5 Ways to Win the Online Booking Game

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5 Ways to Win the Online Booking Game

By Johnathan Capps, Vice President Revenue, Charlestowne Hotels & Kris Altman, Senior Marketing Strategy Manager, Charlestowne Hotels - 11/21/2017

According to research compiled by Statistic Brain, more than 148 million people book travel online each year, accounting for more than half of all travel reservations. This rise in online bookings strongly alludes to the increasingly digital landscape inhabited by the younger generations who would prefer to plan their travel behind a screen rather than on the phone.

One of the greatest influences the millennial generation has is on the way marketing professionals and brands communicate their stories, messages, values, and ideas through a digitally-integrated world. To remain relevant, hotels must constantly and adaptively monitor the communication trends and preferences of target consumers.

One such trend is the astronomical surge of mobile activity during the travel-planning process. In the US alone, hotel bookings on mobile devices increased 67 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, according to a study from HotelsCombined. Bookings on tablets grew 30 percent, and desktop bookings increased 4 percent. This data proves hotel websites, both mobile and desktop, need to deliver the usability on a trustworthy platform that guests demand.

Hoteliers can approach their website strategies to capture more business in the following ways:

Design for the medium 

While both mobile and desktop sites should elicit a consistent brand feel, they must be designed differently to optimize the user experience of each platform. For example, the available real estate on a smartphone is a fraction of what desktop allows. Therefore, the functionality of forms and entry fields on a mobile website should be designed with thumbs in mind: pop-up number pads and QERTY keyboards for easy credit card entry, date files with modal calendars, and swipe-able image galleries. In short, provide your users with a fluid process by presenting information in a clear and efficient manner.

Desktop sites, on the other hand, offer more of a digital playground. With larger screens come increased flexibility and longer pageviews, which presents a better opportunity to tell your brand’s story through more engaging creative content. For instance, a high-resolution photo or video that might not translate well on the mobile site can provide for a website experience that’s more engaging on desktop. Customers booking via mobile are doing so quickly, and large files such as videos will slow them down, especially when slower cellular networks are in play when the device isn’t connected to a WiFi network. Desktop sites are more likely to have better network bandwidth, which allows for richer content with better load times. 

Make it seamless

When it comes to your website’s online booking process--both mobile and desktop--nothing is more effective than intuitive design. Instill confidence in your potential guests by offering them a seamless, simple, and succinct booking process devoid of confusion, superfluous clicks, and arduous redundancy.

Given all the effort and investment spent on driving traffic to your site, it is imperative that your online booking process is not confusing for visitors. If it is, you’ll lose bookings from potential guests who will drop off the site due to frustration.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of forgetting to integrate your third-party booking engine; a guest’s departure from your site to the booking engine should go unnoticed. The booking engine should match the look of your hotel’s website with seamless integration of your brand.

Test the experience

Do you know what it’s like to book a room on your own website? If you don’t, you need to test the experience to determine if there are any friction points. The booking process should be fluid. If it’s not, you’ll quickly discover what needs to change by clicking through your website as a customer would.

Keep them there

Providing a seamless booking journey is only part of the equation. With the average traveler visiting 4.6 unique websites prior to booking, additional tools should be implemented to provide visitors a reason to continue the booking process. Site enhancements such as exit intent pop-ups, rate comparison widgets, and shopping cart abandonment email drip campaigns are just a few tactics that can be layered to aid in traffic retention and recapture. Strategic messaging, specific targeting parameters and timing of these tools coupled with external retargeting ad campaigns can give your site a shot in the arm to further increase direct booking production.

Track and analyze

Ensure that you have the proper tracking in place so that you can measure metrics throughout the booking process. You can begin to paint a picture of what’s working well for your site. You can discover where visitors are dropping off during the booking process. Make sure to segment by user type and device to see the full picture. Are visitors checking rates on your mobile site and dropping off to book on desktop? Or are they dropping off because the mobile site provides a bad experience? Be sure to measure what e-commerce conversion rates look like on desktop versus mobile. The ability to track actions and revenue allows you to see pain points and to dig in deeper to find solutions for your website’s issues. Those solutions will ultimately help you drive revenue to the bottom line.

Without a solid strategy, complete with seamless mobile and desktop experiences, it’s impossible to win the online booking game. If you haven’t taken stock of your website’s experience, now is the time to start. Of all bookings made on mobile devices, 72 percent are made 48 hours before check-in, according to HotelsCombined. Additionally, 24 percent of desktop bookings are made within 24 hours of check-in. At the end of the day, those are bookings that will help fill your hotel. If your hotel’s site experience is lackluster, you could be missing out on your piece of the pie.