Designing a yacht sailing holidays website for TUI that inspires people to book

Product design case study

Problem: Conversion for bookings low, design out of date, complex journeys
My Role: Embedded product designer
My approach: Led discovery workshops and 6 iterative design sprints
Deliverables: 6 interactive Axure prototypes, UI designs for entire website
Customers: 30 qualitative usability tests
Results: Website longevity (launched in 2016 and remains largely unchanged)

Original design for Sunsail’s Athens product page


Sunsail is the UK’s leading sailing holidays brand offering families yacht chartering in popular sailing routes across the world. Founded in 1974 and inventors of the flotilla holiday – where up to 14 families can sail together by day and socialise on land at night – the company was part of TUI until its sale in 2017.


As the embedded product designer in the Booking Funnel product team I helped them with the following objectives:

  • Increase visitors navigating to product pages
  • Increase visitor engagement on product pages
  • Increase holiday booking conversion
  • Increase ancillary conversion per booking
  • Increase sales year on year
  • Increase customer satisfaction and NPS

My contribution

I guided the product team through discovery workshops and 6 iterative design sprints each of which had a day of usability testing.

Building blocks of a yacht charter booking

A yacht charter booking is particularly complex and requires the user to make a number of decisions during their research and planning. The core decisions are common across all destinations but the experiential and admin decisions are dependant on factors local to country, for example most Mediterranean sailing routes require a sailing certificate while all Caribbean bases are less strict.

Search feature with previous searches and recently viewed

We spent three design sprints exploring search and search results to find the best way to help users find their holiday. We found most customers already knew whether they’d want a bareboat (just the yacht) or flotilla (sail with other boats) so we included charter type in the initial search criteria.

We also explored surfacing the last few searches and last few product page views to help users return to their research quicker.

Search results card

The search results card was very difficult to get right because the more content we removed the more frustration test participants showed at having to click into the product page and back to get answers like the required sailing experience and qualifications.

They also didn’t like from pricing so we had to surface the yacht information to give context to the accurate price which meant the yacht options needed to be added in the search results filter because they were never happy with the one suggested.

Yacht search results card

There was an assumption in our US office that American customers wanted to search by yacht type first and then choose their destination, which we challenged, so we flew out and tested a yacht search prototype with 15 customers in Florida. We found that Americans tend to return every year to the same destination and therefore need to do less research, but they still rejected the yacht-first search because it was counterintuitive.

Final search feature

Because of the how challenging the search results would be to build we decided the MVP would be a more basic search feature which skipped the search results page with a direct mapping to a product page.

This turned out to be fine for customers who know exactly where they want to travel and the ‘navigate & browse’ journey served those seeking inspiration. The search results page never got built and saved the business a large cost.

Sailing itinerary module

The product page was challenging to design because it needed content to serve two types of personas. We found that each family had at least one parent who was ‘the sailor’ who cared about everything on the water while the rest of the family were the ‘land lovers’, and our content needed to aid a lengthy negotiation between them.

We designed a sailing itinerary module which provided suggested sailing routes with maps pins identifying where they can moor at night.

Points-of-interest lightbox

The map pins represent points-of-interest which a user can click to reveal a lightbox detailing suggested lunch spots, hidden gems and activities. It also highlights where they can restock on food and water for their yacht.

Holiday package builder

A key module on the product page was the package builder which we pre-configured with the cheapest options for a more appealing starting price.

Yacht filters and selection

We also designed yacht cards to help customers choose the right yacht for their family size and sailing proficiency, which includes a more link which launches a lightbox with the full yacht specs.

Contextual mobile menus

We were worried about the length of the product pages on mobile devices so we designed dynamic menu overlays that change contextually depending on if you are content browsing or in package configuration.

A very small percentage of our visitors were converting on mobile browsers but a large proportion browsed during their early research.


Final thoughts

Working in the travel sector was really fun and I enjoyed the niche world of sailing holidays. I am most proud that the Sunsail website has remained largely unchanged since its launch in 2016, barring some optimisation and A/B testing, which shows the longevity of the design work.

Interested in working with me? Check my availability.

Read more of my work.