Travel sites fail to deliver on web accessibility

Out-Law News | 02 Nov 2005 | 7:01 pm | 2 min. read

Travel websites in the UK are falling short on accessibility. Saga Holidays and Haven Holidays were rated as the best of a bad bunch in a new study of 10 of the UK's most popular travel agency destinations on the web.

The research was carried out by Nomensa, the internet research and design consultancy. It found that half of the sites failed the most basic of accessibility standards, known as WCAG Level A.

First Choice bottom of Nomensa's table of 10. In between were lastminute.com, Opodo, Going Places, Butlins, Expedia, Thomson and Thomas Cook.

Nomensa measured the sites against a series of manual and automated testing criteria, measuring issues such as scalable layout, accessible site structure and compatibility with assistive technologies.

The research also showed that nine of the 10 sites were likely to display inconsistently on portable devices such as PDA devices or mobile phones, and internet-ready televisions.

None of the sites produced valid HTML code, which means that none of the websites tested were correctly written with code that was accessible. None of them offered skip links. These are internal page links that provide a way for users to skip over groups of links and move straight to the page content and are very helpful to those who use sound to navigate a website. Only four of the sites – those of Saga Holidays, Haven Holidays, Thomas Cook and lastminute,com – offered scalable text, which is essential to many people with low vision. Saga Holidays offered the only site with a liquid design – meaning it was viewable at any resolution and on any size of screen.

Nomensa argues that many disabled users will have a poor user experience that may even exclude them from booking online travel in the UK. "Accessible web content is essentially good business practice," it says.

There is a commercial incentive to open travel websites to all internet users. According to Government figures, UK residents made over 61 million trips abroad in 2003, spending over £28 billion. And in the first quarter of 2005, 58% of adults in the UK had bought goods, tickets or services online. Nomensa points out that the businesses in its study have a good opportunity to win a bigger share of this market simply by making sure their websites are accessible.

There are also legal reasons. The UK's Disability Discrimination Act requires companies to make their public websites accessible. Travel sites have already been a target for legal action, though not in the UK.

Last August, the operators of Ramada.com and Priceline.com undertook to pay $77,500 and to improve their sites' accessibility to settle an investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer – albeit the nature of the legal obligation on operators of such US websites is less clear than the nature of the obligation on the UK market.

Léonie Watson, Head of Accessibility at Nomensa, said she was surprised that travel companies in the UK have not made more effort to engage their online visitors. "Good web accessibility practice is not exclusively for the disabled," she said. "It caters to anyone using the web in an easy and simple to use manner. The more people who can use your site, the more people you can sell your services to. It is really that simple.”

Editor's note: When this story first appeared on OUT-LAW, the sites named as best and worst were incorrectly identified due to an error in a data table. This has been fixed. However, the conclusion is unchanged: travel sites are failing to deliver on web accessibility.