10 Developers, 1 Luxury Travel Website. How Hook 42 made Zicasso’s “Great Migration” Possible

Brian Tan is Founder and CEO of Zicasso a luxury travel service that connects discerning travelers with the industry's top 10% travel specialists. When Zicasso engaged Hook 42 to port their website from Drupal 5 to Drupal 7, the project evolved into a complete one-year website redesign reinvention, from the ground up. This guest post by Brian Tan and Hook 42 CEO Aimee Degnan  details how Hook 42 migrated more than 1 million nodes without any hiccups.

 

DESTINATION: DRUPAL 7, WITH A REINVENTION ALONG THE WAY

Zicasso offers handcrafted, luxury travel planning from top travel specialists. So many travel planning sites and booking engines focus on giving you the best deal. Our approach is high-touch, with travel specialists who take care of everything luxury travelers need for their destination.

As we moved up market, we realized our website needed an overhaul. Our website is the cornerstone of our business. And in travel, especially luxury travel, visuals make a big impact. The site needed to reflect the experiential nature of travel itself.

 

TRAVEL PLANNING IS COMPLEX, AND SO WAS WEBSITE MANAGEMENT

When we started out on Drupal 5, our engineering team made some hacks to the core modules to speed our time to market. In the five years since, we focused our resources on developing new features rather than on cleaning things up. The site had been working well, but it was time to make things more efficient.

In transitioning to Drupal 7, we also needed to migrate five years of data, from trips booked to travel reviews. In the African safari business, which is our major market segment, we regularly send travelers to see the Great Migration, in which a couple million animals migrate through Kenya and Tanzania annually--a truly spectacular scene. However, we were quite concerned about the spectacular challenge of migrating more than a million nodes. That’s a whole other animal!

In November 2012, we engaged Hook 42 to take on this challenge, porting the website from Drupal 5 to Drupal 7. But once we started working together, we realized we needed to rebuild the entire website from scratch.

 

MARGIN FOR ERROR: ZERO

Many of our travel specialist partners get 80% of their business leads from our site. At the end of the day, the rollout needed to happen without a glitch. Invoices needed to run and people needed to be able to book trips. And once the migration was complete, the site needed to look good, without going down in a traffic spike.

 

THE ALTERNATIVE TO A SYS ADMIN

Zicasso had a part-time system administrator with a job and a family. As they began developing in earnest, they approached us about whether we’d considered Drupal hosting solutions. They needed an environment to coordinate changes to lots of content from a large database. Developers couldn’t keep all that beautiful imagery on their local machines. It uses up too much disk space.

 

WHY PANTHEON?

Hook 42 was pretty pleased to find out we’d already heard of Pantheon. The timing was perfect, and Pantheon was a natural fit. We look for the best in our business, and vet our travel agents heavily. We went through the same process with the Pantheon team. Their engineering team talked to our engineers. It was wonderful for them to educate us and our team about what they could do. Everyone agreed that Pantheon would be a fit for our business growth.

 

HOW WE DID IT: AN ITINERARY

1. RETHINKING WORKFLOWS. (THE WEBSITE IS MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE.) We use the website to automate, curate, and manage all of our business processes and workflow rules, from how travelers request a trip, to how we match them to travel specialist partners, to invoicing and messaging. Hook 42 analyzed all of these business processes and recommended how to structure the site to move our business forward.

2. IMPLEMENTATION TO THE 10TH POWER. At one point, 10 developers from Hook 42 worked concurrently in the Multidev environment, each doing focused features work.Multidev was an order of magnitude more efficient than doing it on the servers. Without Multidev, we would have had to maintain the infrastructure for all those people. Moreover, not everyone who updates the site is a heavy programmer. Hook 42 had designers, graphic artists, and others. Multidev gave them a UI so they could easily interact with git.    

3. SYS ADMIN KEEPS HIS DAY JOB. In the past, the more we interacted with the systems, the more we stressed them. Systems or our team would then need help. Pantheon allowed us to offload systems admin overhead off of both our team and the part-time systems administrator.

4. MILLION-NODE MIGRATION. Pantheon’s engineering team worked with ours to identify how to set up the environment on Pantheon to support a large migration with a million nodes. Multidev allowed three people from Hook 42 to work on migration testing without stepping on each other’s toes. Through Pantheon Enterprise, they spun up another site with the old database on the Pantheon platform, so everyone could connect to the same data source and use the same code without impacting the Zicasso production servers.

5. AUTOMATED TOOLS. Hook 42 took an aggressive approach to keeping things error-free and easy. Terminus helped with that by letting them automate things. (Terminus is a command-line tool extending the Pantheon platform with Drush.) Some of the harder-core developers use Terminus to pull down their backups to run locally. It cuts the setup of their database and their environment by 10 minutes. They also used tools to make sure they switched from SFTP mode to git mode, so graphic designers could upload files in CSS. And, they did some scripted work to avoid merge conflicts.

6. FREEDOM TO MAKE UPDATES. A combination of SEO-supportive modules, content types, and URL naming conventions make it easy for our team to target specific travel content, from African safari itineraries to Italian food and wine tours. We can really customize and make the imagery stunning. Our team has much more freedom to make updates, thanks to Drupal 7 and Pantheon.

 

THE OUTCOME? A SUCCESSFUL GREAT MIGRATION (AWAY FROM THE HASSLES OF TRAVEL PLANNING)

With more than a million nodes to migrate, you might expect our website launch to have had some hiccups along the way. From departure to arrival, the Hook 42 team was able to keep the hiccup count at zero, with help from Pantheon. We also hit our launch target of mid-November.

The new website is built for growth—to attract, convert, and maintain repeat luxury travel clients. It’s simple, seamless, beautiful, elegant, and easy. Just like the experience of luxury travel itself. Complex business processes on the back end make things simple on the front end. We can easily add new tours and imagery. It’s such a massive difference from the old site.

Conversion means a lot in our business. Our travel specialists handcraft detailed itineraries, involving many hours of work. The new site will inspire the right clientele to submit requests and book their trips.

Learn more about Hook 42 in our partner directory

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