In the cut-throat business of hotel booking, it takes something special to stand out. Small Luxury Hotels of the World relies on a great customer experience, from the carefully selected hotels to the included upgrade on arrival to your destination.
"The company was founded 25 years ago with a list of small, luxury hotels around the world that would cater to individuals looking for a personal and exclusive hotel experience," explains Kurt Allen, Director of E-Commerce at Small Luxury Hotels of the World. "Back then, we had a directory of hotels and offered our hoteliers a way to get included in the global distribution systems of travel agents, something that otherwise would not be possible for them."
"We have been online for over 10 years now, and what started out as a showcase of our hotels with a booking engine tacked on has now become a fully integrated e-commerce experience, where we compete in the same space as Booking.com and Expedia," Allen continues.
The relationship with EPiServer began five years ago, first with an extranet for hoteliers and later with the entire digital presence. Allen, who has 13 years experience of running successful e-commerce sites, joined the company in 2010, and has since been working to expand and refine the customer experience as well as the operational efficiency. During 2014, he will lead the work to create a new, reactive solution that will merge today's different sites for desktop, smartphones and tablets into one.
"One of the top priorities I had a few years back was to improve on search functionality. We worked very hard to find out where the visitor would start their booking journey: would they provide a date or no date, would they select all hotels in Italy, and so on. When we tried to make optimisations though we were let down by technology. We also had a hard time to get relevant results," Allen says. "Beyond our visitors, we also had more than 500 hoteliers, who often would test different search terms to make sure that they would appear for those."
"We also had some challenges with reliability of the search function, and it generally was a bit of a mess," Allen says with a smile. "So, to solve all those issues that we had, I turned to POSSIBLE to suggest a search solution for us."
David Knipe, who was technical director at POSSIBLE at the time, continues: "We did a thorough evaluation of a few different solutions, and our recommendation to Kurt and Small Luxury Hotels of the World was to use EPiServer Find. Kurt was not asking for specific features, but wanted a solution that was more robust, smarter and faster, and we felt confident that Find would deliver on that promise. We also were able to add those benefits to an already existing site, which made the implementation much quicker than it otherwise would have been."
"When launching the improved site with the new search functionality, it was possible to slice data in many different directions. That provoked some interesting discussions," Allen says.
"Suddenly, we could do a selection, e.g. 'hotels in Paris with a butler service', which we could not do before. Eight years ago I looked at implementing a similar faceted search functionality at another company, but then we had to go to a separate supplier just for that feature. Now, we had it all built into the site itself. We can also do selections based on distance, something that would be very relevant if the visitor is searching for a town, where there might be hotels nearby but not at that exact location."
"What really surprised us though is that Find also brought the ability for us to do custom landing pages very quickly. For instance, we might want to do a list of 'Italian lakes' for an email campaign . Previously, we would have to pick out hotels manually, but now we can set a few criteria and in a very short time have a complete landing page. That ability alone has saved us about 70% of the time it takes to create a new campaign," Allen says.
"Previously, we would never have had the time to create themes like that, and now we have rolled out many different selections - a win-win for both our visitors and our hoteliers. They are also great from an SEO standpoint."
With the new capabilities, Small Luxury Hotels of the World has seen a steady increase of bookings year-over-year. Additionally, they are now able to track not only search terms but also what different filters and facets visitors use.
"With EPiServer Find, we have got both a better customer experience and the ability to do more campaigns and themes. We also get greater insight into our visitors needs; by giving our customers more to search for we can understand much more about them."
So, how does a smaller, more personal company stack up against the big competitors? Allen sums it up:
"As the champion of small, independent hotels around the world we still need the same types of functionality as the big online players in the travel industry. And now we have this."
With EPiServer, we have got both a better customer experience and the ability to do more campaigns and themes. We also get greater insight into our visitors needs; by giving our customers more to search for we can understand much more about them.Kurt Allen, Director of E-Commerce at Small Luxury Hotels of the World.