5 Steps for Hotels to Drive Direct Bookings - Part 2/2

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In the second installment of this two-part series, hotel experts discuss the importance of providing price confidence, relevant content and speedy websites for direct booking success.

5 Steps for Hotels to Drive Direct Bookings - Part 2/2

By Michal Christine Escobar - 07/18/2019

In part 1 of this two part series, HT interviewed hotel experts from renowned brands such as: G6 Hospitality LLC, Choice Hotels International as well as independent and boutique brands such as The Jupiter Hotel, Red Roof, and MEININGER Hotels to learn how they drive direct bookings. In that first installment, they discussed the importance of marketing one's brand effectively, knowing one's customer, and gave insight on how they have been doing that.

In this second installment, these same experts continue the conversation and discuss three more important steps: providing pricing confidence to guests, offering guests a website that has been optimized for mobile booking, and providing guests with the relevant content they need to make an informed booking choice.

Hotel guests at The Jupiter Hotel don't have to type their information on a tiny keyboard when using a mobile phone, they can just sign in to Google or Facebook and have it automatically input the data.

Step 3: Provide Price Confidence

Rate parity is crucial when it comes to driving direct bookings. This means that the hotel has to consistently offer the lowest rate across all platforms, from Priceline to metasearch to TripAdvisor, says Jeff Thomas, director of distribution and eCommerce at G6 Hospitality.

"When consumers see a discrepancy in room rates between the brand website and something like a metasearch website, the brand integrity is immediately undermined," he adds. "We partnered with the company AboveProperty to create a next generation reservation and connectivity platform to allow our property to maintain rate parity across the ecosystem."

Robert McDowell, CCO, Choice Hotels International, agrees, noting that customers want price confidence, not sticker shock.

"Customers don't want to look around and say: 'Oh man! I could've gotten a lower rate!' Instead, we want them to be confident that purchasing from us directly is truly the lowest and best value for their purchase," he adds.

Over the years, many hospitality companies have stopped promoting their website as the best avenue for getting the lowest price, McDowell notes. Instead, they've allowed third-parties to own that message. Brands need to take back that message – which many from Choice to Hilton – have begun to do with direct to consumer advertising campaigns.

Step 4: Offer a Website Optimized for Mobile Booking

For Red Roof, the company's website is the first point of contact with 60% of its guests, says Krysten Phillips, digital marketing manager for Red Roof. It not only introduces its brand to new guests but it acts as a portal to the brand experience.

Red Roof allows guests to input their current location and their destination and then see a list of properties nearby for booking hotel rooms on the go. Source: Corey Coyle

Similarly, G6 Hospitality found that 65% of its customers engage with its website via a mobile device as an often last-minute purchase, Thomas says.

And according to Malin Widmarc-Nilsson, head of commerce at MEININGER Hotels, more than half of all hotel bookings are made via smartphone or tablet. With this rate of use only growing, it is imperative that hotel websites are optimized for mobile and make it easy and quick for guests to make their reservation.

"A slow or poorly constructed digital path will drive users to another website," she adds.

Mobile websites must be fast, intuitive and easy to use. Slow load times, bad mobile functionality, or an e-commerce platform that isn't streamlined will cause potential guests to abandon their booking on a hotel's website for either the competition or an OTA, says Nick Pearson, general manager at The Jupiter Hotel.

"We are past the time when an ineffective mobile website or booking experience will not make a difference in long-term revenue," he explains. "Today's travelers want to be able to book from anywhere, at any time. Mobile is a huge driver of business and direct bookings."

  • Speed

According to Google, the average line speed of most consumers engaging with websites via mobile device is still 3G when not on WiFi, Thomas says. One of G6's top priorities is offering a speedy mobile website.

"It is absolutely imperative that we're doing everything we can to help those customers who are – driving, perhaps in the middle of nowhere, on a 3G connection – book a room as quickly and easily as possible," he says.

One way G6 has been able to do this is by partnering with Google to rollout Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs). According to Thomas, these pages are incredibly basic. They contain some text, a few pictures, and a date picker. There is no javascript, no heavy coding – so it loads very quickly.

Building pages in the AMP framework has a key benefit: Google "will bias you and place you at the top of organic search within mobile," Thomas notes. When G6 launched its AMPs in June of 2018, it picked up 1,000 organic SEO keyword listings almost immediately within Google. Now the company is doing AMP2.0, adding some content, building some extra pages in the hopes that it will drive more customers to their website.

  • Ease of Billing

Choice Hotels found that in addition to a speedy connection, potential guests want a painless payment processing step.

"We used to have a long form for filling out payment information," McDowell says. "We've tried to reduce that to make it easier for guests to input their information and get through the form as quickly as possible."

One way The Jupiter Hotel remedied the payment processing process was by making it possible for those who do not want to type their information into the booking engine – on a tiny keyboard – to sign into Google or Facebook. The information for the hotel booking form then automatically loads, allowing the guest to complete the booking with little hassle, Pearson says.

According to MEININGER Hotels, more than half of all hotel bookings are made via smartphone or tablet.

Step 5: Provide Relevant Content

Third-party websites are often great at providing information in an easy to understand and standardized format while streamlining the booking process, Pearson says. Hotels need to do that too and offer the customer a feel for what the on-property experience will be like.

Once you know your customer – see Step 2 – you'll know what type of content they'll be looking for on your website, Thomas says.

"For a Motel6 property, talking about how close it is to an MLB stadium might not be relevant to our audience, but talking about free morning coffee and how many yards it is from a highway exit is relevant," he explains.

Guests also want easy access to loyalty program explanations.

"Make the process for redeeming loyalty program benefits very obvious," Pearson says. "No one wants to read through the fine print to figure that out."

For Red Roof, content that appeal to its guests include seeing properties at the top of the homepage that they viewed or stayed at previously. Plus, it incorporated a Book Along A Route feature. This allows guests to input their current location and their destination and see a list of properties nearby.

Red Roof guests also have access to Experience Pages which shows each guest what kind of experiences they could have at or near that particular hotel including upcoming events, nearby attractions, and recommend food and entertainment venues.

"We know that guests, particularly our guests, are looking for experiences in their travel – and the experience page is the perfect tool to convince them that our property is the place to stay," Phillips says.

Another important feature is customer reviews.

"Nowadays, very few people make an online booking without consulting customer reviews prior to their purchase," Widmarc-Nilsson says. "Integrating customer reviews within our own websites enables us to keep the user on our site instead of leaving to check other websites for reviews. We partnered with TrustYou to enable this feature."