I wrote about Inasra the Search engine for hotels in India in this post. Here I will concentrate on the design and usability of the site. Fortunately for me, the site does not have huge number of links to go through. Unfortunately that leaves Inasra to face the music.
As I have pointed in my earlier post they have got one of the most useful and simple homepage. It focuses on one thing Search!. One can search for hotels by city, between the dates of choice. One good thing about the site is that they set the back ground color for the site to white. Check out this post and the comments for more about what role back ground color plays.
The other thing which stands apart is the use of the technology to in a creative manner. The boxed highlighting is pleasant. Check out the results page for some cool Ajax implementation. Clicking in the check boxes filters the results almost instantly. Scroll down and click on view for more details about the hotels and the kinds of rooms available. Another cool feature is the ability to drag and drop the room into the booking panel to the right.
Have a look at the translucent confirm screen, isn't it cool. They accept pretty much all the credit cards and payment through many Indian Banks for Indians holding Accounts in those banks. I have one complaint as usual with resolution,they could have designed the results screen to fit in the full window at 1024*768, instead it overflows by a few pixels.
What it scores on design it fails over here. It is not that Inasra falls flat in this aspect, its only that there are lot of issues that they have to resolve before they become really useful.
i) First on usability count is inability to go back and correct the options I have given. If for some reason I want to book another room in the same hotel, extend the date etc, I need to go all over again, there is no back feature from the confirm screen or the payment screen.
ii) There is no option to save a booking mid way, quit , comeback and start midway.
iii) There is a navigation menu to hotels using the menu item in the navigation bar. However, the results of reaching a hotel through this menu and through the hotel search is not consistent. Though the site recommends using the search feature for the hotel, why do they provide this navigation? For example it is not possible to reach details of "Silver Sand Resorts Havelock" through Hotels->City route, but you can see the details if you go to the hotel using the search.
iv) The menu items are not consistent across. In the search results, I cannot see the "Hotels" in the menu, while after navigating to the "Hotels" page, the menu item reads "Hotel".
v) Even if I am logged, I can see a menu Item "Register" on navigating to the "Hotels" page.
As with any site there are a few inconsistencies in the behavior of the site. On few pages hovering over the navigation bar items changes the back ground color, while at a few other pages it changes font!. Why is this?
The options available on booking panel of the hotel are not available on the booking panel from the main screen. Again the booking panel is not consistent for hotels depending on how one reaches the page.
Finally, however intuitive a site is, it always helps to have a useful list of FAQ's guiding the user on how to navigate the site, and answering the basic queries like how to cancel and booking, what happens to the rates during non peak seasons, how to go about if I want my hotel to be in the listing etc.
The first time I saw Inasra, I was really impressed. However, after taking a deeper look at the design and usability, I would say it has a some way to go in fixing the usability issues. Once they do that I am sure they will be a force to reckon with both in the service they provide(which I have not tried) and also the usability of the site.