This is the time of year when travel sites should be working hardest to win new business. The period from Christmas and into January is the busiest time for holiday bookings, with consumers likely hoping that a trip away will help them beat the post-Christmas doldrums. So it's critical that travel sites are optimised to ensure that they catch the eye of winter-weary travellers, says Econsultancy.com.
Christmas is the peak holiday booking time, according to a report by Hotels.com, which recently predicted that traffic to UK booking websites would peak at 8pm on 28 December (a Sunday night).
The Daily Telegraph reports that the 2014 festive season saw a surge in bookings. Thomson and First Choice witnessed record traffic over Christmas and Boxing Day, with nearly 940,000 people looking up holidays on the internet - a 30% rise on the previous year.
Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel's consumer travel expert, commented: "Despite a general trend towards later and later booking, January is still the peak booking for summer holidays - especially for families."
So as people in the UK search for holiday deals to help them beat the winter blues, companies need to make sure their websites are optimised to help holidaymakers on their way. The key is to keep it simple.
A fundamental feature is straightforward search filters which offer easy access for customers. A predictive search feature is also useful, offering results based on the city, hotel name and also other hotels within that city.
A picture speaks a thousand words and of course, in the travel industry there's nothing like a great photograph to inspire travellers. Instead of presenting the searcher with endless rows of thumbnails, how about just picking a few fantastic images and letting them do the talking?
Very few hotel brands are making the most of reviews, Econsultancy reported in September. That's surprising, considering that reviews are an integral part of all retail experiences, effective sales drivers and a trusted source of information for users. It's about time hotel chains stopped being afraid of getting a negative review; when weighed up against the benefits of including them, there's no question over what can be gained from customer reviews.
A favourites button is a useful tool for website users. Travel sites which use such tools make for an easier and therefore more attractive option for people searching for a holiday.
On the subject of accessibility, calendars should be kept simple so that even the most internet-averse customers can use them easily. Pricing should be simple too, so that people searching for a holiday can see exactly what they'll be paying, with no hidden fees - nothing will cause visitors to bounce quicker than a nasty surprise at the checkout.
Never underestimate the power of words. Make sure that the web copy is doing its job - there's a whole host of operators offering holidays to similar, if not identical destinations. Descriptions should make your website stand out from the crowd.
Finally, it's no good providing a great user experience only to fall at the final hurdle. Make checkout as pain-free as possible with a clear and easy to use checkout form.