Working the room(s)

In anticipation of an accommodation project we started looking into Drupal Rooms, a distribution of Drupal (basically a bundle of Drupal and the required modules for Rooms).

A big part of our job is UI Design, avoiding users getting into a “what do I do now?” situation.

Our UI designer, Tom, looked into Drupal Rooms in more detail:

Having visited numerous hotels, worked in hospitality and having family involved in the accommodation business, I feel I have a bit of an understanding of how this should all work.

So with Drupal Rooms I was looking into how it works for the user ‘out of the box’ and what functionality we would need to add to it, and how best to get this working. I thought I’d share a bit of the experience…

the good

Out of the box Drupal Rooms did a lot of things well, with some real understanding of how the industry actually works and what the users needed in an accommodation booking system. It worked straight away with little setup required and the back end interface is pretty clear and has some good graphical displays of data instead of just text, text, text.

Out of the box load Backend interface

Accommodation rooms could be set up in various ways: catering for small scale Bed & Breakfasts right through to large scale hotels with many rooms. It is also integrated well with Drupal Commerce’s systems.

Availability search with date picker Picking options in search results

It allows for various pricing configurations from the start, including children, single occupancy discounts and per-room options. The availability search is quite logical and a bit intuitive even in what is asked.

Straight away Drupal Rooms is setup, themed and ready to start taking bookings – but you’ll probably want to style it…

the bad

The search results are displayed well, but the layout is difficult to rearrange and style. What room prices include is also a bit confusing, is it per room? For one night or all nights? Does it include any extras? The placement of some “Book Now” buttons and what they apply to is also misleading.

Booking Confirmation, but what does it say? Air New Zealand has a really clear booking confirmation

At the other end of the transaction, the order confirmation is using a design that works for ordering clothes perhaps, but not displaying your latest accommodation booking. Looking at airline and hotel booking confirmations for inspiration, there are some much better ways to display this information than simple line items. However, getting that data in a usable format seems to be very difficult!

Development is needed – but with some changes Drupal Rooms will really become viable.

the ugly

There seemed to be some small errors in coding, meaning the layout was sometime a bit warped, but this seems to be a simple fix.

Strings with hard-to-get data

Unfortunately the layout of search results and pages doesn’t seem to be based on a template system, which means it is almost impossible to modify the layout of the data. A lot of data is also hard to access and trapped in pre-defined strings, making it much harder to access it than it should be.

Moving all layouts to a template system would be a huge bonus for customisation.

what would be nice to develop

Drupal Rooms should have a more generic, barebones approach to the out of the box theme (black and white) with a set of sass files with simple variables for those who only want to make small changes to styling, such as colours.

It would also be good to look into integration with hotel booking websites, such as Expedia, and what would be the easiest way to link into these sites and manage the content in them.

For companies with more than one hotel, moving the booking of the rooms to an external source that then integrates via a module into the page would allow backend management of all rooms in all hotels easier. It would also give a simpler interface for travel agents to compare rooms and prices across many hotels.

Integration with external services would give Drupal Rooms an edge over other solutions.

the final word

The Drupal Rooms distribution is a pretty good start for something so new. However, we feel that there is a little more thought needed in some parts on how the users, both hotelliers and guests, use the various functions and what information they might need and how it should be presented to them.

For developers looking into solutions for accommodation providers we would say Drupal Rooms could be worth checking out. As long as you have some time to tinker under the hood. However if you just need a basic system that works out of the box, Drupal Rooms has a few too many bugs and quirks to perhaps be ready to roll straight out.

For accommodation providers looking into possible platforms, Drupal Rooms isn’t something you can just take and run with yet. However if you are wanting a system with a difference for your clients, Drupal Rooms is still new enough that a developer could use it to create something quite impressive for you and your clients.

For developers? With some creativity and drive, yes. For accommodation providers? Maybe not just yet. But it’s off to a good start.