How to make a really bad hotel website in ten easy steps

David Whitley 7

In recent weeks, I have been writing a few city guides, which means that I have had to visit a lot of hotel websites in order to get contact details. On the way, I have encountered some phenomenally irritating sites, but that of the Hotel De Las Letras in Madrid was the straw that broke the camel’s back (those clicking, be warned: it truly is awful). It committed just about every crime against hotel web design – it was almost as if it had specifically been designed to annoy potential guests.

I’d like to say that the Hotel De Las Letras site is unique in this, but it most certainly isn’t. Many of its head-against-wall flaws are frighteningly common. But hoteliers, if you really want to make your site annoying and singularly unhelpful, here are a few tips to follow…

1. Meet the needs of the designer rather than your potential customers

When I was on a student paper, articles would be written and commissioned purely for the purpose of having something to enter for awards. That these tedious, overly earnest pieces were of no interest to the readership was an irrelevance – it was all about getting a shiny trinket and potentially furthering careers.

They may deny it, but magazines, newspapers and radio stations all do this – and so do designers. Give a designer a free reign, and they’re likely to use your site as an opportunity to show off what they can do with all manner of arty flourishes and technical wizardry. Alas, this often makes the site far more valuable as part of their portfolio than it does to people visiting it.

2. Add a Flash intro

Preferably one that lasts for at least 30 seconds and can’t be switched off.

Seriously though, if you have to even consider an option that says ‘skip intro’ then it shouldn’t be there in the first place. If a significant number of visitors are forced to get rid of something they don’t want before they can even have a look at what your hotel is about, what frame of mind is that putting them in? It’s certainly not one that’s conducive to booking on the spot, that’s for certain. Also, such intros can’t be viewed on many computers/ phones. As one writer said when I showed him the Las Letras site: “As I expected, it’s a completely blank page when viewed on an IPhone, which presumably means it’s a seething mess of Flash.”

3. Play some music

We all love music, don’t we? Especially some pseudo-funky lounge music designed solely for the purpose of producing an aural backdrop in bars populated by superwankers. Even more so when it’s forced upon us without warning. So stick some on your website, playing loudly from launch – and preferably without an option to turn it off. This goes down tremendously well with everyone – particularly those in offices having a quick peek at holiday options when they think the boss won’t notice.

Rule 1: Unless you are a musician or a record company, it is NEVER acceptable to put music on your website.

4. Hide the English language version

People who don’t speak the native language of the country your hotel is in should bloody well learn it if they want to grace your floors. So why not make them work to find the alternative language option?

The Las Letras site might well have an English option – I just don’t know where it is. It could be at the bottom of the screen. I don’t know – I’ve only got a small screen and there’s no scrolling function to allow me to see what’s lower on the page. Other sites fall into the trap of saying something along the lines of “choose language” but doing so only in original language of the site. And if someone’s Spanish/ German is so poor that they require an English language version, chances are that ‘idioma’/ ‘sprache’ will mean nothing to them.

5. Go for pictures rather than information

People don’t want to know anything about the hotel. They just want to see great big pictures of it. So fill the screen with them, and add little to no information about the hotel, the rooms or the facilities. People can just guess, can’t they?

This isn’t to say that pictures are inherently bad – they’re not. But detail is more important. The best way forward is to have a gallery option so that people can explore visually if they want, but ideally there should be as much information as possible to help guests make an informed choice. What size are the beds? How big are the rooms? What’s in the rooms? Are there lifts? And so on. This doesn’t have to be in one big splurge – but a tiered information structure that allows potential guests to find what they need hurts no-one.

6. Have separate booking screens and hide the prices

During that stage of vague trip planning, people don’t like knowing roughly how much something will cost. They prefer to be forced into entering specific dates and choosing a specific room type before being taken to a separate screen where they can discover how much it will cost on that day only. It’s good to go through all of this before discovering that a hotel is at least £100 outside your budget range and that you’ve wasted five minutes finding this out.

Is it really too hard to put “rooms cost between £X and £Y depending on season and length of stay” somewhere reasonably accessible on the site, so that people can at least have a ballpark estimate without the rigmarole?

7. Hide the extra costs

So the rate is room only? Don’t worry – no-one will want to know how much the breakfast costs, so don’t tell them. The same applies to internet access. As long as you provide WiFi, no-one will care whether it costs £1 or £30 a day to use it.

Alas, this isn’t the case, and I for one will never book a hotel without knowing how much the WiFi access will cost me…

8. Don’t let people copy and paste your address and phone number

This is something of a journalist-specific issue. If I’m writing a guide and need your hotel details, it’s far easier for me to copy and paste them than to flit between screens retyping. This is another crime of flash sites – info often can’t be copy-and-pasted (or, I believe, be seen by Google – which does you no favours in terms of search engine optimisation). But it’s not just about lazy hacks – travellers like to be able to write out their own itineraries, and it’s far better if they can paste the hotel address and phone number into a Word document.

9. Use a central reservations phone number

Big chains do this a lot. They have one central number for bookings, and don’t publish the number of the actual hotel anywhere. Because the ideal person to speak to if you’ve a specific enquiry about disabled access, non-smoking rooms, late check-outs or whether the bath and shower are separate is someone in a call centre 500 miles away who has never set foot inside the hotel in question.

10. Password-protect the media section

So you’ve been thoughtful enough to create a media section of the site for journalists requiring information, background history and photography of your hotel. That’s really kind. However, when I’ve got a short deadline, and need the information within minutes rather than days, if I have to apply to you for a password to access said section, I’m going to go to another hotel’s website instead.

Sarcasm aside, it’s really not difficult. If you want customers to book your hotel through your website rather than go through online booking engines that take a hefty commission, design the site with the potential guest in mind. After all, the website isn’t for your designer’s portfolio or for your own indulgence – it is for the people who may just want to stay at your hotel. And, if you don’t annoy them at every hurdle, there’s a far higher chance of them doing so.

Do you have any hotel website niggles? Share them by leaving a comment below…

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    7 Comments »

    1. Mary Novakovich July 20, 2010 at 09:19 -

      Agree heartily with all of the above. My biggest bugbear is not being able to find the rates. I know a lot of hotels have deliberately complicated room rates according to the season, a full moon or if the manager’s in a good mood. But there’s still no reason why they can’t have even the vaguest list of tariffs. And don’t even get me started on the music…

    2. Paul Scarrott July 20, 2010 at 11:20 -

      Couldn’t agree more. I still don’t understand why people do entire websites in Flash nowadays. Apart from the fact they are slow, bulky, cause problems with SEO, reduce accessibility, annoying and pretentious, there really isn’t any need any more. With effective use of AJAX and Javascript a good designer can create a modern, attractive and interactive site without all the problems caused by Flash. Flash has a place, for compressing videos for streaming, but as far as i’m concerned, that’s it.

      I am a bit concerned that you still haven’t spotted the English option on the Las Letras site mind, it’s at the top of every screen, just below the logo (albeit in pretty small writing.)

    3. Matthew Teller July 20, 2010 at 13:26 -

      Does anyone NOT click ‘Skip Intro’?

    4. Diccon Bewes July 21, 2010 at 09:26 -

      Great post! Especially the bit about pictures vs info, but having said that it is really important to have at least one pic of a typical room. I hate sites that don’t manage that.
      And when trying to make an online booking, having to click on through calendars to get to a check-in date six months away, and then click through them all again to put in the check-out date.

    5. Jill Starley-Grainger July 23, 2010 at 11:59 -

      I wish EVERY hotel would read this and take heed. What’s astonishing is that they seem to be getting WORSE and not better. Those wanky flash intro screens piss me off before I’ve even started trying to figure out where the heck your room rates are and what the rooms look like.

      As for the cut-and-paste of addresses, that’s not just a journo issue. Most people need to do this to email the address to friends and family, or to put into their own Word doc itinerary. It’s beyond annoying.

      Hotel website designers, please take note!

    6. Mike Gerrard January 3, 2013 at 01:52 -

      Brilliant post which deals with so many problems I’ve come across too – agree with Matthew Teller, does anyone ever NOT skip an intro? And yes, whether you’re a journalist or a regular guest (as I sometimes am too) I want to be able to cut and paste the address, phone, email and website into the itinerary that I use on the road, in case I need to contact them.

      Oh… and everything else you said.