UTRIP    |    2017

How do we help travelers find activities they'll enjoy?

Trip planning is fraught with FOMO. Travelers want recommendations, but also the freedom to see alternatives & change their minds. They want to be in control of the planning process. It is, after all, their trip. The Utrip Destination page needed to give users control over the destination discovery process, and build trust in our recommendation engine. The result is a delightful and dynamic destination exploration platform.
Utrip Product Team
  • Wil Carletti
  • Milena Saboya
  • Me
  • UX Research
  • UX / UI Design
  • Usability Testing
  • Design Specs
  • Interview Screener
  • Research Interview Script
  • Research Reports
  • Sketches
  • Prototypes
  • Design Documentation
  • Illustrator
  • Photoshop
  • Invision
  • Google Forms
  • Pen & Paper
  • Post Its
  • Research
  • Planning
  • Design
  • Testing
  • Design Documentation
  • Iteration

Utrip is a travel planning platform that combines human & artificial intelligence to make trip planning easy, enjoyable and personal. While the platform's end users are travelers, Utrip is a B2B white labeled platform with partners spanning all facets of the travel industry from DMOs to hotels to airlines and more. Because each partner has unique KPIs, the Utrip platform must be versatile to adapt to each partner's KPIs.

The goal in redesigning the trip planning platform included:

  1. Improving the overall user experience to increase engagement
  2. Better align platform functionality to the the core user needs
  3. Increase travel preference data collection so partners can optimize their inventory mix
To date, the Utrip platform has collected 150+ million data points, influenced 10+ million travelers, and worked with global travel brands such as, Hilton, Starwood Preferred Guest, JetBlue, Holland America Line, TUI Group, The Travel Corporation, NYC & Company, Visit Las Vegas, and more.
problem 1: FOMO

Despite a near magical recommendation engine that takes user preferences and geographically optimizes them into an organized itinerary, users were struggling with the fear-of-missing-out on activities. They didn't trust the recommendations and felt forced down a limited path. When the original platform was initially tested, 90% of users weren't even sure what the sliders did.

how we addressed it

Changing the user flow to add the trip planner as a step between personalization and itinerary creation helped reduce the FOMO. In addition, by putting the travel preference controls in the same space as the recommendations, users could see recommendations update in real time as they engage with the tool. Because the POI grid re-ordered to put the most recommended items on top instead of only showing recommended items, the user didn't feel like their choices were being taken away.

This put the control back into the user's hands, and empowered them to adjust and readjust as preferred. This both helped to build trust in the recommendation engine.

  • Increased average time on page by 56%
  • Increased data collection by 3x
problem 2: Itinerary-Only

The Utrip's core users were Planners, they type of traveler who prefers to research a destination before the trip and won't leave home without at least a few recommendations. But only a fraction of those users actually required a day-to-day itinerary. Many of the Planners we spoke to simply wanted a list of recommendations.

how we addressed it

We emphasized wishlist creation by:

  • Making the favoriting functionality (hearts) more prominent on the item cards
  • Adding Your Favorites as a section to the grid navigation with Things to Do, Lodging and Local Experts
  • Adding a favorites call to action

This helped to reinforce the importance of favoriting, which was being factored into the recommendation engine, and also gave users more freedom to create wishlists independent of itinerary creation.

  • During a 6 month pilot we demonstrated an increase of 260% over TUI Group's revenue per user, an increase of 234% over TUI Group's user conversion rate, and enabled their Destinations Services Team to optimize their inventory mix based on Utrip's cohort analysis
problem 3: Fragmented Functionality

Utrip had a vast array of wonderful trip planning content and functionality, the bulk of which most user's never accessed because it was either hidden or confusing to use.

how we addressed it

Changing the site's architecture allowed us to bring the content and features onto the same page. This removed some friction from the trip planning process. However, turning a multi-page experience into a quasi single page experience meant every element needed to earn each pixel on the page.

Each piece of functionality represented another decision for the user. Too many decisions created an overwhelming experience. Too few decisions and the personalization suffered. We needed to find the sweet spot in the middle, which led to dozens of iterations just to improve page hierarchy alone.

Ultimately, the research process dictated which functionality was essential and which was simply nice to have. One example, the number of interest sliders.

  • Clearer Functionality
  • Eliminate clicks and friction between arriving on page and seeing personalized recommendations
Design Thinking Process
  • Market Analysis looking at other companies in the travel space: trip planners, itinerary generators and travel inspiration sites
  • I wrote and processed Surveys to understand what travelers were interested in and how they planned trips
  • I wrote and collaborated on interview screeners which yielded 100+ possible candidates, who we vetted for interest in travel and upcoming travel plans
  • Wil & I collaborated on an interview script to help understand their trip planning process
  • 7 users were interviewed. We alternated between interviewer and note-taker roles.
  • 4 Utrip partners were interviewed (and later called in for usability testing) as product stakeholders. We alternated between interviewer and note-taker roles.
  • 2 Utrip advisor were consulted
  • Affinity Mapping helped us understand and prioritize pain points and user needs
  • Persona Creation (archetypes).
plan & design
  • User Flows helped us map the site structure to reduce friction and pain points in the trip planning process
  • Concept Maps helped us plan the functionality to include. MVP = essential functionality determined from research, V1 = parity functionality, V2 = nice to have + optimal positioning for scale, V3 = nice to have
  • Information Architecture helped us map out the functionality that would need to be include on each page
  • Interaction Flows helped us iterate, build prototypes, determine MVP and became very useful for the design documentation
  • Design Whiteboarding helped us collaborate & brainstorm initial layout ideas
  • Sketches
  • More Sketches
  • SO MANY Sketches
  • Wireframes
  • 1 Paper Prototype
  • High Fidelity Mockups
  • Testing: 12 Invision Prototypes were built (4 were tested by users)
  • Testing: 10 Usability Studies were conducted
  • Design Documentation (I wrote 7 Google Doc 7 specs for the MVP build; then 11 Zeplin specs for later phase releases)
next steps
  • New round of usability tests
  • Map Improvements
  • Wishlist export
my favorite part of this project
Travel Styles

The Travel Style UI was a particular thorn during the design process. Travel Styles are a key part of our personalization technology, but space was limited and we struggled to incorporate the functionality into the page. We prototyped at least a dozen different ways to present the travel style options. When we tested this hover state preview, we knew we'd nailed it! Not only was it a moment of delight in the user test, but it helped users understand how to use the technology.


Toward the end of the build, there were so many components and versions with similar sounding names that we needed a system just to keep them straight. I started calling the recommendations container "Narwhal" and it caught on. The functionality of the recommendations container has been an important selling point for the platform. However, hearing different teams reference "Narwhal" in casual conversation just brings me a moment of joy. Sometimes, it's the little things.

We had plans to add multiple recommendations containers to the Item Detail View. It was to be called a "NarPod."