Mobile booking: Why responsive design alone is insufficient

As mobile becomes increasingly used to browse and book trips and accommodation, having a responsive web design has become imperative to cater to the needs of the omnichannel traveler.

By adapting to whatever device the website is accessed on, responsive design ensures customers receive an optimal experience as they switch between desktop, tablet, and mobile.

However, responsive design isn’t a panacea, and it shouldn’t be considered a feature for the sake of it. Yes, it’s a great first move to make life easier for customers. But to really drive conversions, a mobile booking engine needs to be created in its own right with unique usability and e-commerce functions carefully applied.

In the following post, we’ll explain some of the design features that are required for an enhanced mobile experience. We’ll also discuss how understanding differences in user context and mindset is imperative to devise tailored mobile marketing strategies that deliver optimal results.

Mastering mobile design

Responsiveness is just one aspect of mobile optimization and design. It’s not enough to simply shrink a desktop booking engine down to fit onto a mobile screen. True optimization also requires understanding and adapting to the way customers interact differently on a mobile device compared with desktop.

Typically, mobile users will be on the move, or carrying out another task while they’re online. Mobile sessions are also often shorter in length than desktop, involving quick bursts of activity that Google refers to as “micro-moments.”

This terms accurately describes a form of online behavior that fundamentally changes what a mobile booking engine needs to be effective. During a “micro-moment,” distracted customers with limited time and attention are likely to be far less tolerant of clunky web design and awkward navigation.

They’ll often be looking for a spark of inspiration, or seeking specific information to help them with their decision making, all within a finite period of time.

Based on this typical customer, the following five design elements should all be carefully considered when building a mobile booking engine.

Easy interaction
Make sure interactive elements are finger-sized and don’t need too much tapping or movement to respond. For example, a drop-down calendar on desktop may work better as a scrolling calendar on mobile, as shown in the image below. Your navigation buttons should also be large and easy to click to limit customer friction.

RezTrip mobile booking calendar

Reduce the need to scroll far down
Desktop screens are perfectly suited for scrolling. But scrolling on a small screen quickly becomes irritating. For that reason, you’ll need to adjust your text, photos, and element size on list views so your customers can easily see all the available options in one view.

Optimize screen space
On a mobile screen, less is more. Cram too much content onto a page and it’ll feel overly busy and become hard to navigate. Instead, only feature the most essential information your users are looking for. Hide less important content in drop-down or pop-up windows, and truncate large chunks of text with a “read more” button, as shown in the example below.

RezTrip mobile booking select room

Large call-to-action buttons
A huge 74% of mobile hotel bookings happen 0-7 days before a stay. To simplify life for these last-minute bookers, ensure the phone number is prominent and “callable” when a user taps on it. A bold “Book Now” button should also be emphasized on the homepage so users aren’t forced to scroll or navigate to a different page on your site.

Bold and clickable images
With fleeting attention spans on mobile, aim to immediately capture interest with engaging images that showcase your property and destination. Avoid small photos that need to be pinched to zoom in and go for full-width photos that can be clicked to view more easily. Image galleries that can be navigated by swiping rather than tapping also generally work better on smaller screens.

The art of mobile marketing

As mentioned, the way people interact on mobile is markedly different to desktop. Along with requiring a thoughtful approach to design, this unique user behavior also calls for a mobile-specific approach to marketing.

This is where smart mobile booking engines can make all the difference compared with standard responsive design. Crucially, they let you track behaviors on mobile vs. desktop beyond just bookings

For example, Travel Tripper’s mobile booking engine can collect various elements of behavioral data on mobile bookers, from their length of stay and booking lead time, to their cancellation rates and geographic area where they booked.

Example Mobile Offers RezTrip
Example of mobile exclusive offers and geographic offers on RezTrip mobile booking engine

Revenue managers can then create special mobile-only offers and rates based on the trends and patterns that this data collection reveals. Understanding the context and buying patterns of different mobile customers also allows for groups to be segmented and then marketed at separately with timely and relevant offers.

Taking a strategic approach to mobile marketing is also especially important to compete with the growing OTA practice of slashing room rates for late bookings on mobile.

By dropping room rates in the days leading up to arrival, OTAs have created an expectation among mobile users that discounts can be found if booking decisions are delayed. To combat this practice, advertising a discounted rate just on the mobile booking engine can help hotels win back some of that lost direct business.

Ultimately, learning more about your customers and the way they interact on your mobile site will vastly increase your ability to market to them successfully. When you swap a one-size-fits-all approach with a targeted strategy, you’ll be taking a big step towards boosting conversion rates and bookings.

Think beyond responsive design

By 2018, it’s predicted that mobile devices will account for 37% of all online hotel and travel bookings. As browsing and booking behavior increasingly takes place across multiple channels, providing an optimized experience across all devices should be considered an absolute necessity.

Responsive design is certainly important, but it isn’t enough on its own. Scaling down a desktop site to adjust for a smaller screen is just part of a bigger picture.

In addition, a mobile booking engine has to be built with an awareness of a different set of needs and behaviors. The context and mindset of the mobile customer needs to be kept firmly in mind—from how and when they book, to the kind of deals and offers they expect.

Optimizing this channel may require extra time and planning, but the rewards for doing so will only become greater as mobile plays an ever more focal role within the customer travel journey.

Natasha Prats

Natasha Prats

Natasha Prats is a Product Manager at Travel Tripper, using her expertise in user experience to improve Travel Tripper's products. You can usually find her talking to customers, synthesizing feedback into new feature ideas, and working with engineering to deliver great products. Reach out to her at natasha@traveltripper.com.

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