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China: 120 million international travelers and just getting started

In 2016, more than 120 million Chinese traveled internationally. which is roughly the entire population of Japan (or Canada, Italy and Australia combined).

And only 10% of the country has a passport.

Imagine the travel industry when 25% of Chinese residents are traveling abroad. Where will they go? What will they want to see? To help shed light on these questions, Hotels.com recently interviewed 3,000 Chinese residents who traveled internationally over the past year.

It published these findings in the 2017 edition of the Chinese International Travel Monitor report. If you want to better understand Chinese travelers, where they’re headed and why, this report is a must read.

Here are a few items that jumped out at me:

  • China is already the largest source of international travelers for many countries.
  • Yet only 10% of the Chinese population had passports in 2016.
  • Shopping is no longer the prime attraction for a growing number of travelers
  • Nor is group travel, which is quickly losing favor among older travelers. Translation: Chinese travelers are tiring of those buses.
  • Independent travel is very popular among millennials.
  • And eco/green tours are becoming quite popular, particularly among older travelers. I’m very happy to see this.
  • The most welcoming countries to Chinese travelers, based on survey respondents, are Thailand, Japan, Australia. The USA made the top 5, though I suspect that ranking might be slipping based on current events.
  • The top landmark in the US:  Grand Canyon.
  • The top landmark in Australia: Great Barrier Reef.
  • And in France: the Louvre.
  • Chinese visitors spend more in the US than visitors from any other nation, approximately $7,200.

So what does this mean for hotels and other travel segments? It means you have be curious, nimble, and you had better support Chinese — both on your website, in your call center, via social media, and with in-house Mandarin speakers.  Survey respondents ranked poor hotel localization as a top 5 problem.

Chinese is also not as well supported across many of the global travel websites I reviewed two months ago. As shown here, based on our new report Destination: Marketing, Chinese is found on only 64% of the leading tourism websites.

Also, accepting Visa or Mastercard is not good enough. Most Chinese travelers prefer to pay with UnionPay.

Click here to download the report.

And if you’d like to know which tourism and destination websites are the most world-ready, check out our new report Destination: Marketing.

Finally, if you want insights into localizing your website for China, check out Think Outside the Country.

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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.

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Hotels.com, Hotels.ng and the value of country codes

logo

I read today about the Nigerian startup Hotels.ng and my first thought was why Hotels.com didn’t already own the Nigerian country code.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 8.02.14 AM

After all, Hotels.com owns country codes for France and Italy and Japan, among others.

But was apparently late to registering country codes for Germany and Netherlands — as well as Nigeria (Africa’s most populous country).

Now, in Hotels.com’s defense, its global brand is “com.” And its global gateway strategy is intended to reinforce this fact; country codes are used as redirects only.

I should also note that Hotels.com finished in the top 10 in this year’s Web Globalization Report Card.

Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that .com is the best global strategy — particularly in emerging markets, where country codes are strong indicators of local companies.

For large multinationals, ccTLDs are trivial expenses, even if you have no short-term plans for using them. Speaking of, the ccTLD for Hotels.bw (Botswana) is for sale for roughly $2,000.

Which leads me to wonder who is going to register the new generic top-level domain .hotels.

This seems like a natural fit for Hotels.com, and yet Booking.com has applied for it (although the application status is on hold).

PS: I recently completed a book (review coming) that talks about the threat that emerging market companies post to established multinationals. I wonder if this is one such future case study.

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The top 25 global websites from the 2013 Web Globalization Report Card

Top 25 global websites of 2013

UPDATE: The 2017 Web Globalization Report Card is now available.

I’m pleased to announce the top-scoring websites from the 2013 Web Globalization Report Card. This is the ninth annual edition of the report and it’s always exciting to highlight those companies that have excelled in web globalization over the years.

Google is no stranger to the top spot, but this is largely because Google has not stood still. With the exception of navigation (a weak spot overall) Google continues to lead not only in the globalization of its web applications but its mobile apps. YouTube, for example, supports a 54-language mobile app. Few apps available today surpass 20 languages; most mobile apps support fewer than 10 languages.

Hotels.com has done remarkably well over the past two years and, in large part, due to its investment in mobile websites and apps. While web services companies like Amazon and Twitter certainly do a very good job with mobile, I find that travel services companies are just as innovative, if not more so.

Philips improved its ranking due to its improved global gateway. And Microsoft and HP also saw gains due to their website redesigns, which also included improved global gateways.

New to the Top 25 this year are Starbucks, Merck, and KPMG.

As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of 50 languages. And while this number is skewed highly by Wikipedia and Google, if we were to remove those websites the average would still be above 35 languages.

The companies on this list also demonstrate a high degree of global design consistency across most, if not all, localized websites. This degree of consistency allows them to focus their energies on content localization, which these companies also do well. And more than 20 of the companies support websites optimized for smartphones.

I’ll have more to say in the weeks ahead. You can download an excerpt here.

And if you have any questions at all, just ask.

 

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The best global travel websites

lionbridge_travel_2013

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.

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Taking Mobile Global: Tips for Aligning Mobile and Global Web Strategies

Here’s a new article I’ve written for UX Magazine on the importance of aligning global and mobile strategies. Too often, companies develop mobile apps and mobile websites without considering localization requirements.

Here are two previous articles I’ve written for UX Magazine:

 

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Hotels.com: The best global travel website

Hotels.com scored highly in the 2012 Web Globalization Report Card.

At 37 languages (in addition to English), Hotels.com is not the language leader in travel, but it’s near the front of the pack. And the company has been a leader  in localizing its websites and apps for mobile web users. Most important, the company maintains a high degree of language parity across devices — an emerging best practice that most companies today overlook. In other words, if you support Russian on your PC website, you had better support it on your mobile app as well. The company also does a good job of ensuring that its mobile sites load quickly, by stripping out extraneous visuals. Performance is another area that is too often overlooked. Today’s New York Times has a good article on  how one second can make a difference in the success of a web or mobile site.

Global consistency has been key to the company’s success — even though there is still room for improvement. The company recently announced the rollout of a globally unified marketing platform beginning with the logo.

You can see the old US logo above and the Greek version here:

And here is the brand new logo below:

A note about the global gateway. As readers of this blog well know, I’m no fan of using flags — particularly to denote languages, that is. But Hotels.com uses flags to denote countries, which is not so bad. In fact, I have often argued that flags can be valuable when it comes to ecommerce — as it provides users a degree of comfort that they are indeed on their local website.

That said, I think Hotels.com should remove the flags — at least within the global gateway list. There are a few reasons for this. First, the flags do not improve usability. When there are so many, the result is just a chaotic mix of colors. When I scan the list I often miss the US flag (which is partly due to how the countries are organized).

Second, there can be geopolitcal tensions over the use of flags, namely over the use of the Taiwan flag in this list. But the use of a flag for Kosovo is also a tense issue.

Finally, there are several “Rest of …(region)” websites included within the list, and instead of a flag we see an empty rectangle.

Apple, by the way, has a similar problem with its use of flags.

But all things considered, Hotels.com is a company worth studying — particularly regarding its global mobile strategy.

 

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Web globalization in a post-PC world

PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones

Source: The Noun Project

The 2012 Web Globalization Report Card is my first attempt at analyzing web globalization in a post-PC world.

By post-PC world, I’m referring to  a world in which the website adapts not only to the device (PC, tablet, smartphone) but also to the user. That is, it’s not enough to adapt to an iPad, but you also need to consider what tasks that user needs to accomplish with that iPad. Location matters. Context matters. And, yes, language and culture certainly matter (though these two details have so far gone overlooked by many mobile websites and apps).

But first let me back up two years.

When the iPad first came out, one of the main selling points was how easy it made browsing the web — assuming that website didn’t include any Flash elements.

At the time it seemed that companies needed only to get rid of Flash to be fully accessible to the growing number of iPad users. (Amazingly, more than a third of the websites reviewed in the 2012 Report Card still use Flash).

I want to stress here that Flash isn’t just an Apple limitation; the coming tablets from Microsoft will also be devoid of any native support for Flash. But Flash is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as tablets are concerned.

This post-PC world is about completely rethinking the “web” experience. And I include apps here, because apps are often pulling the same data as a website, but doing so through an interface (and code base) that takes full advantage of the features of that mobile operating system (like caching data, supplying the user’s location, saving user preferences, enabling the phone, camera, etc.) This is all very exciting — but also very complicated. And chaotic if you’re in charge of managing all of these moving parts.

Consider Hotels.com, which was ranked #5 in this year’s report. The company currently supports (in 38 languages):

  • A website specifically for the PC
  • An website for smartphones
  • A mobile app for smartphones
  • A mobile app specifically for the iPad

In just a few years, companies have gone from supporting a PC website and, maybe, supporting a mobile website that very few people ever used — to supporting a diverse range of websites and apps.

Where does web globalization fit into all of this?

Currently, not very well. That is, many of the companies studied in this report may support 20 or more languages on their PC sites but only one or two languages on their mobile apps or websites.  And global navigation is not always well thought out. Users might have to dig to find localized websites or content.

These are early days still.

And that’s where the Report Card fits in. Because the companies that merge global requirements with their mobile requirements are going to be far better off in the long run. “World readiness” will need to be given the same priority as “mobile readiness.”

In this year’s report, I added three key metrics to the methodology, metrics that I believe will become requirements in the years ahead:

1. Support language parity across PC and mobile. Right now, very few companies maintain the same linguistic experience across PCs and mobile devices. The language leader in iPhone mobile apps is Google, with support for 42 languages via its search app. And this is the leader. Granted, the iPhone operating system isn’t itself exactly a language leader at  33 languages — compared with Android (4.0) at 57. But few companies have gotten close to testing these language limits.

Most  companies are happy to offer mobile apps that support around 10 languages or fewer — even though their PC websites support 20 or more languages. Mobile should receive the same degree of language support as PC. Given mobile vs. PC usage in some countries, one could argue that your language budget is better served on the mobile side before the PC side (a subject for a later post).

2. Keep it lightweight. Just because a web user has a broadband connection at home doesn’t mean that his or her iPad will have a broadband connection in, say, an airport. Despite the many promises of wireless carriers, wireless broadband is just not a reality for most people. It’s time for companies to put strict weight limits in place for their websites to ensure that users on mobile devices have a positive experience. This is one of the easiest wins on the web these days and I’m still surprised how many companies overlook it. Speed was one of the main reasons Google became the dominant search provider. And speed still is very much a way to stand apart from your competition, not just in one country but in any country.

3. Get rid of Flash. I don’t hate Flash, but I’m a pragmatist. It’s challenging enough for web teams to manage content across so many devices let alone to worry about also supporting Flash vs. non-Flash sites. By eliminating Flash, you free up resources to focus on mobile devices and user scenarios. And here’s one bonus reason for eliminating Flash — you free up your content to be self-translated by the user via Google Translate or Bing Translate.

Nike, which is included in this report, has been steadily migrating away from Flash. It still uses so much Flash on its PC site that it had to create a separate website for the iPad.

In my experience, the Nike iPad website offers a superior experience than the PC site. The site is more lightweight and the content more focused. Tablets force a “less is more” approach to design, which in my experience is usually a better experience.

It’s a great time to take chances

All companies are well aware of the opportunities that mobile offers. But only a few companies are leading. Hotels.com is certainly one of the leaders. Facebook and Google are there as well. To be a leader these days is to take chances. Though some standards have emerged, there really is no “one” way to design a website for the iPad or a smartphone. It reminds me of the early days of the Internet itself. The post-PC era is going to give birth to new standards and new leaders.

NOTE: Here are some post-PC numbers. And recent stats that show mobile Internet usage doubling over the past year to 8.5% (excluding tablets).