Site Seeing: Are London’s hotels adapting to the mobile era?

Peter Matthews is managing director of Nucleus, a leading brand and digital consultancy specialising in the travel, luxury and financial services sectors. nucleus.co.uk | @NucleusLondon

This time of year you can generally tell who’s going to do what in the world of digital travel next year. By the same measure, you can also tell who’s not doing enough ‘what’.

In the old days, November was when the aroma of fresh printer’s ink overwhelmed the senses but, today, that industry is just one of the many that are feeling the digital squeeze.

So, while keenly keeping an eye-out for new websites, I also watch for those that should be relaunching their ageing sites, but have not. This is sometimes down to their agencies missing deadlines, with a resulting rush to get sites live before Christmas, but also an early indicator that life might get a lot tougher for the brands that have put off investment decisions in the hope that their existing, inadequate, sites will keep them going for another year.

Next year will be especially cruel to some travel brands; not just because we will be in our fifth year of general economic hardship, but also because during 2013, we will see some businesses really suffering from not negotiating the transition to the mobile era.

This will be particularly true in the luxury sector, where we forecast more than 30% of all website traffic will be browsed on mobile devices by January and 40% by the end of 2013. In this context I’ve decided to study – with vicarious pleasure – three lovely London luxury hotels that have recently relaunched their websites to see if any of them have taken full competitive advantage of the mobile era.

Claridge’s

Design

Neat, tidy and on-brand, with art deco-style type, a cleanly structured interface and large images. Hard to criticise, but I’ll try: it’s just not as sexy as the real deal. Perhaps it’s the images, which are mostly too brightly-lit and lacking in contrast. Footer is messy. Mobile site is a successful attempt at brand vandalism.

Usability

Very easy-to-use to find your way around the PC site. Mega navs take you though each section, which just about work on a tablet, but in portrait mode it’s not ideal and on an iPad mini even less so. Usability is a contradiction in terms on the ‘mobile’ site.

Content

Good content with detailed room descriptions, nice interactive map with favoured shops and entertainment etc. Surprisingly, this is not a multilingual site and non-English speaking guests have to make do with PDFs. ‘Mobile’ site is a content-free zone.

Business model / Revenue generation

The old site was a good revenue generator, but here the ‘check availability’ box is subsumed into the page design, so it doesn’t stand out. The booking process is very good with a true luxury feel. Prices even include VAT, which is not the case with many.

Claridges

Café Royal

Design

The design is pretty basic but, reflows on PCs and iPhones based on vertical height, keeping the header in place, but not on iPads. However, this and the booking widget are the only bits that adapt to specific devices, so the site is illegible on a phone without pinching and enlarging every section.

Usability

Very simple to navigate on a PC, with little to clutter the experience, but frustrating on a phone. This is doubly annoying as this website would be well suited to a properly implemented responsive or adaptive design.

Content

There are not enough pictures, although you can forgive Café Royal as they haven’t opened yet and everyone knows you do most of your photography a few days before opening. What is pictured is of very high quality and nicely lit.

Business model / Revenue generation

Pretty straight-forward on-page booking widget leading to, I think, a Trust IBS system. Not the sexiest implementation, but it should work well enough on PC and tablet, if not on mobile. Prices quoted exclude VAT, so flatter to deceive.

Cafe Royal

Mandarin Oriental

Design

The new website shows Mandarin Oriental now has digital vision and invested to back its strategy. It has supersized images, a clean and clear structure and a timeless and elegant design aesthetic. It doesn’t reflow for tablets and smartphones get a stripped-down site, which is miles better than competitors’ ones.

Usability

Very easy-to-use due to the clear navigation and information design, which drives the content structure. This has all been very carefully thought-out. Mobile site also sets standards and its version of SynXis mobile booking system is best-of-breed.

Content

The panelled page design allows plenty of content to be displayed on content-rich landing pages. The fairly rigid templates don’t provide much in the way of variation, but this design has to work for 30 or more hotels around the world.

Business model / Revenue generation

‘Book your stay’ is a nicer way to say ‘book now’ but the only prompt is a gold button in the top global navigation bar. While suitably discreet for a five-star brand, it might be too discreet. Booking process is first class on PCs, iPad and iPhone.

Mandarin

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