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Luxury hotel chain Four Seasons has unveiled a new website that cost an eye-watering $18m to develop.

The result of the investment is a slick, bright website, with a new booking process, social media integration and personal profile technology that allows users to set preferences and create a more targeted online experience.

It is also optimised for mobile, which provides access to a scaled-down site that includes videos, images, room rates and booking.

Four Seasons’ revamp is part of an effort to improve online revenue - though its website attracts 30m visitors each year, online bookings only account for 12% of total revenue, an increase of just 2% in five years.

Kevin May, editor and co-founder of tech travel website Tnooz, said he isn’t surprised that Four Seasons' online revenue remains relatively low.

Many hotels use online travel agencies, such as Booking.com, to attract web bookings, so I suspect the 12% is direct-only. Part of its wider revenue breakdown will be from biz travel agents, offline retail agents, its call centre and other avenues.”

He said the new website is in part a plan to move more business online, or into a direct channel, but also ramp up its efforts to improve the brand image and give guests more tools to micro-manage their bookings.

Mobile optimisation is seen as vital for travel sites as consumers are increasingly comfortable browsing brand websites for further information, making bookings and managing their trip.

The 2012 Four Seasons Luxury Trends Report from Four Seasons reveals that 71% of its customers bring a smartphone with them on their travels and 61% bring a tablet device.

The company experienced a 200% increase in bookings completed on a tablet device in 2011.

Marin Software's lead product consultant Rebecca Momberg said that travel-based search marketers in particular are really missing out if they fail to capitalise on the growing mobile search market.

When a stranded traveller is searching for a hotel on their mobile, they are likely to have a high conversion rate as they probably need lodgings that very evening, which makes them very valuable."

She said this means brands like Four Seasons not only need to appear top of mobile search rankings, but also need to optimise their sites for mobile so they are easy to use – giving the end-user the best possible mobile experience.

It’s a luxury brand and its target consumer is an affluent, regular traveller, who is highly likely to have been an early adopter of smart phone and tablet technology, therefore, they have an established level of confidence and are more likely to convert via a mobile device."

We've now reviewed this website in more detail, with some user tests and input from UX experts. For a $18m websites, thereare plenty of flaws. 

David Moth

Published 13 January, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1679 more posts from this author

Comments (36)

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Johnny Ratcliffe

$18m - wow. Lovely site though. I can see *a lot* of work has gone into this - but I'd love to see the quote and breakdown and read it with a straight face. How much developers time do you get for £11.7m... ?

over 4 years ago

Eoin Kenneally

Eoin Kenneally, Ecommerce Consultant at Consultant

Hmmm i wonder where the £18m went, as it looks just like its 5 yrs out of date.

The fact that you cannot move the maps with you mouse and zoom in to locations to make picking the hotel easier is a real shame. Where is the drop down top navigation? Where is the search functionality?

The map is not interactive on the edges, so you cant move yourself around without the lower navigation.

Its massive, so the most important bits are below the fold.

The hotel pages are nice, brilliant photography with crisp images. Functionality on these page I feel will be lost on a few customers as the site gets confused the further you scroll.

Loads of great content and ideas, presented in a mashed up way. A real lack of attention to detail on the customer journey. $18 million dollars... i think it could have been done better for less, but only time will tell and in 6 months the revenues the site takes will be important.

The mobile site looks just like everyone site out there, wheres the HTML5 & native app functionality? Where is the point of difference? I think the seasoned traveler will continue to use better mobile travel sites.

over 4 years ago

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Sid Vel

Yup! $18m - Wow! I'm lost for words...

over 4 years ago

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Westley Knight

I'm sure that whole budget wasn't just for the website - "Four Seasons’ revamp is part of an effort to improve online revenue".

Surely there must have been a majority of that money invested in other areas rather than just the website. Research, back-end systems, plus other things that go on in the larger scale projects than just a website redesign.

At least I hope so, otherwise that is one big budget for photographing rooms, putting up floor plans and building a reservation system...

over 4 years ago

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James Young

I love the touch on the homepage of recommending somewhere then giving me no way of doing anything about it!

I'm guessing the $18m isn't just for a website though right?

J.

over 4 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

To be honest, I'm not surprised by $18m. Here are a few reasons:

1. It probably includes numerous 'related' costs like the photography, backend systems (as Westley said), analytics licenses, etc.
2. It's global.
3. It's both a heavy content-managed site, plus an ecommerce booking engine. (again, all global)
4. It's part owned by Bill Gates. Presumably somewhere some of this money is just going from one of his companies to another.
5. The company was last sold for $3.8bn. What's $18m compared to that?
6. There are various news articles going round about it at the moment - some quoting $15m, some quoting $18m. Meaning the stat is probably more 'finger-in-the-air' than exact.
7. They have a network of 84 hotels. I'm sure even the smallest of those turns over far, far more than $18m.

dan

over 4 years ago

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Greg Power

Some excellent SEO work here.

If you check the redirect on http://www.fourseasons.com/bosphorus/ it 301s (or permanently redirects) to http://www.preview.fourseasons.com/bosphorus/.

Not a particularly wise move permanently redirecting your content to a development URL, is it?

over 4 years ago

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Mark Mitchell

Whilst costs seem high it's probably to the costs of major refit of one of their hotels?

over 4 years ago

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Yousaf Sekander

It is a great site but as mentioned in previous comments I would love to see an itemized bill. That is a lot of money for a web site even if it was a "platform".

Looks like their back-end is based on Amazon's cloud infrastructure btw.

over 4 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

@Greg: If you check it outside of a browser (eg. using Xenu or ScreamingFrog) it doesn't 301 (just a 200). If I check in Chrome, it 302s. They're doing some odd things, but not quite what you've suggested.

over 4 years ago

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Greg Power

How strange. When I checked an hour or two ago it it was definitely serving a 301.

Also, if you tried to access the non-www version of the site the redirect failed, perhaps it's been fixed since my original check.

over 4 years ago

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Nina

The date selector is not very intuitive - it took me three attempts to select the date range I wanted!

over 4 years ago

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Victoria Hilditch

I am also lost for words! There are a lot of design mistakes on this! White words written over white parts of images. So you can't read them.

The font choice and the red in the nav bar do not portray all things 'four seasons'!

Text over flowing past the images they are next too. Pictures out of line.

On the meetings sections in stead of choosing your location in a box you can go down and down and down on the site making the page so long! IT will loose peoples interest very quickly!

How could they launch a 18m website without sorting all these problems!

I am just in shock!

over 4 years ago

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Ian

They overpaid by a factor of 36.

Great imagery and the design is fine, but where did 17.5MM of that go?

over 4 years ago

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Mike Morgan

Love the website but disappointed that I was unable to make a reservation using my iPad. You would think that for that fee all mobile devices would function well.

over 4 years ago

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Andy

Does anyone know which company headed the development of the website?

over 4 years ago

Dipesh Shah

Dipesh Shah, Digital Consultant at Data Translators

As a customer visiting the site I will be sold to book with the hotel but if they end up booking with another partner such as Expedia I expect that is not what they are looking for.

It will be interesting to see in 6 months to a year what % of revenue comes via online and what is determined as a success.

over 4 years ago

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Jan-Willem Bobbink

This is defintely a linkbait campaign. The site is quite good and the imagenary is extensive. But their is no webdevelopment company that will charge 18M. Just a way to gather exposure.

over 4 years ago

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Mike Ashton

As former CMO of Hilton International, my experience of Four Seasons has been a great brand with much to be proud of but I feel this announcement does them little credit, appearing at best commercially naive and at worst like an a bad attack of corporate ego for a few reasons:
1) Competiton: Many of the leading branded conpetitors surpassed this proportion of bookings from own brand websites years ago using a combination of progressive functinality and commercially astute marketing - and certainly without spending this amount on a single redevelopment.
2) Numbers: If this is genuinely an investment of $18m in site development I'd love a chat with the CFO that approved the IRR and budget. Presumably, much of the return will be generated by reduced distribution cost and maybe increased conversion rather than major increases in occupancy or rate, particularly in the current climate. A tough ask.
3)Additional investment: Again, assuming the figure of $18m is genuine, it must surely be supported by a significant investment in on and offline marketing to drive traffic, together with promotional offers in an ultra price sensitive market, all serving to reduce margins. Again, I'd love to see the IRR/NPV calculations in the business case.
4)Consistency: One thought as a customer experience and change sepecialist - I just hope that in encouraging this level of personalised interaction via advanced social media, the rest of Four Seasons' service experience lives up to the promise.

It's great to see a leading brand investing confidently in brand, customer experience and marketing in a tough economic climate - without doubt the right thing to do if finances allow. Just can't help thinking the smart move would have been to make the investment and launch the site but play down the figures, at least until the commercial return is assured.
Good luck Four Season - I really hope the numbers add up.
Mike Ashton

over 4 years ago

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James Marsh, Digital Consultant at IE Design Consultancy Limited

I share most the thoughts of others, plus:

Why isn't this site responsive for 18M - would have taken so little extra effort and put a great finishing touch on what's a very nice site.

over 4 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACIEnterprise

I agree with the comments that for $18m it would have been nice to have a slicker front-end interface.

However in my experience a lot of that $18m would have been used behind the scenes to configure and federate enterprise resources such as booking management, CRM, middleware, voice services and finance systems. Across a global business that needs to communicate with customers 24/7 this would be a major undertaking.

I'd guess the focus was on delivering customer experience not user experience (bracing myself for war of words on the difference between the two).

David Sealey

over 4 years ago

Yahya Hautamaki

Yahya Hautamaki, Chief Creative at United Interactive™

Advertising Age interview with Four Seasons VP-Marketing » http://bit.ly/Avwz6M

over 4 years ago

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DeonHeunis

Site was build using Adobe CQ5 - http://builtwith.com/preview.fourseasons.com

Wonder how much in licensing costs they are paying.

over 4 years ago

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James

And it's not even responsive.
Jeeze.

over 4 years ago

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Curtis

Sounds like another J2EE project gone awry.

over 4 years ago

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Ryan

The thing doesn't even have an <h1> tag.

"She said this means brands like Four Seasons not only need to appear top of mobile search rankings" - this becomes unlikely then, clearly the website is not optimized.

Agree with Mike Ashton - very commercially naive.

over 4 years ago

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Karl

This smells like when you see: "logo cost 7 million dollars" but they forgot to mention the worldwide overhaul of branding, web, marketing strategies and so on..
I call: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pQcn2L65J0

over 4 years ago

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Web Design Liverpool

And who said there was a recession on?!

over 4 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

I really wasn't going to comment - there are already plenty of good criticisms and I was not sure we needed another 'how did they manage to spend that much money?' - then I thought I'd try a booking at the Canary Wharf hotel for tomorrow night. It turns out to be full but I really expected something better than a message titled "Search executed but no availability returned". All I needed was a "sorry we do not have any rooms available" or similar customer centred response. Despite the upteen millions it cost, it still appears to have been designed by a photographer (they are stunning) and a computer programmer - who else "executes searches" or says "no availability returned"?

over 4 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

Tom, it's good to get some feedback from someone who has tried to book a room - seems it could be a case of style over substance, which for $18m is a very poor return!

Due to the level of interest we will be publishing some user tests on the Four Seasons' website in the near future.

over 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Tom - great example, and it does suggest a distinct lack of user-centred design. In fact, I'll steal that example for my site review ; )

This site is also shocking when you look at its accessibility (or lack of).

over 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I've now reviewed the Four Seasons website in more detail. As the comments here suggest, it is seriously flawed.

http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8844-four-seasons-18m-website-reviewed

over 4 years ago

Ian Lyons

Ian Lyons, Founder at Social Focus

I just tried register an account (not book a room) and found it requires my credit card. Sorry, Four Seasons, I'm interested but I don't trust you that much yet.

Worse, the form (https://secure.fourseasons.com/content/fourseasons/en/signin/register.html) didn't indicate that this was required. Thanks for wasting my time Four Seasons.

over 4 years ago

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Chris

@Eoin Kenneally We all had a good laugh in the office at your comments. You really sealed the deal when you mentioned the fold... Clear sign of someone with no idea what they're talking about.

over 4 years ago

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Michael Rolfe

How about £35m PER YEAR for this UK site?

www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/rorycellanjones/2010/07/the_105m_website.html

£4.4m/yr for hosting, anyone?

$18m... where do you think the money went, really?

Releasing the cost was bold PR - got them some extra visitor figures to help justify the expense :).

over 4 years ago

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Sanil Subhash Chandra Bose, Digital Strategy Consultant at Fast Web Media

I think some company took money from them. Or it may be a contract to maintain website add necessary build for next 10 years possibly?

over 4 years ago

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