Booking.com tried making the experience of finding accessible hotels better, unfortunately they made it worse, and I was part of this.
Facilities for disabled guests
I am planning a trip to Dortmund and noticed that they changed their “Facilities for disabled guests” filter – which allowed filtering for accessible properties on the site – to a more granular set of filters such as “Wheelchair accessible”, “Toilet with grab rails”…etc.
The problem with “Facilities for disabled guests” was that it didn’t mean anything. I still have to call each hotel, ask if they have wheelchair accessible rooms of the type I am looking for, and if the rooms are available for the dates I choose. After sometimes few, sometimes many calls, I would find a hotel that meets the criteria and book it. It is a tedious process, but it is the best available option that I am aware of.
More details ≠ better experience
Back in 2015 – when I was working there – I complained about how hard it is to find accessible rooms on the website. The best thing about working for Booking is that you can quickly ramp up an idea and run an experiment. That’s what we did back then. We ran a few experiments.
The experiments were no success. We thought the problem might be in the data we had. We only had this “Facilities for disabled guests” which is self reported by the hotel and subject to their interpretation of understanding what it means. That’s when I did a lot of research of what makes a hotel accessible and came up with a list of data points that we should collect from hotels. We collected them, and finally it is now live as you saw in the previous screenshot.
The problem with the new more granular filters is that they show less properties. I did the same search on the mobile website, which still has the “Facilities for disabled guests” filter. I was able to filter for more properties (26 properties) than the one on desktop (8 properties in the best case).
Finding really accessible rooms
In retrospect, I think my approach back then was wrong as I didn’t travel a lot and didn’t understand the problem from both sides, the “disabled” traveler and the hotel. Now that I did my homework contacting 300+ hotels in Berlin, I realized it is not a problem of collecting more data, well, it is about information but not the way I tackled it earlier.
My hypothesis (it is always a hypothesis until the data punches you in the face) is that there is no way to make a wheelchair user find and directly book accessible rooms online unless they are their own room category just like Twin and Double. There should be Accessible Twin or Accessible Single.
Some hotels already do that on their own website (I have a few examples but I am too lazy to dig into my data to find them), and some already do this on Booking.com but they are like unicorns. It is almost impossible to find them as it is only mentioned in the room title which you can’t search for.
I hope this post triggers some change for better. Booking is full smart people, and they can definitely make this better. Until then, please return the “Facilities for disabled guests” filter, because I can’t plan my trip to Dortmund.