, some guests will accept frustrating online experiences as inevitabilities; growing pains in the evolution of the web. Yet, as users’ patience wanes and they spend less time on frustrating sites, it’s time we start seeing usability for what it is: a business concern.

It’s just business

Time has proven that the brands that will win in the long-term are those that are willing to approach the interplay between technology and the customer experience pragmatically and creatively. Strategic marketers understand that digital is a two way street, and they take calculated risks with emerging technologies to gain valuable first-move advantages. Today, as the hospitality industry recovers, these advantages are more important than ever.

Users are so judgemental

Now, with the web being accessed from ever more places, a user’s subjective experience on your site has become part of the perceived quality of service. Your website is often the first employee your customer meets, so it helps if it’s easy to get along with.

Yes, your customers are unfairly judgemental, but how long do you spend on a site that makes you download a plug-in first? Worse, one that tells you it “wasn’t built for your device”. What about a site that expects you to read three paragraphs of text written for Google’s algorithm (5 years ago)? Give some thought to your own browsing habits over the next few days and you’ll see what I mean. We are constantly confronted by bad user experiences online. And more often than not, we’ll move on to find a site that’s easier to use.

Usability defined

ISO defines usability as “the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.”

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Memorability: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Efficiency: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they re establish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

2 reasons people visit your website:

  • They are curious about you and want to find out more.
  • They want to solve a problem.

Each group has a distinct set of objectives when visiting your site which will, no doubt, impact their respective ideas of what constitutes a “good user experience”.


If they are curious about your business, engage them in a clear way, entice them, give them something to share, make them want what you’re selling, and let them know why you’re different than the hotel down the street. Don’t bombard them with every creative idea you’ve ever had. They’ll get frustrated and leave. Worse yet, it will make you look desperate.

Problem solving

If they just want to book a room, find their meeting, or make dinner reservations, let them do it as quickly as possible. Don’t tell them about your meeting space when they’re trying to give their cab driver directions to the hotel. They are trying to solve a problem, they’re late for something, the kids are yelling, let them get on with life.

What can you do?

So the scope of the guest experience has expanded. Guests expect a higher level of service and they expect it to begin earlier in the hotel selection process, which starts online. The primary goal of a good hotel site should be to provide accurate and accessible information in a compelling way. This goal should inform the entire design process.

As a design studio, we realize that the onus is on us to deliver consistent brand experiences in the digital channel and cut to the chase has long been our underlying philosophy. But now, with the increasing power of analytics, conversion tracking, heat-mapping and multi-variate testing, we have the benefit of objectivity. If a site isn’t performing, we can find out why and how to fix it. We’ll leave that for another blog post.