Have you ever been in absolute despair while trying to book a hotel room on a complicated website? Have you waited patiently for the website to load while it’s processing your payment, only for it to freeze and crash? As a person who is constantly plagued with the ‘itchy feet syndrome’, I’m often at my desk scouring hotel websites for interesting deals and offers.

And more often than not, I find these websites wanting.

Last year, while booking a multiple-city driving trip through Andalucia, I gave up trying to use individual hotel websites to book a room and — much to the dismay of every hotelier I meet — I resorted to using TripAdvisor, Booking.com and AirBnb, despite the obvious price rise, not for any other reason but easy navigation.

Unfortunately, in terms of basic design, most hotel websites are decidedly displeasing to the eye, and many hoteliers are still getting the basics wrong. Even in the age of ‘digital first’, most hotels don’t have a responsive booking interface that integrates the browsing and booking processes within the website and across all digital platforms from its website to mobile and iPad app.

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At Arabian Travel Market this year, I happened to attend a talk by Sabre Hospitality Solutions about the common mistakes hotel websites make.

According to Robert Dawson, vice president, digital experience, the primary issue is that most hotel groups build websites that are too slow.

One of the key statistics that Dawson pointed out is that every second of delay a website faces to load, there are 11% fewer page views and a 60% decrease in customer service. For most hoteliers — for whom the website is the entry point to the brand — a website is one of their most critical assets.

I happen to agree with Dawson’s assessment. How many times in the past day when faced with a slow loading page have you gotten bored of waiting for a webpage to load, and moved on?  If we’re being honest, we have all been there and we have done that.

According to Google data, the average user exits a website if it doesn’t load on a mobile device in three seconds or less. In the hospitality industry, the benchmark is slightly higher according to Sabre, at anywhere between six to eight seconds. Any longer than that and poof — you have lost your audience. Website speed is so important that even all powerful Google has taken notice, and now ranks searches and evaluates websites based on that factor alone. Since 2010, Google has been evaluating websites on website speed and this affects search rankings.

Another major issue most hotel websites have is user interface, navigation and design. Usually the most important navigation elements should be at the top. The rule of thumb for the number of navigation options is 10, or else your consumer is faced with just too many options. Moral of the story is, less is more, but not so little that you leave them with less information than they need.

Most importantly however, the booking process on websites needs to be easy, and jumping through five pages to get to the payment stage, or even too many room options, will lead to customers abandoning bookings. For most hoteliers, their future depends on a fast, easy to use website.

About the Author: Sarakshi Rai is the online editor for HotelierMiddleEast.com. Email: sarakshi.rai@itp.com