Kayak. Expedia. Priceline. As a hotel executive, you know these brands good and well. They’re the ones battling for market share with seemingly better booking experiences. To say they’re shaking things up is an understatement. Global sales of online travel agencies (OTAs) grew by 19% from 2014 to 2015 alone, with sales in some regions increasing by as much as 43%. By 2020, it’s expected that OTA sales will peak at $434 billion.
This tells us a lot about the current state of direct booking, confirming that properties can and must do better. The booking experience is one today’s greatest untapped opportunities in hospitality. It’s time for leaders to address the rising problem of revenue being lost to OTAs due to poor booking experiences.
So, how can hotels deliver distinctly better booking experiences? We can think of three ways.
No. 1: Innovate at the First Point of Contact
What’s the reason almost half of customers book through OTAs? Simply because the “website is easy to use.” This is understandable, considering the limited communication tools currently used by hotel staff: 91% have phones, 84% email … and that’s about it. Today, only half of hotels can innovate guest experiences with communication features like chat, and only 11% with video.
It’s imperative that hotels innovate at the first point of contact by transforming the web user experience—whether this means meeting customers during the actual booking process, or delivering unmatched expertise as they surf the web for deals. Consider that consumers visit an average of 38 websites before making a reservation, and tend to double the time they spend on the web the week before booking. Imagine a world where customers can simply click a button on your website to be instantly connected via automated call routing and queuing with your front desk, management, or even the kitchen. This kind of simple, instant, natural engagement enables customers to get the information they need for better booking experiences.
No. 2: Invest in Advanced Resource Matching
A major issue among OTAs involves a lack of transparency. Consider popular airlines like Delta, which have been known to remove fares from smaller online travel sites (and even larger sites like TripAdvisor) to make customers believe it’s difficult to shop around and find a good deal. Hotels can capitalize on this digital distrust by working to offer authentic and relevant information that streamlines booking—specifically, through intelligent resource matching.
Based on rich context and KPIs, resource matching ensures customers are quickly and intelligently routed to the right subject matter expert, regardless of where the expert is within the organization. If a customer starts a conversation about billing with an agent via web chat, the customer can be immediately routed to a staff accountant who’s headed back to the office from lunch. An advanced customer engagement platform can track customer conversations and consolidate that data across virtually any interaction channel—web, mobile, contact center. This creates a real-time data repository that workers can use to transform customer service. This includes (you guessed it) better booking experiences.
No. 3: Offer a Contextual Mobile App Experience
We live in a world where 65% of customers make same-day hotel reservations using their mobile device. In fact, mobile travel bookings have grown by an astronomical 1700% between 2011 and 2015. This signals the need for two things: a mobile-optimized website (after all, bookings via desktop are still alive and well), and a high-functioning mobile application.
The mobile app is especially important: 40% of guests now have hotel mobile apps, while 30% are inclined to download one. As such, 80% of hotels are planning to roll out sophisticated mobile apps within the next five years. This app should include unique mobile features that let hotels gain an inherent understanding of travelers’ intentions and motivations for improved bookings. It should also include seamlessly integrated self-service and callback options, along with the kind of intelligent resource matching mentioned above. The purpose of a mobile app is to simplify and enhance the booking experience as part of the end-to-end guest journey.
Differentiate Your Booking—and Guest Stay—Experiences
It may seem OTAs have the upper hand, yet there’s an undeniable value of personal, human service. Case in point: 93% of customers strongly agree that despite digital advances in the travel industry, the value of personal service cannot be replaced. Hotels should strategically capitalize on this with competitively differentiated booking experiences—and keep building from there to improve the overall guest experience.
Read more about building an end-to-end high-tech, high-touch guest experience in a few of my blogs:
Use Data Analytics to Create Incredible Hotel Guest Experiences
Five Ways Hotels Can Build a Successful Digital Strategy for Improving Guest Experience
Hoteliers: Your Best Laid Plans Will Go Awry Without Strong Wi-Fi
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