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by Max Starkov

At the recent HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference in New York, a panel of distinguished industry leaders discussed the prevailing two "schools of thought" regarding Responsive Website Design: 

  • Responsive Web Design (RWD): The "old-fashioned" way of fitting the same website into small or large screen sizes,  and 
  • Adaptive Web Design aka Responsive Design on the Server Side (RESS): serving the right content to the right device from the same Content Management System (CMS) 

RWD vs. RESS: What is the Difference?

The main difference between RWD and RESS/Adaptive Design is the type of web content served on the different devices: desktop, mobile (smartphones) and tablet. 

  • The traditional Responsive Website Design (RWD) will serve the desktop website across all devices while attempting to optimize the "viewing" experience. This may work for some small, non-revenue-focused websites, but just imagine using simple responsive design and trying to fit Marriott's humongous desktop website ( and all of its 22,700,000 pages, files, folders, PDFs, images, etc. that are indexed by Google onto the iPhone 5's 640×1136 screen. 
  • Adaptive Web Design aka Responsive Design on the Server Side (RESS) will serve the right website content in the right device category (desktop, mobile, tablet) while ensuring the maximum user experience, relevancy of information and conversions. 

Further analysis of online travel consumers and the unique characteristics of each of the "three screens" explain the need for specialized content on each device i.e. the use of adaptive web design: 

Desktop users: The traditional "desktop" travel consumers need as much information as possible, including a minimum of 25-50 content pages per property and another 50-100 specialized marketing and landing pages featuring special packages, promotions and events. Desktop users also place high value on visual galleries with photos and videos, customer reviews and other in-depth information.

Mobile Users: The always-on-the-go mobile traveler requires short, slimmed-down content with an emphasis on property location, area maps and directions, real time "smart rates" and availability, an easy-to-use mobile booking engine and a click-to-call property reservation number. Due to usability and security issues, six of every ten mobile bookings actually happen via the voice channel. Very few people are comfortable entering their credit card information into their iPhone in a public place. Very few hotel mobile websites provide an alternative to guaranteeing your booking without entering your credit card.

Tablet Users: This new breed of tablet users require deep, visually enhanced content about the property and its destination. A well-structured, highly visual hotel tablet-optimized website can generate conversion rates several times higher than those of mobile devices. In contrast, tablet users have no issues booking a hotel via their device. A well-structured, highly visual, hotel tablet-optimized website can generate conversion rates several times higher than those of mobile devices.

These user styles reveal why fitting the big and "heavy" desktop website into the smartphone screen or the hi-res touch screen iPad is not a very smart idea after all, with the exception of very small B&B, inns and property websites.

Panel Conclusions 

The Panel on Responsive Design at the recent HSMAI Digital Marketing Conference confirmed our viewpoint, concluding that:

  • Responsive website design is here to stay in this three-screen world we now live in (desktop, mobile, tablet)
  • If you want to do responsive design right, Adaptive Web design/Responsive Design on Server Side (RESS) is the better approach

"If I had more time and money, I would go with Adaptive Web Design," shared a major hotel brand executive at the conference.

"For those who wish to take redesign a step further and remain cutting edge, the panelists suggested looking at adaptive design rather than responsive design." Jason Q. Freed, News Editor for, wrote in his reporting from the conference. "Adaptive design lives within one content-management system but serves up different content based on what device the traveler is using. It requires sites to change the core content 'down in the depths of the systems' based on the context of the user, Kauffman said." Read Jason Q. Freed's article here.


HeBS Digital has always subscribed to the Adaptive Web Design/Responsive Design on server Side (RESS) approach. A year ago we published an article that garnered many comments on the HOTELS Magazine blog: "Responsive Design, Demystified" where we argued that desktop, mobile and tablet devices should be treated as separate device categories and Adaptive Web Design/Responsive Design on the Server Side (RESS) was the right approach in our industry. Specifically we recommend that hoteliers:

  • Treat desktop, mobile and tablet, and their respective marketing and distribution channels, as separate device categories 
  • Upgrade to the next generation of Content Management System (CMS) to effectively manage desktop, mobile and tablet website content (copy, photos, special offers, events and happenings) via a single centralized dashboard
  • Adopt Adaptive Design/Responsive Design on the Server Side (RESS) to serve the right website content in the right device category (desktop, mobile, tablet) while ensuring the maximum user experience, relevancy of information and conversions
  • Use analytics tools such as Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst to determine contributions from and the dynamics of each of the three channels

About the Author and HeBS Digital

Max Starkov is President  & CEO at HeBS Digital, the hospitality industry's leading full-service digital marketing and direct online channel strategy firm based in New York City (

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hospitality digital technology and marketing, and direct online channel best practices and strategies. The firm has won over 250 prestigious industry awards for its digital technology, including its proprietary MetaSearch Gateway, digital marketing and website design. These awards include numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, and others.

HeBS Digital works with a diverse portfolio of hospitality clients; restaurants to major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel chains, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital's direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital's consultants at (212) 752-8186 or

Contact: Sara O’Brien / 212-752-8186

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