by Rebecca Merrett to improve search and mobile experience

Sep 12, 20145 mins
Technology Industry

Travel website is making it easier for users to find information while providing them with a more consistent experience on mobile devices.

The organisation has started using Hypermedia as the Engine of Application State (HATEOAS), a constraint of the REST application architecture that links relevant resources together, allowing users to discover information more easily.

This ensures they can explore content freely and in a non-prescribed fashion to not only find the best deals but also explore information that will help make their decisions, CIO Janet Sutherland and front-end team leader, Scott Horn told CIO Australia

“The key is to be able to discover where services are with a machine. So say you were using a mobile device and you had all these great services, all of a sudden you would have some more great services you need. That’s done automatically,” said Horn, who spoke at the YOW! Connected conference in Melbourne.

“Also, in the past, we had our search technology that gave you the ability to go and find things by choosing some regions and so on to find a potential hotel. Now we have got the ability to find things via packages, to look for things through flights and to be able to do free text search and things like that,” he added.

Wotif has also recently implemented a date-specific search feature and is displaying images of hotels that match the specific date in its search results. Hotel reviews or scores have also been added under each search result, with the site having an excess of 1.2 million authentic hotel reviews for the Australia and New Zealand region.

This feature is still in user testing stage and is only visible to 50 per cent of people who land on the home page.

Sutherland added that the tech team has adopted a continuous delivery methodology, with small enhancements to the site being pushed out sometimes two to three times a day.

Wotif is also enabling its back end systems to better correlate a user’s search with information on deals and offers from its suppliers. The systems will allow hotels to enter information about their three-day deals, for example, and not just their daily rates.

“A hotel could have a mechanism for giving a customer a really good deal, but under certain circumstances like you have to stay a certain amount of time in order to get the deal. The more ways our systems can understand that and make that easily searchable, the better chance someone can find it,” Horn said.

“So when you are doing a search, and you know how many days someone is going to stay for, you can show them the deals really quickly and easily.”

Responsive Web design is also another key focus for the Wotif tech team. Sutherland said 49 per cent of the website’s hotel traffic comes from mobile devices, with 7.3 million downloads of its mobile app for iOS and Android since it was released in 2012.

“Responsive design enables us to have that consistent look and feel across multiple devices. Whether you are working on your desktop at home or the office or on your mobile device, you are going to have a consistent look and feel to your application,” Sutherland said.

Diversity driving ideas

Wotif ran its first hackathon in mid-July this year, with about 120 participants that formed 17 teams. The 24-hour event took place in its head office in Brisbane, with one idea being selected to go ahead and be delivered by the end of this year.

Sutherland and Horn did not want to discuss the idea before its release but said it is an offering that greatly enhances the customer experience. Other ideas involved improving the look and feel of the website and improving Wotif’s internal work processes.

“You put the right people together, you enable and open forum for collaboration and creation of these services, and you do the best thing you can to ensure that any work that is created along the way is immediately available for everybody to see,” Horn said.

Key to making a hackathon and innovation successful is having diversity in the teams, Sutherland said. This includes a mix of gender, cultures and skills.

“We are very gender diverse and multicultural and I think that has brought in ideas and thinking from a lot of different angles with no pre-set group of ideas. We workshop, we involve people across the business in developing ideas and developing our projects,” she said.

Last week, Alexandra Spillane, senior system administrator at Wotif, won the Women in IT (WiT) Professional Award.

“We are very keen to promote females in the technology industry. We are well balanced in our leadership, in our executive, as well our developers. We’ve got some really serious techie female geeks here – everything from software developers to system administrators,” Sutherland said.