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06/05/2017

How Hotels Can Make Booking Frictionless

Frictionless (adj.) – effortless, smooth, and with no difficulty. Unfortunately, few if any hotels can describe their booking processes as frictionless, whether considering it from the guest perspective or internally. Hoteliers know ease of booking is critical as it becomes a differentiator for potential guests when making decisions on ultimately where to stay. In fact, 87% of guests admit that an easy booking experience will influence hotel selection, second only to free Wi-Fi, according to HT’s Customer Engagement Technology Study 2016.

Determining what guests want and delivering it, while ensuring channels are well managed and cost effective, can be challenging. In part one of this two-part Business Solution Brief, HT explores some of the top impediments to frictionless reservations – and strategies to make it better.
 
Problem: One-size-fits-all, cumbersome direct booking experience
Solution: Streamlined, personalized booking

While a hotel’s presentation on a third-party system is limited by their formatting and algorithms, a hotel’s own site is its place to shine. Gorgeous photos, compelling offers, social media feedback and live chat can all help answer guests’ craving for a preview of their stay. Guests frequently pause their OTA session to visit a hotel site for more info, creating opportunity to grab that booking.

It’s important to select website designers who prioritize the right things and use responsive design for mobile sites, advises World Web Technologies.

And SiteMinder urges hoteliers to streamline their websites. For instance, take out clicks and narrow choices: Don’t display all 40 room types and offer add-ons after booking. Ensure a smooth transition into the booking engine. Real-time booking helps ensure guests get what they want; Oracle Hospitality notes this is generally only possible via a cloud-based booking engine.

As a new, independent property, Brooklyn’s William Vale Hotel is eager to build awareness and attract bookings. So in addition to casting a wide net with OTAs, the hotel combined great visuals with exclusives such as $1 valet parking and extended stay discounts. They also use Triptease to show guests competitor prices, auto-matching if the price was lower.

“It allows the guest to stay on the site and not look elsewhere” to compare prices, says Abe Salam, director of revenue, William Vale Hotel.

Hotels also need to use all available data to customize the user experience. Sceptre Global suggests expanding the concept of a booking widget, so variables such as room types, packages and popular pages are also used to determine what the guest sees.

Oracle says its middleware enables hoteliers to leverage loyalty and profile data, user behavior, device, location and context to help hoteliers refine the direct booking experience at the start of the visit. Others point to CRM tools, dynamic booking engine software and social media marketing companies to assist with personalization.

Finally, don’t neglect groups, states REBEL Travel. Big, complex events need a salesperson, but smaller leisure groups seeking lodging for reunions, weddings and sporting events should be offered the option to self-book.
 
Problem: Loss of bookings and fees to OTAs and other channels
Solutions:

1) Negotiate better deals with the OTAs. Brands such as Marriott and Hilton leverage their size to win better terms such as lower fees, elimination of last room availability, and the option to offer lower rates to their loyalty members. Smaller hotels can join coalitions such as soft brand collections for similar empowerment.

2) Offer exclusive loyalty rates via gated offers on direct booking engines via tight integration with CRM systems. Another option includes offering exclusives: free Wi-Fi, an invite to an event, a complimentary drink, room selection, and so on.

3) Manage OTAs carefully and efficiently. Robust channel management tools and top channel management talent are key to ensuring smooth interactions and adherence to parity and other clauses.

4) Discover where OTAs and other channels drive demand, such as weekend leisure, and work with them as lead generators instead of against them as competitors. Analytics could help hotels better identify where OTAs deliver the best value. Hospitality management company Highgate Hotels, for example, works with OTAs and other third parties to ensure their assets are presented well, imagery is aligned with their own sites and planning is bearing out.

“You can really measure real-time what’s working or not working,” boosting conversions when assets are well represented, says chief revenue officer Ankur Randev, Highgate Hotels. “It’s not about being 100% direct, it’s getting to the customer redistribution.”

Many hotels need more data to better determine their optimal channel mix at any given time, but it’s common for hoteliers not to think of their business in terms of channel and the levers they need to pull to meet their plans, according to Kalibri Labs. With better insight into market and guest patterns, such as via the company’s cross-market database, hotels can determine optimal mix, allocate merchandising funds appropriately to win the target business, and then know what content to serve to that channel. Hotels also need to start thinking of their revenue performance in terms of profit contribution, not just top line so they account for commissions, sales and marketing and media spending as one pool that can be reallocated to support the plan across channels. 

5) Consider under-used channels that may cost less, such as local search and Yelp.

Part two of this two-part series will feature four more common problems that hoteliers face with the booking process.