Are travel companies burying their heads in the sand when it comes to user experience and accessibility?

A headshot of Simon Wissink, a white man with ginger hair and a ginger beard.

Business Development Consultant

25 minute read

Our assessment of the usability and accessibility issues found on popular travel booking websites.

Executive Summary

As statistics show that more consumers than ever are booking holidays online, the travel sector is one which needs to pay particular attention to its digital offering. Currently, the majority of travel companies have their own websites; yet, in a world where we’re trying to appeal to both tech-natives and those newly connected or less familiar with the digital sphere, care needs to be taken when designing these websites to ensure they offer a smooth user journey for everyone. Further to this, as two million people live with sight loss in the UK according to RNIB – a figure estimated to rise to nearly four million by 2050 – we need to consider and design for these users too.

In our research, we explored the user experience of 10 top travel websites. We looked at their usability, whether they were easy to navigate on different devices, how good the booking process was, and whether they were accessible.

“It pays massively for travel companies to consider the needs of blind and partially sighted people, particularly when you look at the monetary aspect of what these companies could be missing out on by ignoring millions of users” - Terry Hawkins, RNIB

  • The UK spends £31 billion on international tourism a year, the fourth highest in the world after China, Germany, and the USA – according to the World Tourism Organisation
  • The leading association of travel agents and tour operators, the ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents), found that between 2014 and 2015, 89% of UK holidaymakers booked a holiday online
  • The previous ABTA Consumer Holiday Trends Report, released in 2014, found that 68% of people took at least one UK holiday in 2014 and 53% took at least one holiday abroad
  • Clearly, consumers are booking more holidays than ever and are increasingly moving online to do so
  • In this report, 10 top travel websites were scored out of a possible 35 points for their usability, accessibility, and ease of use across devices. The websites included: Booking.com, Co-operative Travel, Airbnb, Expedia, Skyscanner, Laterooms.com, Lastminute.com, British Airways, On the Beach, and Virgin Atlantic
  • Skyscanner came out on top with 28, while Co-operative Travel came bottom, scoring 17. The average score across the sites was 23
  • Out of the 10 sites, Booking.com and Laterooms.com scored the highest for their booking processes

You can download our full usability assessment here.

We also looked in-depth at the accessibility (how easy to use they are for those with differing abilities) of the websites through testing with an independent consultant. Molly Watt has Usher syndrome, which means she was born deaf and is registered blind. Molly is a strong advocate of using technology to help those with differing abilities have independence. Take a look at our user research video with Molly to see the full range of issues we encountered on the tested websites. 

“Booking holidays is meant to be fun but it’s actually just stressful” - Molly Watt

Now it's got these dreaded grey boxes with the white arrows which is just awful

This orange thing there I struggle to read

Like all of them, they've got this garish white box at the end of this form

It just always feels like, ugh, this again. So this kind of contrast is actually quite nice having the dark background and the white numbers, I do like that

It's more comfortable on the eye

So first of all, I can't zoom in on that

So I'm just gonna resort to the built in accessibility I have on the iPad

This zooming in thing is like ridiculous

I was kind of trying to scan through these but when I go to zoom in

I do that and these screens overlap and then the texts starts to go into the boxes and things so that can be a bit annoying the fact that I have to do this in and out

That's because I'm relying on the Apple iPad accessibility opposed to the website

Looking at it now, all this small text, can't really see it unless I zoom in

All the text was the same size it was all, none of it was bold or anything, it all looked exactly the same that was really really unclear, there's no way I would have seen that

So why does it say £150, £2 there and then lowest £200?

Ohh so it's a table

Yeah that wasn't obvious to me at all there's like this break in between here so it doesn't look like they're connected

You've got a column within this box and then it goes across and across and down it's like I'm looking around to see all these different things and I can't quite match it all up together

I always work so much better when it's just one column and then to the next column

Obviously one's more narrow than the other. Cool, so simplicity, it's great

So I've got three boxes there that I know I need to fill in

I don't like it

I don't like that you have to kind of scroll and watch these numbers that's a bit too much to be watching and concentrating on

This ridiculous thing again

Can't even see like what that price range is. I've actually got no clue.

It wasn't clear that I was booking a flight because I kept thinking am I in the wrong place it's not a fun kind of experience booking a holiday it's kind of stressful, if I didn't have an iPad, then I wouldn't have been able to do that, you know with the built-in accessibility that I've got here