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Cruise on Lake Windermere with easy online booking

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Custom built booking system for leading Lakes tourist attraction

A popular sight against the incredible backdrop of the Lake District Fells and one of the top 5 paid for visitor attractions nationally, Windermere Lake Cruises welcomed over 1.6 million visitors in 2019.

A Digital have enjoyed a successful partnership with Windermere Lake Cruises approaching 10 years, having built their award-winning website and online timetabling system which provides a booking facility for their global audience. When the pandemic forced a review of how they could safely welcome back passengers on board for the summer 2020 season, a number of modifications to their booking platform were required to limit in-person contact and manage reduced capacities to comply with social distancing rules.

Supporting the Visitor Economy

The existing booking platform allowed groups of up to 20 people to book a cruise for any time on a given day and receive a barcoded ticket by email. This would be scanned at the departure pier and passengers would enjoy a cruise with optional stop-offs at numerous partner attractions around the Lake.

Clearly this open approach wouldn’t work within the new social restrictions in force, so the booking platform was adapted to create an experience similar to that found when booking train tickets online. This would assign passengers and family groups an allocated seating block for a specific cruise at a specific time of day giving the option being either indoors or out on deck for the best and worst of the Lake District weather.

Initially tickets were available on a point-to-point basis, but as a visitor attraction first and foremost rather than a means of getting from A to B, the majority of passengers book a round trip to return to their departure point. Adding the functionality to block out seats in advance for multi-stage journey’s between tourist hotspots of Lakeside, Bowness and Ambleside proved to be a complex addition to ensure there were no problems with overbooking or unnecessary passenger movements around the boat at each pier.

Windermere lake cruises flag

The platform's success created more challenges

The advancement of the booking platform was a huge success when tourists returned to the Lakes in July 2020. In fact, it was so successful that a number of secondary challenges soon appeared at the height of summer as record numbers of people opted for a ‘staycation’ in the UK.

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Managing Server Capacity

The first of these challenges was having scalable server capacity that would ensure the site performed at its best, delivering a positive user experience. This wasn’t simply a case of adding extra server resources but maximising the efficiency of individual database queries when looking up both cruise timetables and existing bookings. Tools such as Pingdom’s Realtime User Monitoring and New Relic gave us specific insights to where bottlenecks were being hit allowing us to streamline the codebase and deliver the highest possible performance.

Changing Buyer Behaviour

Despite cruises being well publicised as requiring advanced online booking, visitors would inevitably make on the spot decisions to enjoy a cruise on Windermere. Passengers without an advance booking were directed to buy tickets from the website via a QR code which meant timetable and booking pages needed not only to be performant, but highly usable on a variety of mobile devices. Lightweight templates written with Vue.js provide a highly responsive booking experience with a new mobile first design.

Windermere lake cruises online booking mobiles

Client Quote

Booked the tickets online in about 2 minutes, really easy 👍

2020 tripadvisor new logo design by mother design 4
Passenger Comment
Online booking banner for Windermere Lake Cruises

Scalable and flexible hosting

The scalable cloud-based hosting solution we provided allowed capacity to be increased ahead of good weather or bank holidays, and similarly scaled back down for the quieter winter season.

At peak times the website will process a new booking every few seconds, with Pingdom reporting an Apdex (the level of visitor satisfaction based on average load time where closest to 1 is best) of 0.92. Google’s Lighthouse tool reports a score of 90% on mobile performance and 99% for desktop devices.

Website analytics showed that over 70% of page views were from a mobile device with conversions on mobile edging slightly higher than those on desktop devices. With the recent addition of new payment methods using mobile wallets from Apple and Google as well as PayPal, the mobile experience offers a quick and efficient booking process to ensure passengers won’t miss their boat.

Self Drive Boats

In addition to the “steamer” sailings on the Lake, Windermere Lake Cruises also manage a fleet of electric self-drive boats. With these vessels being much smaller and designed for family groups, social distancing was less of an issue here and in fact, were able to operate with much greater flexibility around the national lockdowns.

A similar booking approach was taken with the self-drive boats ultimately to minimise the need for social contact. Using Vue.js powered templates again, the booking pages were designed primarily for mobile devices, with bookings administered on the dock with iPads showing a calendar with availability for 1 and 2 hour slots.

A card payment deposit for each hire would be taken in advance and automatically refunded when the boat was successfully returned and ‘checked-in’.

Client Quote

Hired a boat for an hour. Really easy to book online and easy procedure on arrival.

2020 tripadvisor new logo design by mother design 4
Passenger comment

Fully customised booking management system

Beyond the customer-facing booking pages on the website, back-office staff also needed to manage passenger bookings, timetable changes and overall sailing capacity.

The customised back-office pages allow staff to see which bookings had been validated at the pier and spot any potential problems with tickets delivered by email. Although email validation limits incorrectly formatted emails, it doesn’t prevent incorrect email addresses being entered. With email delivery provided by Amazon’s Simple Email Service any errors are highlighted allowing the customer’s details to be amended by staff and tickets promptly reissued.

A series of customised reporting options are provided within the booking system and customer details are automatically obfuscated to ensure personal data is protected.

Wlc online booking iphones

Continual Improvement

With the core functionality in place and ‘battle tested’ ahead of what’s expected to be another busy summer season, more recent enhancements have included new payment options from PayPal and mobile wallets Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Behind the scenes improvements have also been made with the integration to the EPOS till system with bookings submitted directly to an Azure database. Connecting Craft CMS to Azure in this way was critical to provide real time passenger data that would prevent overbookings caused by the previous XML integration that became slow, unwieldy and unsustainable with such high traffic to the site.

Improved Customer Experience

Although many of the recent enhancements to the online ticketing system were developed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the platform has delivered wider improvements to booking management and the customer experience. Giving passengers the flexibility to pre-book seats minimised queuing and passenger movement on both piers and boats, while still catering for those who make a spontaneous decision to book a cruise on the day.

Client Quote

Over the years we’ve worked with A Digital we’re delighted with how we’ve worked together to expand our website functionality, both on a customer facing level and in support of our internal operations. The recent additions to our website have been fundamental to ensure we match the high expectations our passengers have from a world class visitor attraction.

Andrew Simon Windermere Lake Cruises
Andrew Simon
Windermere Lake Cruises

Key Features

  • Craft CMS and Azure Integration

  • Craft Commerce Development

  • Apple Pay and Google Pay integration

  • Customised back office features

  • Scalable cloud hosting combined with AWS services

Services Provided

  • UX design

  • Cloud hosting

  • Performance management

  • Support and maintenance

  • Platform integrations

Windermere Lake Cruises booking screen on iPhone held by person at a table