Review Of Indian Hotels
Inasra has asked for an open and honest review of their "Indian" hotel site. To be specific, they are referring to hotel reservations in the states of India, not an American Indian hotel reservation site.
The site is still in Beta, as advertised on their header logo, so I'm sure there will be updates to come in the future. Right now, they want to know what's "good" and what needs help to make the site better.
From the positive standpoint, the web site is extremely quick. The php backend means they're using something like a MySQL database to add and edit listings, which typically lends itself to a fast interface. For the visitor, this means fast search results. So far they have avoided what I call "over-junking" the site, which many sites have fallen prey to. If I'm coming here to book a hotel, that's what I want to do. I'm sure they will eventually add advertising support somewhere in their design, but if it's not too much on the visitor, then I think they will do fine.
I very much like the fact that you are immediately taken to a search page, right from the moment you arrive, not bogged down with unrelated links that make the search capabilities hard to find.
Since I travel overseas regularly, I can tell you from experience that there are lots of things you don't consider when traveling outside the united states, things that you take for granted here such as transportation, airport access, internet access, restaurant acccess, etc. They have taken the extra step to insure you have all these things at your disposal, which is very nice. I know immediately from my first search that the "Hotel Rajshri" is 400 km from the airport, very close to a train station, and the names of the bus station and airport are provided, making it easy to google them and find out how to get there. This is a very nice feature.
- If you plan to attract americans to this site as a primary source of customer revenue, remember to add an option in either the customer profile or in the search profile that will allow them to see distances in kilometers or miles, and what will allow them to see currency in multiple formats such as USD, Euros, or the local currency. Most other countries teach their people to perform these conversions on the fly, because most other countries have to deal regularly with american currency. Americans, however, are a spoiled people. ( I can say that because I am one!) They might leave the site because they dont understand the figures being displayed to them. (Picture my example, where my secretary would be the one doing the booking. She's not college educated and wouldn't understand some of the results on the search page when she's trying to make my reservation.)
- Include google map information for the airports, bus stations, rail stations, etc. I would love to be able to pop-up a map of the hotel to see it's visual proximity to other transportation methods since I know I won't be able to drive in this country as a visitor.
- Include the things that other people forget to: This will increase your search engine relevancy and will dramatically increase loyalty to your site. You don't know the problems you experience overseas unti you've done it before, and they can be numerous. You have a great amenity listed for one of your hotels, called "Doctor-On-Call" which I think is fabulous! Somewhere on your main page you might should have a link about "things to know" before going overseas. In this area you could include details about how a visitor can get around town, ( I was astonished to discover that I couldn't drive when I went to Africa... I was going to be there for three months! How do I get around town?) Things like this will increase your viewable traffic, increase the length of page visits, which in turn would also increase the amount of ad-traffic displayed if you ever choose to incorporate paid sponsors on the site.
- Make the "Booking Panel" automatically visible, with an option to hide it, instead of vice-versa.
- In the search panel on the front page, have the "To" date field auto adjust to accomodate the settings entered in the "from" field. For example, since I want to book a time in March 2007, I have to choose March, choose 15, then choose 2007 from the "From" field. At that point, it would be nice if the "To" field automatically adjusted to set my automatic date for departure to sometime after that initial date, such as March 16, 2007. When performing multiple searches, this would save me a lot of mouse-time.
- When I choose "USD" as my rate, I still get my search results in the local currency, not in US Dollars. Alternatively, you might want to include a rate calculator for any currency fields, where I can click on the "Rs 5000" and have it displayed in a pop-up window as either euros or USD, etc, depending on my preference. To facilitate this, you could ask the visitor on the front page "What country are you from?" and have this feature automatically adjust all future currencies and distance measurements to local variants. (Ex: Visitors from london would automatically see "Euros" and "kilometers" while visitors from the USA would automatically see "miles" and "USD."
- On the Booking Panel, the number of rooms should probably automatically select at least 1 room. When I hit the continue button, it carried me to a page where my estimated charge was 0.00 because I forgot to choose "1 room" from the prior screen.
- Completely Optional Idea: Since you want to increase traffic to these hotels, you might could include an option to "leave a review" of a hotel they have booked through your site. If a customer books a room on your site, you could have an email automatically generated to the customer one week after the date of their departure, as determined by their booking dates. That email could offer them a 5% discount or maybe $25.00 off their next booking through inasra.com if they would leave a review on the site about their stay. Then, other visitors could read the reviews left by prior viewers, which could assist in making the decision for the prospective visitor.
- Rather than having a list of amenities for each hotel, entered in text as you do now, make those amenities database fields in your PHP scripting. Then I could search for "money changer" as an optional amenity to my hotel preference. I've learned the hard way that this amenity is very important to me and now I ask at every hotel I stay at overseas if they have a bank inside. Setting these fields up as database fields would be to cumbersome for the simple travelling visitor, but might be a nice feature for the "advanced search" page. Then I could search for ALL hotels that are x kilometers from Airport 123, and DO have a money changer, DO have a local car service, and DO have a doctor-on-call. These three features would quickly allow me to recieve a list of places acceptable to me for a long-terms stay. (And I'm the kind of traveler who has to stay in a place for a month at a time, so you would be catering to the business professionals as well as the extended-tourist customer, both of which spend more money than the short-term tourist anyway.
I hope you find my review helpful. The site is very nice, very fast, and includes lots of "real-world" touches that seem lost on the bigger national travel sites. It seems to have a very personal touch, which I find appealing. All my suggestions are ideas for improvement. Some of them won't appeal to you and some of them you may have already considered, but chosen not to implement for reasons that I am not aware of. All in all, I look forward to seeing the site again in the coming months.