Case study

Neilson Active Holidays:
Reinventing the online experience


Premium adventure travel provider Neilson Active Holidays knew its website wasn’t delivering the high-end digital experience its customers demand.

The Unit overhauled the firm’s digital offering, refreshing the website and creating a slick booking journey. At the same time, we updated its core IT system to enable the rapid delivery of new features.

The result? With its new digital proposition in place, Neilson subsequently had its best ever financial year.

The problem

A compelling digital experience is a key differentiator in the highly competitive travel sector.

Neilson knew its digital proposition wasn’t hitting the mark. Its website was busy and confusing, and its online booking form was difficult to use. As a result, customer drop-off rates were high.

Improving the digital offering was problematic, however, given the firm’s outdated core IT system. Even simple updates required complex changes at the back end.

Neilson called on The Unit for our expertise in complex customer experience design and conversion rate optimisation. We were tasked with creating an engaging digital user experience that reflected the company’s premium brand positioning, while driving a higher conversion rate.

Our approach

We began with an iterative discovery exercise. This involved a deep-dive into Neilson's audience data and analytics, customer journey analysis, story workshops and call-centre listening. 

The process helped us define a number of customer groups, from first-timers through to fiercely loyal repeat travellers. We developed a persona for each group, and mapped its buying journey with Neilson. 

We now had a clear understanding of what customers and prospects wanted from Neilson; where its digital assets were falling short; and what could be achieved within the timescales and budget. 

Working with Neilson’s stakeholders, the next step was to compile a prioritised backlog of features for the new website. We then planned a series of two-week sprints to create them. 

Our process

Each sprint focused on designing, delivering and testing the required features. This iterative process allowed us to validate our assumptions, and make sure each new feature was well received by all customer groups. 

Testing also removed stakeholder subjectivity around which designs should move forward, as the data showed us which ones worked best. 

We gave the website a fresh new look and feel, specifically designed to resonate with Neilson’s customers. Content is now consistent across the site in terms of layout, tone of voice, photography, and so on.

We also built a new API layer, so that Neilson’s core IT system could enable rapid changes and deployments in the future. 

Having reached a critical mass of new features, we began a three-stage deployment of the upgraded website:

  • Stage 1: Testing with friends and family
  • Stage 2: Encouraging existing customers to click through and try the new site
  • Stage 3: Launching the upgraded site to a beta audience

Phasing the implementation in this way allowed us to gradually increase traffic to ensure stability; keep iterating new features in response to customer feedback; and optimise conversion based on how people interacted with the new site.

The outcome

Neilson’s website has been reinvigorated. It now offers customers a modern user interface and dynamic booking experience. 

The site handles the complex e-commerce challenges that come with travel bookings smoothly and efficiently. The holiday search is clear, concise and user-friendly: the right information appears earlier in the booking journey, and is accessible through smart, user-centric, mobile-first design. 

The results speak for themselves: 

  • A 20% increase in conversion has added £6 million to Neilson’s bottom line 
  • A significant uplift in customer engagement…
  • Lower cost to serve…
  • Neilson subsequently had its best ever financial year

What’s more, the content team has an intuitive new CMS, providing complete control of the company’s proposition. And with less time spent updating the back end, they can focus on higher-value work.