Travelers expect more these days; they want an experience.
And those expectations extend to hotel websites.
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants recently enlisted the help of FINE Design Group, a San Francisco-based digital marketing agency, to revamp the company’s website.
FINE didn't just make Kimpton’s website look nice. The entire website was built from scratch, constructed around what guests and travelers want today, with some additional wrinkles, said Kenn Fine, Partner, Creative Director, at FINE.
That includes travelers’ desires for immersive experiences and their growing demand for services accommodating multiple mobile devices.
“We’re reaching an era where the expectation is you need to be able to do more than just check availability (on a website),” said Josh Kelly, Partner, Chief Strategist at FINE. “You really need something experiential on top of all of that.
The key, Kelly added, is “not to focus on the competition; focus on how the expectations have changed. Does your website suck? Then probably your service does.”
It’s no longer about plastering general information on a hotel website anymore. It’s about creating several distinct experiences that cater to a variety of demographics and needs.
For example, if a traveler is inquiring about which city to visit next, KimptonHotels.com has an entire section devoted to “destinations.” From there, travelers can explore these specific destinations, from San Francisco to New York City to Aspen to Miami and everywhere in between.
But if guests already know what destination they want to visit and simply want to find a hotel within that destination, then they simply click “Find Hotels” under the “Hotels” section and they can find a Kimpton hotel within a specific state quickly.
It goes further than that, though.
With the mobile traveler in mind, FINE also built an entire system on the site that will instantly scale a webpage based on the traveler’s device.
Heck, you can even resize your webpage window and the system will resize the images and content on the page accordingly…in real time.
“If you go to ‘mobile,’ it’s going to simplify what you see because you’re going to get carpal tunnel on your thumb if you have to scroll on and on and on,” Fine said.
But even when FINE simplifies a webpage, it’s not like on other sites where you lose some vital information. Someone who wants to check out the meeting space at a Kimpton hotel, for example, shouldn’t have to go to the full site on his or her mobile device because the “mobile” component is lacking.
“You can’t underestimate the impact of mobile when you’re dealing with something like this,” Kelly said. “More people are seeing websites on mobile devices. It’s a game-changer. Mobile stuff comes with you; it’s your ally. It’s part of your experience. When you look at hospitality in particular or any field where there’s an experiential component, you really do have to think of the channel as not just a way of promoting yourself, but also as a way to promote the experience.”
“It’s also blurring the boundary between digital and physical,” Fine added. “We’ve all been in a hotel room struggling with this remote control trying to use this archaic system. That experience is going to continue to evolve. You can walk into a room, sync (your mobile device) and have your music playing.”
That experience should ideally extend throughout the entire brand, Kelly added. For instance, if you are looking at the hotel website on your mobile device while sitting in the hotel lobby and talking to the staff, everything should match.
And while Kimpton’s new website holds more than pretty images, imagery was also a crucial component for the site, as it should be for any hotel, Kelly said.
“Imagery is so important,” he added. “It’s the same thing as when you walk into the lobby of a hotel. You’ve probably formulated within five seconds whether you like the feel of it. We think of online destinations as destinations. Imagery plays a huge role in any site design, particularly in the hospitality industry when you’re really trying to get a sense of place.”
And, truth be told, the first thing guests will probably notice when checking out the site is the stunning imagery. San Francisco features the Golden Gate Bridge. Los Angeles features brightly lit skyscrapers. Scottsdale features cacti and desert. Aspen boasts spectacular mountains and lush forests. The Washington D.C. webpage highlights the Capitol building.
As Fine put it, it’s about “telling that emotional story.”
Fine described the whole process—from reading analytics to capturing destinations—as “an art and a science.”
The question is: Why haven’t more hotel companies built websites like this?
According to Fine, there are several reasons. For one, companies can get locked into making sure to provide the necessary information while ignoring what the webpage viewing experience might be like for the site visitor. You see this a lot with airline websites.
Fine also believes that companies can get locked into an old, outdated way of thinking, while perhaps catering too much to the larger demographic of customers. In the meantime, images lose their luster and you lose sight of your company’s initial vision.
“When your brand evolves, you have to follow your muse,” Fine said. “You don’t really follow your highest-percentage customer. We have to choose a muse that is the architect of who we aspire to be. We have to take our daily inspiration from that muse. That removes mediocrity.”
One thing’s for sure: Kimpton’s website is certainly not mediocre.
“We think about (Kimpton) as a huge rallying cry for companies,” Fine said. “When you’re in the service business, you want all of your employees to go to your website and say, Yeah, I work there.’”
FINE also helps with Kimpton’s Karma Rewards program.
You can check out Kimpton’s new website at www.KimptonHotels.com.
Follow me on Twitter @RyanRudnansky