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How good user experience can impact on the travel booking journey

How good user experience can impact on the travel booking journey

By Christine Osborne

Ever changing landscape

People travel for a variety of reasons; aside from the top-level business or holiday categories, there are many sub-motivators and we’ve seen that travel motivation trends are changing. For some, a holiday is not a holiday unless it has an Instagram-able itinerary - so images of off-the-beaten track locations, dark tourism and adventure travel are taking over from white sandy beaches and cocktails by the pool.

People are booking more multi-stop trips and solo trips themselves – booking flights and accommodation separately. They are getting used to ultimate customisation and flexibility, and expect to experience places like a local. The User Experience for travel websites and apps is therefore evolving to keep up with these changing demands.

Mobile usage may well be on the increase across all websites, but we still see from website analytics and through carrying out user research, that while people browse travel sites on a mobile, they prefer to actually make the booking on a desktop or laptop. This begs the question; should we focus on improving mobile conversions or should the mobile and desktop experiences focus on different mindsets providing a different experience?

A programme of ongoing testing and tweaks to the User Experience of finding and booking a holiday can have a huge impact on conversions. Carrying out some A/B testing on simple things like the placement or terminology of a call-to-action can be very effective. In one case we saw how a small improvement to the mobile UX resulted in an uplift of over 80% in mobile conversions, which in turn impacted greatly on the number of bookings for our client.


With the post-kids travel market becoming increasingly more important (this market has the time and the money to travel), we find that these Digital Immigrants are often the focus of our user research. In user lab sessions, this older age group who have not grown up with tech are prepared to invest time reading carefully and are more likely to blame themselves if they have trouble with the booking process. They are less inspired by pictures because they have an idea of where they want to go, having read about it or heard about it through word of mouth. They are happy to invest the time in making sure they are making the right decision by reading pages thoroughly.

The younger Digital Natives, on the other hand, have grown up with tech and have less attention span. They want to make a decision more quickly, which means being able to scan a page – so pictures, videos and less written information is key. When faced with a new interface, these Gen Zs expect the user interface to be intuitive enough that they would need no instructions and have little patience if the interface is poor and does not provide them with what they need.

Most travel companies offering a full package or tour type holiday have a clear life-stage target market for their product offering, so in many cases we are not trying to create a solution that appeals across the life-stages. But for hotels and flight companies, we often need to appeal across a much wider audience which can be challenging - so personalisation can be key.

Personalised search results

Once someone has made that first step towards a booking in making a search for a holiday we must grab their attention with an inspiring and relevant search results page.

It may go without saying that the results displayed should be relevant to the search performed, but the number of requests we get from businesses who want to skew results with products they want to push is more frequent than you’d expect. In this epoque of ultra-personalisation where an individual really doesn’t have to see an advert for something that is not relevant to them, it’s easy to alienate visitors with irrelevant suggestions.

With people willingly sharing data about their location, interests and photos these days across a multitude of apps like Facebook and Instagram, they expect to receive a personalised set of recommendations tailored to their own interests.

The way to present search results should again be based on an understanding of the target audience, analysing both quantitative and qualitative data and personalising results and recommendations to different customer segments based on their behaviour.


A travel booking user journey usually starts with two basic questions: where? and when? Users may have varying answers here based on what mindset or mode they are in:

  • Browsers – only vaguely have the answer to one of those questions, they may wander through related links and articles on destinations seeking inspiration.
  • Hunters – have an idea of what they are looking for. They are in research mode, so take a more analytical approach and like to compare holidays and prices. They are likely to want advanced filtering options.
  • Bookers – know what they want (possibly having been a browser or a hunter on a previous visit to the site or be booking for business travel). They are ready to book, and ready to go!

Catering for these different mindsets always raises the discussion of what the call-to-action should be – should it be Book now  (implying the user is ready to make a purchase) or Check availability (which implies less commitment and appeals to those who are still exploring options)?

Appealing to these mindsets at the right time in their journey is important – we want to make it easy to book but not alienate those still in hunt or browse mode, and there are ways this can be done through personalisation.

Know your audience

It’s easy to know your audience through research and test out existing systems and prototypes on the appropriate audience. Test, iterate, improve and test again.

Effective customer experience design is the result of ongoing user research and iterations to the whole customer experience, from the browsing and booking experience to the moment they arrive back from their trip looking forward to the next adventure!

Remember that in order to provide your customers with personalised results, you have to use all the relevant data you generate every day instead of simply assuming what will work best.


The Author

Christine Osborne

Christine Osborne

Head of Experience Design

Christine heads up our Experience Design Team here at twentysix. With a Masters Degree in Design Innovation under her belt, she now has over 20+ years' experience in designing digital experiences.