In the era of Google Maps, love hotels in South America are still hidden and purposely hard to find. As part of a navigational experiment, we go explore.
May 2010. San Telmo, Buenos Aires. Argentina.
Years ago, Fernando and I were coworkers at Web360. He was a developer specialized in SEO. And I was working designing interfaces and learning about product design. Something we both had in common was our desire to experiment with new technologies. And also, that neither of us was born in the city of Buenos Aires, the third-largest conurbation in Latin America.
In a city so hard to navigate you have to spend a good time of your life learning directions and ways to navigate it. If finding a place isn’t hard enough, try finding places that purposely live in the shadows. Those locations are the telos -Argentine slang for love hotels. A type of short-stay hotel found around the world operated primarily for the purpose of allowing couples privacy for sexual activities.
The spontaneous situations in which our friends had to find one, was the design problem that motivated us to develop a new tool. Competitors at that time were websites with long lists of directions. Impractical for when you’re on the street, and you need a quick reference. People had to read the directions and then get a map to locate the final destination. Some people planned the date, but sometimes they were in a rush.
A new tool
At that time, Google Maps had launched their first version of their open API. Places weren’t still mapped, and especially in Argentina where technology always arrives with years of delay. Fernando and I began exploring the idea of utilizing maps because we knew geography provides the context for our personal lives. We had in our hands data and technology that allowed us to explore a geographic problem.
Maps transform how we navigate, how we make decisions, how we share stories. Spatial thinking is something we use all the time. Making a decision on where to take our next vacation; determining whether or not we can make it to the next rest area. And the idea of mapping these hotels was to bring users accessibility and convenience.
We believed that presenting data in a reference map for people in the streets of Buenos Aires would achieve an improvement in the speed of their navigation.
It’s more than mapping
After exploring forums, websites and finally checking the information with each hotel owner we built a database. Financially we had no budget. It was all human and intellectual resources put to work. So one by one we entered the latitudes and longitudes of 250+ locations. We organized the information in a way that would allow the user filter by zone, name, and region. With this information, we also built an SEO structure so users could find the result in Google-based searches on specific inputs of areas and streets.
Most of our time was also spent on understanding the API and finding the best ways to use all of its potentials. For example, we also added the feature of navigating between points. With this we provided the ability to find the closest route to get to them. Whether if you were walking or driving.
There’s no such thing as information overload, only bad design.
Since we weren’t affiliated with any of the hotels, we tried to remain objective and not to post comments or to have a ranking to rate them. We just wanted to information the location and the methods for contacting them. There was indeed a small revenue when we placed Google AdSense ads in the interface.
We knew how our competitors abused of this methods, so we remained minimal and as unintrusive as possible. The revenue helped us pay for the hosting services and general maintenance of the site.
The visual impact of the map in first place kept the intention clear and concise. This is an actionable web app. Self-serviced, and resolved in a single screen.
We ended up with a huge collection of geographical coordinates and metadata that helped the SEO rankings escalate. Competitor websites start using maps as well. But they were still an addition to the lists, and you had to navigate the website to find them.
The goal was achieved when we realized there was a steady income and the SEO rankings favored us with zero dollars invested. People’s feedback helped make corrections and also add new locations.
In the years to come we added the rest of the country, and then Uruguay and Mexico. With an average of 10,000 monthly visits.
Unfortunately, this is not a very popular market, and it’s still seen as a sketchy niche. By the time we had to build up our portfolio, we weren’t sold on the idea of having our names attached to it. We enjoyed the challenge, but we decided to move on and embark on other new ventures.
When it comes to the primary navigation, you need to make a strong visual impression. A fullscreen map and a search input gave us enough simplicity to not let any loose ends for the user.Improving the efficiency of the tools you use improves the productivity of the business as a whole. The less time it takes to complete any given task, the more you can get done in a day.
Continuously improving the product by adding features and more locations made us stay relevant. The feedback from the users let us keep the database up to date at all times. They were prone and happy to collaborate.
Thriving for convenience, it was interesting to see a website in which the bounce rate was so low, that proved us right in terms of ease of use.
- Steele, O. (2016, February 14). Buenos Aires’ new-look love hotels: book ardour by the hour.
- Wikipedia. (n.d.). Google Maps 2009.
- Hines, K. (2011, November 1). What You Can Learn from Bounce Rate & How to Improve It.
An interactive map of love hotels to get geographical references and directions.
With very discreet entrances, love hotels can be hard to find. Specially in the city of Buenos Aires, the third-largest conurbation in Latin America.
A need for simplicity
Competitors at that time were websites with long lists of directions. Impractical for when you’re in the street and you need a quick reference.
How to make it approachable
The focus needed to be on a more visual interface. Making the spots easy to locate without fear of getting lost.
The search of data
We built a database after exploring forums, websites and finally checking the information with each hotel owner.
Building a map
The visual impact of the map in first place keeps the intention clear and concise. This is an actionable web app.
A solid architecture
We ended up with a huge collection of geographical coordinates and metadata.
Updated by its users
People’s feedback helped make corrections and also add new locations.
So we expanded
From the city of Buenos Aires to the province. Then the entire country. After that Uruguay and Mexico were added as well.
- Starting quote
- External links across the article
- 2 or 3 Tweetable blockquotes
- Transition words
- Flesch Reading Ease
- 300 words
- Remove passive voice
- Short paragraphs
- Inject UX concepts
- Reference links regarding UX concepts
- Close the post with a reference to the starting quote.
- Generate a pdf from each one of the reference links and attach to Evernote
Copywriting text structure
Link Reference formats
Concepts to transmit in every publication
Business Model Canvas: questions and examples
- same data in different way
- ability to see where to go
"This whole idea of visibility by the public creates a pretty powerful lever. In the new transparency era, you are able to make change you would otherwise have difficulty making. It's no longer possible for somebody just to bury the problem." Tim O’Reilly
"To me, speed is really about convenience." Marissa Mayer
to uncover concealed hotels.
Establish a protagonist / A character is in a zone of comfort / I
- Fernando and I, coworkers.
- Originally not from Buenos Aires.
- We wanted to embark in a side project.
- Based on a talk with friends.
- Geospatial technology
- Working in a SEO company.
- First launch of Google Maps API.
- Challenged to improve the SEO.
Call to adventure / But he wants something / notice a small problem
- With very discreet entrances, love hotels can be hard to find. Specially in the city of Buenos Aires, the third-largest conurbation in Latin America.
- Buenos Aires is so big it’s hard to navigate.
- Competitors at that time were websites with long lists of directions. Impractical for when you’re in the street and you need a quick reference.
- People had to read the directions and then get a map.
- Some people planned the date, but sometimes they were in a rush.
Go / Enters an unfamiliar situation / makes a major decision
- Google places/business not yet developed.
- Geography provides the context for our personal lives.
- Data and technologies that allow one to explore Geographic problems.
- We use spacial thinking all the time. Making a decision on where to take your next vacation; determining whether or not you can make it to the next rest area.
Search, The road of trails / Adapt to it / this changes things
- We built a database after exploring forums, websites and finally checking the information with each hotel owner.
- Newness and performance.
- Early stages of Google Maps.
- Maps are transforming how we navigate, how we make decisions, how we share stories.
- Financially we had no budget. It was all human/intellectual.
Find, Meeting with the Goddess / Get what they wanted / to some satisfaction, but
- The visual impact of the map in first place keeps the intention clear and concise. This is an actionable web app.
- We ended up with a huge collection of geographical coordinates and metadata.
- SEO rankings escalate.
- Competitor websites start using maps as well.
Take, meet your maker / Pay a heavy price for it / there are consequences
- A very sketchy market.
- After work hours.
- Still a taboo, not looking good on resumes.
- Busy times, with college and work.
- We achieved the goal.
- Not interested in scaling the business.
Return, bringing it home / Then return to their familiar situation / that must be undone
- People’s feedback helped make corrections and also add new locations.
- Spatial-autocorrelations allowed to measure the degree of similarity between observation located near each other.
- We learned about people’s behaviors about specific days when they would visit the website more often.
Change, master of both worlds / Having changed / and I must admit the futility of change
- From the city of Buenos Aires to the province. Then the entire country.
- After that Uruguay and Mexico were added as well.
- We were featured in publications. Blogs, and forums.
- 10,000+ visitors per month.
Concepts to transmit
We believe that [presenting data in a reference map] for [people in the streets of Buenos Aires] will achieve [an improvement in the navigation].We will know this is true when we see [aaaa].
- Measure success progressing toward specific outcomes
- Going beyond job titles and silos
- Learning by being open
- Working collaboratively
- The advantages of smaller groups for smaller problems
- Collaborate in the workspace
- Stop praising a single savior
- Placing speed first, aesthetics second
- Think fast and build shared understanding
- Continuously improve the product
- Narrow the distance between the client and the team
- Outsource when needed
- Don’t let documentation be an impediment
- Adapt the methodology to your needs
- Constantly communicate changes.
Before responsive design, and after mobile browsers, Buscandotelo became the default tool to find love hotels in big Buenos Aires. With 15,000 monthly visits people was engaged with a system as simple as the requirement: where’s the closest hotel?
It was a team of two people: a developer and a designer. My first project of a system completely independent from any stakeholder. I was in charge of both the UX and UI
We believed that [creating an interactive map of love hotels] for [people passing by new neighborhoods] will achieve [engagement with the tool itself].
I’ll know this is true when I see [use of the app in mobile devices with a bounce rate of less than 50%].
- Search by name and city
- Integration with Google Maps
- Google AdSense
- User Comments integrated with Facebook
- Directions (car and walk)
We used Archer for titles and Verdana for texts
Wood background to represent… (x)
Warm palette (intimacy)
We had to overcome the taboo of people looking for these places. Surprisingly, we’ve got a decent adhesion to the Facebook Page, with fans referred by the website itself
In the last year of work, we added hotels from Uruguay and Mexico, but still Argentina was increasingly leading the number of visits
(Data from Mon Feb 9, 2015)
646 Hotels total
- Facebook page
We could observe a 65% of engagement in men, and a 34% in women when they have to become fans, or like the page. However, women visited the website most times, but didn’t leave any trace (62% over 38% of men).
Bounce rate 35% (2011)
How's Buscandotelo now
We abandoned the project in 2013 to move into new challenges. Still is registering an average of 12,000 monthly visits, but with no maintenance