By Ashish A. Khullar
Director, Account Management and Sales
Travel, Tourism and Transportation Vertical Leader
Hospitality companies such as Marriott, Hilton and others are pushing to have customers book directly with them rather than through an online travel agency such Expedia or Priceline. Direct booking offers several benefits to hotel companies including commission savings, direct access to customers and access to data that improves conversion rates.
Customers also benefit, as companies offer incentives for direct booking, such as free Wi-Fi and waivers on cancellation fees.
Both parties benefit through direct booking, but there are several issues to consider when preparing for the shift:
- Web usability and conversion: Several studies have shown conversion rates for online bookings are affected by web usability and ease of booking process.
- Mobile accessibility: Customers are increasingly using smartphones and tablets to access websites for research, but they still go to a desktop or laptop to complete the transaction.
- Information availability: Ease of information availability at the time of booking boosts the chances of conversion. A large percentage of potential bookings fail to convert to a sale because customers don’t have information such as current offers and promotions.
- Shopping for rates: Customers spend a lot of time browsing sites to find the best deal and many site visits do not get converted because the customer continues bargain hunting.
Hospitality and other travel companies need to weigh the above factors and optimize their digital presence to ready themselves for the direct booking push. Issues to consider include:
- Web analytics and optimization: Analysis of website user behavior and optimizing for ease of use is definitely the right step towards a higher conversion rate. Landing page optimization for content and layout helps customers find what they need quickly. Websites must be optimized for mobile access.
- Information availability: Predicting what information your customers need and making that information easy to find will boost conversion rates.
- Web chat: Having web chat is an easy way to let customers quickly ask for information.
- Providing a “reactive chat” option enables customers to seek help when needed.
- Better still, building a “proactive chat” on your website allows you to track the activity of customers online and proactively reach out to those who may be lingering. This interface also enables you to provide context-driven offers and promotions. Chat is a simple way to improve your conversion rates. An active interaction platform provides a better customer experience. This can also help convert customers who are shopping for rates by letting them know the benefits they get by booking directly.
- Knowledge management: Static or smart knowledge management and FAQs provide good self-help capability. Making this interface intuitive and easy to use is critical.
- Content marketing: The more time customers spend on your website, the better the chance they will buy something. Introducing engaging content, user reviews and other forms of relevant information will allow you to get a higher conversion percentage and keep the customers coming back.
- Social marketing: As more people use social media, they are increasingly influenced by the experiences of their friends and family. Leverage social media to generate more traffic to your websites for direct booking. Social marketing and engagement capability is a necessity and comes at a relatively low cost. Leveraging best practices around these channels will help you market direct booking and direct more traffic to your site.
- Maximize value from every interaction: Every interaction is a potential opportunity to increase revenue by upselling and cross-selling. Gearing up your booking channels for maximizing this return requires you to predict what the customer may need in that context of the trip he / she is making bookings for. Personalization and predictive/ prescriptive analytics enablement of your booking channels has been seen to yield upwards of 20% improvement in revenue and conversion rates.
Enabling and optimizing your digital capability with the customer in mind will drive more users to your website and drive more direct bookings. An orchestrated and thoughtful approach to your digital presence will determine the success of your direct booking push.