Why The Online Booking Experience Is So Important for Hotels Right Now

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Jan 11, 2021 | Revenue Management | Reading Time: 6 minutes

The hospitality industry is undoubtedly in its worst crisis in history.
Hard to imagine that only a year ago our focus was on discussing whether rate parity is still a thing and how hotels can increase direct bookings to lower OTA commissions.

Anyone still talking about this?

Maybe we should?!

After a truly catastrophic 2020, all our hopes are on the pandemic coming to an end in 2021. Vaccinations have started, and there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. At the time of writing this, more than 17 million doses have been administered and at the current pace, every day adds another million to that. With additional vaccines being approved, the speed at which it can be administered will increase.

And with vaccinations, travel demand will return. Slowly at first. But surely.

This is where it gets tricky though. Slow demand means that the only growth potential for your hotel is by gaining market share. And the fight for market share is going to be a very tough one. Because the other hotels in your market are, of course, in the exact same situation as you and will equally try to gain market share, which could lead to a shrinking piece of the pie for you.

But it’s not just your competitors you need to worry about. In times like these, OTA commissions, especially if avoidable, make a difference.

One interesting observation we could make at many hotels over the past few months was that direct inquiries were on the rise relative to third party bookings. And of course, one main reason for this is that prospective travelers need accurate and up to date information on what they can expect the situation at your destination to be like.

This is a huge opportunity. When guests call you directly, there really is no reason why they should then go on and book with a third party.

Unless, of course, you are out of rate parity, and guests find lower prices on third-party channels. Or unless the booking experience on your direct channels is just not good enough.

Mobile-first website

Was your hotel’s website developed with mobile-first in mind? I imagine (and hope) it uses responsive design (i.e. the website scales automatically to the device size). But when the web agency came, did you first look at the mobile design mockups to make sure that’s what the website needs to look like? Yes, that’s mobile-first.

Since web traffic is predominantly mobile nowadays (If it is not at your hotel, you have a problem!), mobile-first should be the approach.

But it’s not just traffic that dominates mobile. Actual bookings should match that traffic. Yet, to most independent hotels that do not seem to be the case. The culprit for this is typically a terrible booking experience due to either a poor booking engine or a poor integration of the booking engine with the hotel website.


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Hotel online experience tips


Integrated customizable booking engine

The best website is only as good as its conversion, and this is heavily dependent on your hotel’s booking engine.
To measure conversion, you need excellent data. The booking engine should easily allow you to track this (i.e. to use your web analytics tool of choice to do so, not just the vendor’s analytics).

A booking engine should also be customizable. This means, you should be able to not only adjust the look and feel to match your hotel’s website but to only ask for information necessary for your hotel (e.g. If you don’t need the address then don’t ask it. Your conversion will thank you).

Lastly, and often overlooked, the booking engine should reside within your hotel’s domain (yes this can be done and your booking engine should absolutely support this!). The vendor’s domain should not appear anywhere.

This is important as many unseasoned travelers will get confused when all of a sudden they find themselves on some random website (that might even open in another tab!) which then asks to provide credit card information. Looks somewhat fishy…

Do you think that those bookers don’t want to get scammed and would leave your hotel website right away to complete the booking with an OTA?

Modern booking engines are very affordable and a sure way to shift bookings from third parties to your direct channel.

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Live chat

How many guests reach out to you asking standard questions like check-in times or directions? How many do this by phone because they cannot find the information on your website? And how many phone calls can one of your front desk or reservations agents handle simultaneously?

Probably not many more than one at a time.

And how many bookings do you lose (to competitors or OTAs) because your agents are busy answering directions or similar questions?

The huge advantage of live chat is that your agents can handle multiple chats simultaneously. It is much more effective, and your guests receive their answers much quicker than by phone.

Add to that artificial intelligence and you take the booking experience to the next level, freeing up your agents to dedicate even more of their attention to the guest, providing better customer service and a better booking experience. And, of course, it gives them more time to upsell premium products and services.

Reviews

It is one of the time-consuming tasks hotels cannot ignore or avoid: responding to reviews.

And while responding to guest reviews is not optional, we can use reviews to our benefit. We never really respond to a review with the specific guest in mind but rather the potentially thousands of prospects who might read the review. And as such, it turns into a powerful marketing tool.

Reviews highlight your hotel’s strengths and weaknesses. And they do the same for your competitors. And this is what you would like to incorporate into your content marketing.

Build content around questions and feedback you receive. It will help with your SEO and ultimately help you increase bookings.

Content marketing

As mentioned above, you have a huge opportunity right now. Guests want to know what is going on at your destination. And you are the expert in that. Not a third party!

There is no reason why you wouldn’t create a landing page for every attraction or point of interest in your neighbourhood or destination.

Listen to your guests. Listen to what they say on social media or the questions they as when they are at the hotel (or before they arrive) and build FAQ pages on your website.

These are challenging times. But with the right measures put in place right now, they will be a little less challenging.

It will still take some time before we are on the other side of this pandemic but we will come out eventually. And the need for a change in scenery is something we can probably all relate to.

Let’s create a booking experience for our future guests, that shows them the level of service they can expect once they arrive at the hotel lobby.

Your booking experience

Which measures are you going to take at your hotel to improve the booking experience in preparation for the return of demand? Will you implement a live chat on your hotel’s website or are you going to focus on content marketing?

Let us know in the comments below.

christop Hutter revenue consultantAbout the author: Christoph Hütter – Non-traditional Revenue Manager & Consultant : As a non-traditional Revenue Manager and Revenue Strategy consultant, Christoph Hütter helps independent hotels and hotel groups gain a competitive advantage, grow market share, improve their business and build strong relationships with their guests.

Christoph started his career as an Austrian in Belgium working for an Italian hotel company. He speaks five languages and has worked with hotels across Europe and North America. Christoph’s motto is “I do today what others don’t so I can do tomorrow what others can’t…” Learn more about Christoph’s work at: https://christophhutter.com/


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