This article originally appeared in HOTEL Yearbook Digital Marketing 2020. Click here to access all the articles in the publication.
The Amazons and Netflixes of the world have spoiled travelers.
Thanks to the well-designed and highly efficient websites of the tech giants, finding and buying products and services is practically effortless. Our challenge is that travelers now have the same expectations of convenience and personalization when it comes to booking a hotel.
It is easy to assume that the riches of the digital revolution is exclusively enjoyed by major consumer brands and Silicon Valley unicorns. E-commerce giants such as Amazon and Netflix have taught consumers that finding and buying their favorite products and services can be effortless and instant. Modern-day travelers expect the same level of convenience and personalization when they browse and book hotels.
The major OTAs have taken note and followed suit. The likes of Booking.com and Expedia have built their websites around similar e-commerce principles to make browsing and booking fast and frictionless. While some hoteliers may think that these tactics can only be used by the biggest players with the deepest pockets, this is not true. Hotels can replicate key e-commerce tactics to ensure that their websites cater to digitally savvy travelers and compete with the best of them.
Arguably the biggest gap between a hotel booking experience and that of an OTA is the hotel website itself. Unfortunately, most independent hotels still rely on what can best be described as brochureware websites. As the name suggests, may as well be printed on paper—they look pretty, but they’re almost entirely disconnected from the transactional information available within a CRS. These brochureware sites don’t have any awareness of the price of the hotel, don’t remember the stay dates you’re interested in, don’t know who you are and whether you’re returning for the 10th time or booking for the first time.
Building a next-generation hotel website
A number of key components are required to build a truly competitive hotel website. Crucially, there has to be a seamless and real-time integration between the website and booking engine. The most advanced hotel websites can dynamically pull information out of the CRS so live rates show up right on the hotel website. This means that travelers can see the latest rates and personalized information on the homepage and while they browse the site, so they’re continually engaged in a purchase mindset.
Contextually-aware websites are also a big part of the puzzle. Instead of a one-size-fits-all experience, a hotel website should deliver personalized messaging and pricing based on factors such as a user’s browsing history, device, and geographic location. For instance, a returning visitor should be welcomed back by name and receive a loyalty offer, or perhaps a mobile-specific deal if they’re browsing on a smartphone. This should all happen without the need to log in. Remember, Amazon recognizes you instantly without login, you only have to enter a password when you finally check out.
The next major leap in mobile bookings
According to recent data from Phocuswright, 26% of hotel-direct room revenue is booked on mobile devices, and that figure is expected to hit 40% by 2022. To win over the hesitant majority, you need to make sure the mobile version of your website is easy to navigate, quick to load (3 seconds or less), responsive and can get someone through checkout in no more than 3 steps.
Within the next year, we’ll start to see hotels adopt the next major leap in mobile bookings as they offer mobile payment for hotel reservations. Imagine reserving a hotel on mobile much faster and more easily than any other channel, just authenticate with Apple Pay or Google Pay and you’re done.
Raise your conversion rates with an OTA playbook
OTAs have become masters of deploying conversion-driving tactics. The great news is that most of these tactics can be replicated by hotels. A classic OTA tactic is to display “rooms remaining” availability and the recent number of bookings a hotel has received. This creates a perception of scarcity and highlights popularity, ensuring that rooms are snapped up quickly.
Regarding pricing, adding rate-checking tool is another conversion-driving feature hotels can use on their websites. Many hotels offer these solutions, however, the most advanced of these solutions can match rates on the fly. If an OTA rate comes out lower than your hotel, these tools automatically match that rate. As a result, customers are given the confidence to book and don’t need to leave your hotel website to compare (and potentially book) elsewhere.
Finally, there’s obvious value in hiring digital marketing experts who are strategic, data-driven, and in sync with your CRS and web teams. An integrated team of different specialists can bring together a holistic picture of consumer activities and campaign performance, helping to drive more business through your direct booking channel.
The Hotel Yearbook is a family of publications that call upon a wide-ranging group of senior executives, analysts, consultants and opinion leaders from all over the world to ask, “What lies ahead for the global hotel industry?”
The Hotel Yearbook 2020 – Digital Marketing aims to give practitioners an overview of changes, challenges and advances in the market, as well as show how digital marketing is being focused on the basics such as brand building and the customer journey. Guest Edited by consultant Martin Soler, co-founder of Paris-based Soler & Associates, it presents articles contributed by more than twenty experts and practitioners in this field, including citizenM’s Robin Chadha, ESSEC’s Peter O’Connor, NYU’s Max Starkov, and other leading academics from Cornell and Lausanne.