Why hotels should be focusing on improving their online user experience to increase direct reservations

The recent announcement that Booking.com was integrating with Tripadvisor’s Instant Booking has been filling our industry news for the last week.  This news though should be another wake-up call for hotels to start taking seriously the user experience on their website and online booking process.

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The likes of booking.com are continually investing in improving their user experience across all devices. This is especially critical when considering 47% of all last minute hotel bookings are done from a smartphone which apps like Hoteltonight and Booking Now from booking.com, with their slogan that you can reserve within 4 clicks, are focusing on.

For far too long, independent hotels have not invested in improving the user experience on their website.  More users are booking online than ever before across all devices and as this recent study suggests, more business travellers are booking their hotel and flights by themselves which also is backed up by booking.com and Airbnb´s focus in this area.

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So with OTA´s investing heavily in user experience across multi-platforms along with their huge budgets in online advertising spend, how can an independent hotel compete with this?

Here´s some helpful pointers to get you going in the right direction:-

  • Booking Engine – This is where the OTA´s have invested heavily in the user experience and hotels just have not improved in this area.  There is a reason that the OTA´s do not offer extras or added value like roses or champagne during the booking process, users want the final price in the fewest clicks.  You will have plenty time once you receive the reservation to promote these automatically and the client will be much more receptive too!  It is also critically important that your booking engine is visually great and easy to use for your guests. Sounds obvious I know, but there are many engines out in the market that have been designed for revenue managers, not users!  View your hotel in booking.com from a client’s perspective and see how they sell to you and make it easy to complete a reservation, then look for a supplier that best replicates this.  Also, you need to make sure that your booking engine backend can provide you with good analytical data, how many visitors and from which countries are coming to your booking engine, what dates are they searching for, how many days in advance are they looking to book and from which websites are they visiting you from.  With this, you will be able to determine the right promotions at the right time to optimize your online conversions.

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  • Cart Abandonment –  A re-engagement strategy can be what makes the difference. An email campaign shouldn’t bombard or annoy customers; it should be treated as an extension of your customer service.  It is perfectly legitimate when users have left your booking engine to send them an e-mail (even without completing a reservation) with a personalised follow-up message. This demonstrates an appreciation of their interest, shows users that you value their custom and that yours is a hotel worth booking.  Some hotels offer promo codes or incentives to stimulate impulse buying, however, this is not always necessary, as the email itself demonstrates that you value their business. It can also serve as a helpful reminder and quick route back to a room they had seen earlier and liked.
  • Website – We all know that users tend to visit around 20 websites before making a hotel reservation, so by being the first website is not necessarily the best.  What is important though is creating a bigger marketing database in which to target and to convert into potential future business booking directly.  A) Invest to get them to visit your website, B) Gain their contact information and C) Target them afterwards.  An average mid-size hotel has around 15,000 visits per month to their website.  How great would it be that even a mere 10% of those visitors is leaving their details with you. That´s 1500 more people per month that you are connecting with, which is 18,000 more people in a year than you are gaining today.  By asking potential clients to provide you with their email address, will allow you to reconnect with them automatically, making the investment you are doing in online advertising offer better value for your hotel and increase your online conversions. As Google is evolving to become the new OTA online, not only is it important to understand what you need to do to maximize your visibility, you also have to capture the clients once they get to your website

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  • Reputation Marketing – In 2015, just monitoring your reviews by Tripadvisor and other review sites is not enough with management products largely becoming redundant.  Users seek out independent reviews before making a reservation, with 95% claiming to read reviews before booking.  OTA´s understand this, so they make customer ratings and feedback a prominent part of the hotel research process, offering millions of reviews directly on the site, so it is incredibly important that you are actively asking for feedback from your guests whilst helping them to promote them on your website as well as other key sites that will aid your visibility such as google, facebook and of course Tripadvisor. Here are some good practices:-
    • Website – Showing good reviews from a variety of places show you care about your reputation on your brand website will help increase your direct bookings and show to your users that you value feedback.
    • Stop giving Tripadvisor a free lunch and remove their widget from your website.  Yes, promote your reviews, just don´t make it easy for you guest to click off to Tripadvisor.
    • Proactively seek guest feedback – Ask your guest for feedback, understand better what you do well and what you can do better.

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Now doing the above is going to help your direct bookings but a good percentage of your guests will still come from OTA´s no matter how good your digital marketing strategy is, so here are a few more cost-effective ideas that will help you connect with your guests and allow you to understand their requirements to further personalise your marketing message to attract more guests to book directly.

  • Social Wifi – Allow your guests to connect to your free Wifi using their social media channels.  This is a great way for you to connect with everyone coming through your door (Conference Delegates, Wedding guests, Non-residents in your bar) not just one guest per room.  You will also increase your Social media fan base as well as your marketing database!
  • Upselling – This is a great way not only increase your revenue but also learn what kind of experience your guests want from your hotel, which will help you personalize even further.  Having a PMS (Property Management System) or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software that records the buying habits will allow you also to customise your marketing messaging.
  • Concierge APP – Make it easy for your guest to interact with you.  Apart from promoting your services, apps can offer loyalty programs that provide your guests value and provide you with a great new marketing technique – Push Notifications & GPS Marketing.  Read more here on how apps are beneficial for hotels.

None of the above are going to break your budget and will help set you on the path to increasing one of your most profitable reservations channels.  OTA´s are constantly improving their user experience, it is about time that independent hotels focus on this too.

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