New Faces but Old Games for Major Hotel Websites

Waldorf-Astoria, Four Seasons, and Marriott’s AutographCollection have all seen website updates in the past few weeks. All three of them have done a relatively good job in optimizing for tablet users, but some have done better at addressing the thornier issues of integrating social sharing and reviews.  Let’s take a closer look and learn more…

(Note: I am limiting today's review to traditional websites only; a similar review of mobile sites will come soon.)

This site wisely maximizes the impact of its enormous panoramic photographs with hideaway menus for booking (up top) and other details (along the bottom).  This cosmetic change is good for tablet users, but the website appears to be completely devoid of reviews or other guest-generated content. The same appears to hold true for the property-specific websites that link from here. While it would be ideal to see reviews in a variety of locations on the site, one good suggestion would be to include reviews and ratings for the "Experience" venues: golf courses and spas. Hilton would actually be able to take a leadership position with such a move by expanding the review game into specific outlets and amenities. Doing so would provide utility to shoppers, therefore increasing traffic and conversion.

Regarding sharing features, the controls are all tucked away on the property sites and don’t seem to exist on the brand site itself. Browsing guests are hardly encouraged to share. More attention is needed here to drive awareness.

Bottom line: Potential guests require third-party reviews to help validate that the actual experience matches those alluring photos. There is a lot of quality here, and some good thinking, but I cannot imagine this website performing to expectations without review content. Overall, it seems like a great facelift but unresponsive to the significant changes in shopping behavior that have developed in the past few years.

Like Waldorf Astoria, this site does a great job with big-impact photos and unobtrusive design. This site goes a step further than Waldorf-Astoria, however, by including “Reviews at a Glance”, right beneath the fold on the property sites. This widget also includes Facebook and Twitter content and links to those assets. The TripAdvisor content is more like “mini testimonials” than actual “reviews” (there is no score, for example), and there is nothing to indicate that these testimonials are not cherry-picked. Still, it's a step in the right direction.  The integration with the site, versus a generic plugin, works well visually.  

Within the property pages, sharing functionality is a step up, too. Share buttons are less tucked away and for the Accommodations page, at least, the share allows you to select a thumbnail of your choice. This functionality seems, oddly, to be absent from the Photos & Videos page, however (at least for Denver).

A few areas of concern I would have here: The wholesale handoff of traffic from the Reviews widget to the TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Twitter pages seems ill advised. I think this is particularly true given the very limited review information that the widget provides. I do not think that shoppers’ needs for third party reviews will necessarily be met by this widget and that they will therefore still leave the site. I’d also suggest that bringing in reviews from platforms in addition to TripAdvisor would be advisable.

Here's a a nice-to-have: Wouldn't it be great (ie: "useful") to see a “By User Review” tab on the “Find a Hotel or Resort” page?

Bottom Line: A good looking website with good sharing functionality and some of the review info that shoppers need, but not necessarily enough to keep them onsite. In the future, they might find that they can meet shoppers' needs and their own needs (converting traffic to reservations) by using plugins to more completely integrate reviews and social content into the site itself.

What a great looking website. The presentation layer, including its video content, is nearly perfect for high-bandwidth tablet use. This site has a “personalized view” function that should, in time, encourage sharing and enable first steps towards social CRM (SCRM) via Facebook sign in. Individual property pages have “Love” and “Share” buttons at the very bottom of the page, and some properties seem to have a call to action for shoppers to add their photos to the hotel’s Flickr account. 

While the Personalized View feature is a good one, the call to action for sharing on property pages seems only adequate. A better choice would be to have a share button right near the big photos at the top of each page. But on the flip side, all property pages seem to have a Google maps local listing, which will boost optimization in Google search results.

Bottom Line: Sadly, this site also appears to be lacking reviews. Shoppers will go to another site to validate the promises made by the brand, and a certain percentage of them will book other hotels or through an OTA channel. 

And the winner is…
Unfortunately, I’m not prepared to give any of these new sites a “winner” label. They are all physically beautiful, but are lacking in best practices for the new era. A truly winning website in this space should have, at least, the following features:
  • Ratings and reviews from multiple platforms (not just TripAdvisor) located within the site
  • A comprehensive sharing strategy that extends deeply into the website and that includes Google +1
  • If the brand believes its social content to be influential to shoppers, that should be embedded within the site as well.
And I would give bonus points for...
  • Including ratings and reviews in the booking engine pages  (the hotel equivalent of the shopping cart), not just the presentation layer
  • Experimenting with validated reviews, as Starwood have done
  • Any use of the game mechanics that are used by to such excellent effect.  
To be fair, it is hard to innovate for such big ships. In fact, I increasingly suspect that Marriott, Hilton, and others ponied up to participate in specifically so that they would have the opportunity to innovate in an environment free of the excessive baggage of their technology and operations platforms. But, until we see evidence of any of these brands breaking out of this rut, the OTAs and review sites will continue to out-innovate and out-maneuver the brands that they are selling -- great new photography notwithstanding.