We've created Zuko, our next-generation form analytics platform. Explore Zuko Explore Zuko > Hide Message

User Experience Innovations From Travel Sites

User experience

Bad user experience is easy to pick on, we’ve done it before when we highlighted 5 User Experience Mistakes Travel Sites Make.

However, there are also brilliant examples of innovation in the travel industry. Brands such as Thomson, Hipmunk and AirBnB are focussing on their users to create great online and offline experiences.

Man holding up smartphone

Destination guides as relationship-building content

90% of web traffic is from first-time visitors. A great many of those visitors aren’t ready yet to buy a product or buy into a service. They have no experience of your site, your customer service, prices etc. You need to quickly build a relationship with first-time visitors that keeps them coming back. Content is the way to do it.

Content for early-stage prospects should offer value without chasing the sale, something Csaba Zajdo calls ‘cold content’.

“The call to action needs to be softer, start a relationship with prospects first.” – @csabazajdo

Destination guides are a great example of cold content. The travel industry is creating clever examples of destination guides to warm up customers, keep them on site and visiting more regularly.


AirBnB’s homepage is predominantly taken up with destination guides, rather than accommodation listings. They understand that they need to start with broad content that will suit the majority of site visitors.

AirBnB just for the weekend guides

The guides themselves are small, containing helpful little pointers like the current weather and how long it would take me to drive there.

AirBnB guide to Bristol

The central image immerses me in a residential part of the city, helping me get a good idea of what it would be like to stay there. Reasons to visit are fired off, with no external links but an assumption that you can follow these up if they catch your fancy. Finally a map gives context to the destination.

This example by AirBnB shows that destination guides can be simple, even sparse, but still offer a lot of value.

Airbnb isn’t just for holidays either. Formisimo co-founder, Al Mackin, weighed up the pros and cons of using AirBnB for business travel.

Generator Hostels

Generator Hostels go further than providing travel guides, they create destination-based interest pieces. They also promote this part of the site heavily on the homepage, fading out the main site to direct you to their content platform, Parallel:

Generator Hotels Parallel content

The content itself is designed specifically for the hostel group’s target audience, young, fun, intelligent travellers:

Generator Hostel_content sidebar

Articles are labelled by destination and interest e.g. culture, music or art. The moody photography that accompanies each article speaks to a digital savvy audience, turned on by aesthetics.

Google Destinations is your travel planning assistant

Google improved Google Flights in February of last year, allowing anyone searching for flights to see prices and flight time while remaining in the search engine. Now, Google are combining Flights with their hotel feature to create holiday options. The service is known as Destinations and looks like this:

Google aim to make holiday planning as easy as typing in a few keywords, such as “winter sun” or “germany hiking”. Results from various Google products are amalgamated to produce supporting content for the searcher’s whole itinerary.

Destinations is flexible to the user, allowing them to view options based on their most important criteria first e.g. activity, time of year or weather.

Travel sites are setting a good example on mobile

Google Destinations is built for mobile first, perfect for users browsing during their evening commute etc. Google, as well as leading by example, have created a framework for others to follow to create amazing mobile browsing experiences.

Google’s mobile optimisation framework

Google’s mobile optimisation framework recommends sites consider the four stages of customer engagement:

  1. See – your large addressable audience, people who travel, those with a certain demographic or customers identified by certain parameters.
  2. Think – again your large addressable audience but with some sort of ‘commercial intent.’ They are thinking about their holidays but are not ready to start booking.
  3. Do – these people are actively looking to book with you. The ‘commercial intent’ is there. They’ve been on Google and typed in terms such as ‘flights to Majorca.’
  4. Care – your loyal customers and need looking after. They booked with you more than once, had a good experience and are back for more.

Source: Google tips for better user experience on travel sites.

Once you’re thinking about each of those stages you’ll have greater focus on creating journeys with appropriate content.


EasyJet detect a user’s location via the GPS on their phone and use it to adapt content to the user e.g. by detecting the nearest airports and creating a ‘Suggested Airports’ list.

easyJet app showing list of Fly From airports

The easyJet app uses geolocation

This feature recognises the needs of the user and helps them get to the information they’re looking for more quickly. On mobile, where space is limited, features like this set a good example of content hierarchy.


I love Hipmunk’s pre-mobile experience, specifically the call to action to download their app. They very clearly design with the user in mind, recognising our motivations and challenges. The call to action includes got-to-have-it incentives, alluding to mobile-only deals, which desktop users miss out on.

Hipmunk also do the legwork for you, texting a link to your phone, rather than providing a link to download the app – which wouldn’t be appropriate for visitors currently visiting via desktop.

Take Hipmunk with you

That’s all before you ever start engaging with their content on a mobile device.

Social proof that helps you make decisions faster

David Darmanin says 90% of buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. However, it can take users a long time to read through reviews, vet social proof and finally decide from those reviews whether to take a shot and buy or book the best sounding option.

In one account of user testing conducted by Expedia, a test subject who was ‘bummed out’ by the specifics of one review and wavered over her decision-making in general due to the details in various other reviews. So, while we like to know the experiences of other people, too much information starts to slow down our ability to decide.

Hipmunk’s average scores help users scan reviews

Hipmunk master online reviews too:

Hipmunk hotel review tab

There’s an overall guest score which is similar to the star ratings you might see on any ecommerce site. What’s more useful is the average scores displayed for different criteria such as location, breakfast and vibe which are accompanied by detailed explanations of what that score reflects.

‘Vibe’ is rather a vague descriptor but Hipmunk save users from having to trawl through individual reviews to dissect what it might mean. Instead they explain the breakdown of the overall score for a certain hotel saying, “100% thought the hotel was modern. 78% enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.”

The user experience of pre-holiday planning is all important for increasing site usage. As Drake Bennett noted in his examination of Expedia’s testing practices,

“The goal of Expedia’s usability researchers is not only to make Expedia’s various sites and mobile apps more efficient but also to make them an extension of the vacation fantasies that are always running in the back of our heads.” – @drakepbennett

Secret Escapes, a luxury, members-only holiday deal site, say the same,

“People really want to look at our offers and open our emails, it’s like travel porn.” – @td_evans

The travel industry, more than other industries seems to understand the emotional motivations of users and buyers. Other industries can learn by example.