Can a global hotel group with over 3,600 properties spread across 14 brands in 92 countries position itself as a hospitality provider delivering fully personalized local travel experiences?

Accor Hotels is attempting to do just that. Last month, the company unveiled a new destination-themed homepage customizable for 32 geolocated source markets in 16 languages, fronting a booking engine that averages one reservation every two seconds.

The new brand.com homepage is similar to Accor’s splashy Pullman Hotels website, which the company redeveloped a year ago that positions the Pullman business brand as a lifestyle hotel experience.

The homepage opens with a full-width photo slider showing vivid destination scenes to promote the relevant properties, followed by special offers bucketed by both destination and hotel. The goal is to make the homepage more sticky by providing more options during the initial travel research phase.

Much more innovative in terms of the actual user experience, at least in concept, there’s also a nifty new travel itinerary building tool called My Trip Planner.

To make this work, Accor has created a massive library of guidebook-style destination information embedded in the site. Once customers have created an account, they can search for and save any of the local travel options they’re interested in with the “Add to My Collection” button adjacent to each activity or attraction description.

The destination experiences are categorized by events, restaurants/bars, shopping, monuments, and “What to See in 3 Days.” A lot of these are iconic tourist attractions, such as Tate Modern and Hyde Park in London, but the F&B and shopping selections list a good array of places you wouldn’t likely discover on your own.

To begin building an itinerary at the My Trip Planner portal, the user drags the photo thumbnails of the saved travel experiences from a vertical slide on the left side of the screen, and then drops them into any hourly time slot inside an interactive calendar showing the specific dates of travel.

On a separate tab within the same vertical slider, there are photo thumbnails for each of the Accor hotels in the selected destination, which customers can also drag and drop onto the calendar.

The final itinerary can be shared on social networks, and it’s easy to create and save multiple trips to multiple destinations. For business travelers loyal to Accor brands and who travel often, this is where the My Trip Planner can benefit the most by potentially keeping everything organized in dedicated calendar pages specific for each trip.

Lastly, users can click on the Google Map view and see all of your selections pinned to the map, which helps you judge, for example, how far Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is from your room at Pullman London St. Pancras near Bloomsbury.

Some Big Questions

This online trip planning initiative is part of Accor Group’s $250 million, brand-wide “Leading Digital Hospitality” upgrade program under development from 2014 to 2018. It’s a go big or go home strategy that’s definitely costly, and it makes a big assumption that these bells and whistles will motivate users to book direct rather than on a booking site where Accor will have to share fees.

Travelers have traditionally shown little to no interest in using calendar functionality like this to organize their trips (outside of the TripIt app). But Accor, with its combination of planner and activity features, is betting that it knows something others don’t.

In addition, Accor has partnered with tours and activities provider GetYourGuide to develop an Accor-branded site with a GetYourGuide url. (This is completely separate from the My Trip Planner and destination content created by Accor.) These pages provide bookable tour options, many of which are very touristy, but there are some cool options like a half-day London street art tour for $23.92.

Just like organizing trips with website calendars, consumers have shown little interest in booking tours and activities online, but it’s a feature that big brands are enamored with because it always makes a site look more interactive.

There’s also significant room for improvement with the dyslexic site navigation because it’s easy to get lost within the extensive content ecosystem. Actually, it’s impossible not to get lost. After setting up an account and exploring the site over multiple days, there seems to be a rather random and confusing hierarchy of user interfaces.

To begin searching for destination content, the consumer goes to the “Prepare Your Stay” option in the top nav bar. If you click the button, it directs you to a split screen leading to the My Travel Planner on the left, and a whole other series of destination content pages on the right called Inspiration Guides, which contain a lot of broken links.

However, if you hover over the Prepare Your Stay menu instead of clicking it, a dropdown menu appears with a rather odd assortment of choices under one menu, including Accor’s digital magazine, a Europcar rental car booking microsite, specific destination guides to major cities, the main destination guide landing page, and the GetYourGuide website under “Things To Do.”

Nowhere do you see the words: “My Trip Planner.”

After literally 4+ hours researching this site, it was never intuitively clear how to get back to any of the landing pages, causing constant frustration during what should be the “dream” phase of travel planning.

To begin with, there needs to be a clearly delineated Destinations section with clearly defined differences between all of the segmented types of destination content, including the magazine content, ideally. There also needs to be a much better navigation system with clear directions to quickly access other layers of the destination content without having to go back to the Accor homepage.

It will be interesting to see how the site architecture evolves over the next six months, and if anyone actually uses the My Trip Planner portal, which is beautifully designed graphically (including mobile) but maddeningly weird and difficult to operate.

Greg Oates covers hospitality and tourism development. Email him at go@skift.com.

Photo Credit: Sample of London travel options at the My Trip Planner portal. Accor Group