Why OTA mobile bookings are growing faster than hotel mobile bookings

While overall mobile bookings in travel are on the rise, it’s OTAs rather than hotels that are enjoying the lion’s share of growth. A recent study by Criteo found that in Q1 2016, OTAs generated 40% of hotel bookings through mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), while hotel suppliers generated just 18%.

There was also a noticeable gulf in the number of same-day bookings received. Within the 24 hours leading up to check-in, OTAs received 67% of mobile bookings compared with 41% generated by hotel suppliers. These figures make one thing abundantly clear: when it comes to mobile bookings, hotels are being left behind by an industry that’s looking to the future and rapidly moving on.

Which leaves the question, why exactly are hotels losing out to OTAs on mobile? Here are three main reasons why:

1. Poor mobile user interface

A lot of hotel websites and booking engine designs just aren’t adapted to mobile, leading to a pretty frustrating user experience. One of the common problems? Poor navigation. On a smaller screen, space is at a premium, but many hotel websites are overly cluttered with options and buttons that make it difficult for users to quickly find the content they’re looking for.

There are countless ways to simplify navigation, but one of the most frequently used approaches involves something called nested navigation. This popular design trend uses a three-line navigation button (generally featured at the top of the page), allowing additional navigation options to be accessed via a drop-down menu.

The size of navigation buttons also needs to be considered. It sounds obvious, but buttons need to be large enough for people to tap with a finger. Google recommends that frequently used buttons such as search bars and call-to-actions should be a minimum of 7mm.

Another common mobile frustration is text size. Studies have found that reading on mobile is actually twice as hard as it is on desktop, so text needs to be sufficiently sized without users needing to pinch to zoom. To make content easier to skim through, the amount of copy on a mobile site should also be reduced from the desktop version.

While mobile isn’t the platform for lots of text, it’s perfect for engaging users with powerful visuals. According to web credibility research from Stanford, judgments on website credibility are 75% based on a website’s overall aesthetics. So, investing in a visually engaging site can make a big difference to brand perceptions.

Images should be large and clickable so they’re easy to view. Even better, rather than having a photo gallery that users have to tap through, consider having an image gallery that can be swiped through for a more user-friendly experience.

2. Misunderstanding mobile user behavior

Mobile user behavior for travel bookings

To drive direct bookings on mobile, it’s also important to understand how content is consumed on a tablet or smartphone compared with on a desktop.

Desktop users are in a fixed place and more likely to have made a premeditated decision to sit down and spend time browsing your site. In contrast, a mobile customer is likely to be on the move and as a result, more open to distraction.

Mobile browsing is also far more fleeting and spontaneous in nature. As Google’s Travel Trends report illustrates, the growing reliance on mobile devices has led to customers connecting with brands during “micro-moments.” These short, frequent bursts of activity involve users dipping in and out of content at various points in the day.

As a result, hotels need to cater to the mobile mindset. Many mobile bookers are last-minute bookers, and the experience of booking on a smartphone needs to reflect that. Hotels need to offer competitive pricing via their mobile channel and make it easy to book with minimum fuss.

Unfortunately, a large number of hotels end up providing far too many special offers and rate plans, making it difficult for mobile users to figure out what the best deal is. Providing consumers with too many options is never a good thing, but on mobile it slows down decision-making at a time when people are often looking to act fast.

In contrast, OTAs have tailored their sites to meet the demands of the mobile customer. Deals are easy to find and easier to book—in fact, many OTAs make a point of saying explicitly that booking “only takes 2 minutes!” Some OTAs will also take advantage of the mobile channel to incentivize last-minute bookings, cutting prices and offering discounted member-group deals approximately 1-2 days before arrival.

By taking into account very distinct user behaviors that apply specifically to mobile, hotels can maximize the revenue that results specifically from this channel.

3. Complicating the mobile booking process

A great mobile user experience is important from the website all the way to the last page of the booking engine. In fact, the booking engine is worthy of special attention, because it’s here that hotel websites lose a high percentage of direct bookings.

According to a study, booking abandonment rates in the travel industry are at 81%. In a survey, this high number was found to be largely attributable to the nature of travel research: the majority of customers abandoned because they were tentatively researching, comparing prices, or thought the quoted price was too high.

But 13% abandoned because they thought the booking process was either too long, or they found the checkout process too complicated. Asking customers to fill out exhaustively long forms can create unnecessary friction in the vital moments leading to a potential booking. OTAs have started addressing this issue, simplifying the checkout process so users only need to give basic details.

In the case of Expedia, they only ask customers to provide their name, email and credit card information. As a result, the whole process feels hassle-free. They also allow the booking confirmation to be received via text, so when a guest shows up at the hotel, they don’t have to waste time connecting to the Wifi and searching through emails for the booking confirmation.

On a mobile device, simplified booking processes like these are especially appreciated. And cumulatively, they all add up to a far more user-friendly experience.

Investing in better mobile booking solutions

The entire hotel booking landscape has changed radically in recent years. Mobile has become integral to the process and OTAs have quickly responded, making it far easier for customers to look and book in the context of mobile interaction.

The current booking figures starkly reflect this. OTAs currently generate more than double the amount of mobile bookings of hotel suppliers. But hotels can still catch up. Technology is becoming more available that allows hotels to improve mobile bookings, from the mobile user interface and user experience, to strategic mobile pricing and mobile marketing strategies.

It’s important for hotels to ask their technology partners what their future plans and investments are for the mobile channel specifically—as this is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

Interested in learning more about mobile trends and strategies for hotels? Join our free webinar on July 14, 2016 hosted by Travel Tripper, Checkmate, and StayNTouch.


Moving with Mobile: A Blog Series

Gautam Lulla

Gautam Lulla

Gautam is President at Travel Tripper and outspoken expert in hotel technology and distribution. When he's not busy disrupting the status quo, you can find him ripping powder on the slopes. Contact him at gautam@traveltripper.com.

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