Booking.com: The best global travel website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, we studied the following 24 travel websites:

  • Air France
  • Airbnb
  • American Airlines
  • Avis
  • Booking.com
  • British Airways
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Enterprise
  • Expedia
  • Four Seasons
  • Hertz
  • Hilton
  • Hotels.com
  • Hyatt
  • InterContinental Hotels
  • Kayak
  • KLM
  • Marriott
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Sixt
  • TripAdvisor
  • Uber
  • United Airlines

This is the third year that we’ve combined web-based travel services companies with the travel companies they represent. And while OTAs (online travel agencies) have long dominated this category, we’re seeing airlines and hotels become much more competitive in the fight for customer relationships, and not just in developed markets.

Booking.com emerging number one overall. It leads all other websites with support for 41 languages and  leverages global templates across all local websites. The mobile website is also lighter (in kilobytes) than most competitive websites giving Booking.com a potential performance advantage. Following close behind in score is Hotels.com.

The travel industry is by definition a global industry. When your customer may be located anywhere in the world and traveling to any other place in the world, you need to support not only a significant number of languages but also currencies, time zones, and mobile devices. A number of the companies in this sector have been aggressive in using geolocation and content negotiation to greet visitors with the right language, region and currency. But they also provide a great deal of flexibility. For instance, Booking.com and Hotels.com allow you to change your currency using what I call the currency gateway:

But Booking.com is far from perfect. It buries its global gateway on its mobile website, which is not ideal for visitors who need to quickly change settings. Instead, I recommend including the global gateway link in the header, as shown here with Emirates:

I recommend a more generic globe icon than the one used by Emirates, but this is far better than most other mobile travel websites.

American Airlines does not use a globe icon, but does at least make its global gateway available in the header, as shown here:

I do not recommend using flags for navigational purposes and many travel websites continue to use them today. Flags do not scale well and flags convey meaning that often goes far beyond mere navigation — a reason why a number of websites intentionally leave the Taiwan flag off of the global gateway, even though it includes all others.

A number of companies have been quite busy expanding their linguistic reach; websites that added languages over the past year include:

  • Emirates
  • Hertz
  • Hilton
  • Kayak
  • KLM
  • Uber

KLM, by the way, leads all airlines with support for 28 languages. And Hilton leads all hotels with support for 23 languages (though if you include Airbnb as a hotel brand, it emerges on top).

Websites that scored on the negative end of this list include Four Seasons, Enterprise and Avis.

To learn more, check out the Web Globalization Report CardTravel and travel services is the largest sector covered by the Report Card, a section more than 50 pages long.

The best global travel websites

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I’m pleased to announce a new (and free) report focused on the globalization of travel websites.

From American Airlines to Kayak to Wyndham, this report highlights those websites that have the widest global reach and are the most user friendly — regardless of the user’s language or nationality.

Lionbridge sponsored the production of this report and is making the report available for free (registration required).

Lionbridge suggested the websites they wanted to see included but they did not play any role in the analysis of these sites. I’ve been studying many of these companies for years now through the Web Globalization Report Card.

Even if your company is not a member of this industry, you may find this report valuable. Included are a number of general web globalization best practices.

Furthermore, the travel industry includes a handful of companies that have really innovated in regards to the globalization of websites and mobile apps, companies like Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Kayak.

In all, this report scores 71 companies across a seven segments, including hotels, airlines, rental cars, cruise lines, and online travel agencies. Companies include Starwood Hotels, Delta, United, Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Avis, Sixt, among others.

You can download your copy for free by registering here.

Dear Airbnb: Please take down your mutant flag

Airbnb is one of the hot new travel web service startups.

It basically lets you rent out your spare bedroom or look for a spare bedroom when you travel. That’s how it started out; now it is expanding to include luxury home rentals.

It is also expanding around the world, which has given rise to an ugly “mutant flag” in its global gateway.

Here it is in the Airbnb header:

It’s that hybrid British-American flag. I wasn’t aware that our two nations had merged recently.

But seriously, I don’t doubt that that people “get” what this mutant flag is trying to convey — English.

And yet the use of flags to denote language is almost always a bad idea.

Because if you scroll down the list you run into another world language — Spanish.

And yet this language is denoted by only the flag of Spain. Should this flag also be a mutant flag, with pieces of flags from Mexico, Argentina, and other countries blended in?

That’s the inherent flaw of using flags to denote language. Whatever usability gains you may see by people recognizing their country’s flag is outweighed by the fact that so many other flags must be left off. There are many English-speaking countries and yet only two are represented by the mutant flag.

As an alternative, I recommend leaving the languages in their native language (as Airbnb already does), and adding a globe icon at the top of the menu (to let people know there are options available).

On a positive note, Airbnb wisely makes use of language negotiation — detecting the web browser language setting and responding with the matching language (if available). I’ve written about how this really pays off for mobile web browsers.

For more on global gateways, check out The Art of the Global Gateway.