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Hotel Industry Updates

It’s Time to Make Your Hotel’s Website and Apps More Hospitable

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It was 11 p.m., and I was stuck in a medium-sized town in Germany. I had misunderstood my train directions, so the room I had waiting for me in Amsterdam was going to have to wait another night. The train station would close in half an hour, and I needed to rebook my ticket to Amsterdam, find and book a hotel room in that German town, make sure my original hotel reservation didn’t get cancelled, and then walk to wherever I was going to stay that night. I was exhausted, angry at myself and not very good at speaking German.

The train rebooking was easy — the kiosk was working and let me pick English as my language. Holding my original reservation was not hard. There was no entry for “I’ll pay for tonight, just don’t cancel it entirely,” but the hotel app let me call the hotel directly, even across country codes.

Finding a new hotel was relatively easy, but booking it for “I’ll be there as soon as I can walk there” was difficult, especially since it wasn’t my usual hotel chain. I was using a new website that didn’t know anything about me, and I was trying to input a credit card for reservation into my phone, on a public WiFi, in a train station.

The hardest part was actually walking the half-mile to the hotel, because the hotel site had provided a map, but not made it clear that I was supposed to descend a staircase to cross under a bridge and climb it again. With a roller bag. In the dark. At midnight. It’s now a funny story I tell, but it got me thinking about how we could make hospitality websites and applications more … hospitable.

What is Feature Management?

Feature Management is the ability to deliver the features you want to the users you want at the time you decide. It’s a way to break your users up into logical groups and make sure they get the best experience possible, based on what you know about them.

“Every time you make something easier to use, you get more users, and the users have better experiences.” 

You may not realize how much information you can tell about a user’s computer, web browser or Internet connection, but it’s data that you can use to give them a great, accessible experience. For example, you can detect that a user is on a low-bandwidth connection and provide them with a stripped-down version of your website. As a person who often books my hotel rooms from interstate freeways, airports or overloaded conference WiFi hotspots, I would appreciate that!

How Can Feature Management Help With Accessibility?

Accessibility of websites and apps includes, but is not limited to, the WCAG standards. Those specify the text contrast, button standards and other common elements. But you can use feature management to provide even more convenience and access to your users. Here are a few examples:

  • Low bandwidth — Deliver lightweight versions of your website and booking.
  • International travelers — Change time zones to match local time, but not language.
  • Low vision users — Provide a high-contrast site based on your lightweight site.
  • Loyalty programs — Prefill user preferences, such as zero-barrier showers or lower floors.
  • Mobile users — Ensure that all key functions are responsive and available, even on older/smaller phones.
  • Mapping — Provide maps based on user-stated mobility, so wheelchair users can trust that you will guide them using a route they can traverse.
  • Personal safety — Provide a way to contact the hotel about scary incidents, or shield personal information from other guests.

How Do You Start?

The easiest time to add accessibility features to your site or application is when you design it. Even if you don’t fully build out your accessibility settings for the first version of the site, leaving room to make those additions (and additions for localization) will save you a lot of technical refactoring.

However, most of us aren’t working on brand-new applications or websites. Instead, we’re reworking existing ones to improve them, add features and capabilities, or make sure that they are secure and performant. This is a great time to do customer investigations into what they would find useful to turn on/off. 

As you’re rebuilding, you can put new features behind a feature flag and test it in a controlled environment, with only the testers or users you choose. As you push the new feature out, you can add it gradually, to test that it’s working broadly, before turning it all on for everyone. 

Once a feature is fully deployed, you may find that some users want to turn it off, or turn down the frequency. Their experience of the feature may be different than product designers imagined. Strava’s FlyBy feature is a great example of this. While some users liked getting to know other exercisers “in the neighborhood,” other users found it alarming and invasive. Ideally, the group that wanted privacy would be able to get it and the group that wanted community would be able to connect with others who wanted the same thing. 

See How It Goes

The wonderful part about adding accessibility is that it expands your potential user base. Every time you make something easier to use, you get more users, and the users have better experiences. 

People doing accessibility advocacy often talk about the “curb-cut effect,” where curb cuts were originally designed for wheelchair users, but offer benefits to people with rolling luggage or strollers. That’s true, but it’s also true that even if an accessibility feature only offers a benefit to disabled people, it’s still worth doing, because they are still potential customers. And in a world where accessibility is still a “nice to have” on most people’s technology planning, it can be a market differentiator.

Heidi Waterhouse is a developer advocate for LaunchDarkly, a feature management platform that serves more than 6 trillion feature flags daily to help software teams build better software, faster.

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