The Future of Hotel Websites…isn’t Flash

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the blog of the hospitality digital marketing company, buuteeq, prior to its acquisition by Booking.com in June 2014.  The opinions expressed here are specific to buuteeq, though many of the technology insights remain relevant to customers and admirers of our new business, BookingSuite, a unit of Booking.com. Visit suite.booking.com for our latest thought leadership in the hospitality digital marketing space.

Adobe Flash® is a multimedia platform used to add animation, video, and interactivity to web pages. Flash gained popularity as a website development technology because it offered high-impact, rich Web capabilities at a time when there were no other alternatives (other contemporary web technology options lacked these capabilities).  Today, Flash is a very poor choice of technology to power a hotel’s website—a question that many of buuteeq’s customers bring to our attention, so I’d like to outline the issues and clarify some of the design and development concerns, maintenance costs, and technical obstacles that are involved when using Flash for hotel marketing websites.

First some background: earlier in my professional career I worked at Macromedia (the creator of the Flash technology before it was acquired by Adobe Systems), and I was the Sr. Product Manager in charge of the Flash product.  I personally oversaw the “media” aspects of the product line, which included the rich graphical, video, animation, and marketing features of Flash, and was responsible for business planning and taking the technology to market to make it successful with different audiences.  One of the audiences that I and my peers focused on at that time was websites that wanted to deliver video, which turned out to be a very successful market for Flash (YouTube, Vimeo, and a vast number of important websites that deliver video online went on to use Flash—and it is generally accepted that without Flash, the explosion of video on the web in the 2004-2008 era would not have been possible).

Another market that we marketed Flash to at the time was hospitality.  We built compelling demos and case studies and then went to the hospitality space to show hotels, airlines, and travel agents that by choosing Flash they could create a richer, more interactive, more clear presentation of the product and services they were offering, in an attempt to drive higher satisfaction scores and conversion ratios which would together yield better business results.  For its era, Flash was indeed an interesting choice and we had a good story—but even then there were cataclysmic issues involved when using Flash for e-commerce sites, and Macromedia itself got a black eye when it tried and failed to switch its own website over to the technology (and within a week had to revert back to standard HTML).

The technical case against Flash was outlined very eloquently by Apple CEO Steve Jobs in his open letter to the tech community, which you can read here.  I will thus speak more directly to disadvantages of Flash in the specific case of Hotel Websites, the key issues being:

  1. SEO: Flash hinders Google organic search and produces lower SEO relevance
  2. Mobile: Flash based hotel websites are not compatible with most mobile devices.
  3. Cost: Flash is needlessly complex choice of technology to design, develop, and maintain your hotel’s website.
  4. There are better looking and performing alternatives!

Let me elaborate (while staying conceptual so as to not get too deep into the technology):

Flash is Bad for Google search Discovery and SEO

Google, Bing, and other search engines send out crawlers that travel the internet, index websites by noting keywords, content and meta-data, then rank the websites based on the content they find.  Being fully “discoverable” by these crawlers is a pre-requisite so that you can be found by guests when they do a Google search  However, Flash based websites are seen by Google as big opaque “black boxes” that Google’s crawlers cannot directly examine.

The makers of Flash have tried to get around this by building a system whereby the developer of a website can attach a “tag” on each part of a Flash website that says to Google “hi Google crawler robot!  Thanks for coming to look at this website, which you can’t see for yourself but let me be nice and tell you what it is: a great hotel website with pretty photos and cool room amenities. I know you can’t actually see that for yourself, but trust me, that’s what’s in here—so please believe me and send customers my way!”  This is of course a non-starter for Google, because at the core of Google’s success is the concept of trust and relevancy.  What if the Flash website in question is a pornography site, but the tags adorning the black box say “educational curriculum for physical health”.  Google simply does not trust something it can’t see, and Flash websites are thus ignored.

Flash is not compatible with many mobile devices

Flash websites cannot be loaded on the vast majority of existing mobile phones or on important platforms that are setting the trend for the future such as the Apple iPhone and iPad.  If a user attempts to view a Flash website on their phone they’ll be greeted with an empty screen.  Various studies indicate that 30% of mobile users in the U.S. already regularly surf the web from their phones, and by 2014 the time spent on mobile internet browsing and mobile search queries is expected to overcome that of desktop in many parts of the world (in some, it already has!)

Furthermore–hotel websites built with Flash are actually also not compatible with about 10-20% of desktop PC users, because many PCs are running older versions of Flash that won’t load newer content, and most hotel research and shopping is done Monday through Friday during business hours, while people are sitting at their desk at work on computers that they do not have permission to install/upgrade or otherwise administer.  Any business that is trying to market themselves and their brand to a breadth consumer audience simply cannot afford to invest in a website that isn’t reaching 100% of interested parties!

Cost

“With great power comes great responsibility” (or so says Peter Parker’s uncle in the movie Spiderman), and because Flash is indeed capable of many interesting visual effects and animations, Flash based website designs tend to include the design and development costs of using some of these rich features.  Hotels might initially be pleased with the look of their Flash website but once they realize the prohibitive costs associated with maintaining a Flash site, the site often gets neglected. When a hotel’s site becomes neglected, its functionality diminishes and consequently, the utility of the site diminishes for guests, and business suffers.  The cost of building a hotel website in Flash needs to be measured in the lifecycle of the site over many years, not just in a one-time design and update.

The internet has evolved immensely and today there are other technologies available that offer a “rich” Web experience.  Broadband is now pervasive, computers are faster, web standards increasingly support “visual effects” and animations that were once unique to Flash.  These alternatives not only look great but they are far cheaper to develop and maintain.

For all these reasons, Flash is a poor choice for hotels aiming to offer a rich and compelling experience to as many guests as possible.

The alternative: great looking, better performing hotel websites using the latest web standards (HTML5)

The websites produced by buuteeq’s system are built with industry standard technologies that ensure a positive and satisfying user experience and conform to SEO best practices. buuteeq websites share the rich look and feel of Flash but outperform Flash in the following ways:

  1. buuteeq websites are SEO and Google friendly. As opposed to Flash, buuteeq powered websites can be properly crawled and indexed by Google.  buuteeq sites have a much better chance for a higher ranking in Google compared with Flash-only sites.
  2. buuteeq websites are fully compatible with all mobile devices. buuteeq websites are designed to load properly on all mobile devices.  This includes smartphones such as the iPhone and Google Android phones and tablet computers such as the iPad.  buuteeq websites are specially designed to look great and work great across all the various digital channels that consumers use to research travel decisions.  This ensures that hotels are reaching the widest possible audience of guests; something Flash cannot offer.
  3. buuteeq websites are much more affordable than flash-based sites. All costs associated with managing and maintaining a buuteeq website is far cheaper than that of custom developed Flash sites. All the added costs of compensating for Flash deficiencies can be applied to more meaningful projects with a buuteeq powered solution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s