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Ensuring out-innovate their competitors in a crowded market space allows customers to book hotel rooms online and by phone. It has 85 websites in 34 languages, and lists over 140,000 hotels in thousands of locations. It is part of Expedia Inc. commissioned What People Want to run a two-stage ethnographic study into online hotel booking behaviour: gathering insights on how people approach the planning of a trip, the resources and artefacts they use (online and offline), the levels of consultation with others, how they use specific hotel booking sites, the key influencers on their decision making and the flow of the decision making process.

An ethnographic approach

The study combined telephone interviews, a diary study, and home visits. For a selection of participants we shot video documentaries.
In the diary, participants recorded their natural behaviour around planning and researching their trip. This included details of sites they visited, other associated influences – such as conversations with friends, guide books, TV travel shows – and what they thought and felt throughout the decision process.
The diary was followed by telephone interviews during which the researcher probed around specific events that arose in the diary for clarification and further insight.
In the home visits (shadowing) we observed the context in which the booking process took place, and observed the final hotel booking itself.
In the weeks following the home visits, a total of 5 participants were chosen to be filmed for the video documentaries. The aim of these films is to enable to learn more about their audience – their needs, motivations and behaviours in the home environment.The subjects of the documentaries reflect all the key behaviours we observed in the study
Right up until the very end, none of the participants knew that the study was being sponsored by


  • A series of personal portraits, based on the people we had spoken to. These revealed, the goals, frustrations and challenges of the audience which could then be fed back into their internal personas
  • The 5 video documentaries, showed the wider team the full process of booking a hotel at home. Including the influencing factors and artefacts used
  • Our detailed report identified the main unmet needs and key opportunities, enabling to innovate and excel in this extremely competitive and crowded market


Living Personas
Future Labs
Learning Lab
Video Documentaries
Natural Usability

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