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08/16/2022

The Most Important Online Feature Hotels Forget About

The online booking experience is in a desperate need of a makeover. Here are some important tips on what you can do right now to fix it.

It’s a season of “revenge travel” for people who refuse to be locked in for a third summer in a row. Hotels are experiencing a serious uptick in leisure travel, and consumers confirmed it in a recent survey that found that people are nearly three times more likely to opt for a hotel room over a rental. The online planning, booking, and support experience has to be flawless this summer to capture demand from eager travelers.

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Data from Travel & Hospitality Survey Report 2022

The same survey found that the search bar is the number one website feature that travelers use when planning and booking a trip. Although 67% say they use the search box when on a travel brand’s website, a third of respondents said that bad search results are one of the most common reasons they get frustrated with the online booking experience. There’s big room for improvement!

Optimizing search results, recommendations, and chatbot performance saves travelers time and keeps them booking directly on your site, the place where the guest experience begins. Here’s how to connect your guests with what they need.

Know Where Customers Click

It’s difficult to prioritize where to start updating the online booking experience. Is it more precise faceting? Adjusting copy on landing pages? Improving search results? Your customers can help you decide. Track which parts of the site users navigate to and see if they’re able to complete their goals. Focus on persistent customers who make multiple attempts to find what they need. If guests are using the search bar and then not clicking on any of the results, re-searching in the browser, or worse, exiting the site, those are all signs that the search needs some love.

A great search experience allows travelers to search for something that may not be a perfect fit to the traditional “Location” form fills. For example, on one major hotel brand website when I search for “Florida beach vacation kid-friendly” it won’t even load results! When I leave it and instead go to Marriott, search results pop up instantly with beautiful properties right on the water’s edge with the specific features I requested.

The survey found that roughly three in ten respondents said that they’re not loyal to particular hotel chains. That means hotels can’t bank on travelers being persistent enough to stick around and find what they need if search results are disappointing or non-existent. Once you understand where these types of issues are cropping up, you can prioritize which to solve first.

Streamline Booking Across Owned Entities

Travelers are more than three times as likely to opt for a hotel room when traveling versus a rental, with the biggest draw being the hotel’s amenities, including room service, activities, and onsite dining. The survey revealed that 56% of travelers prefer the simplicity of booking everything on as few sites as possible (restaurants, hotels, activities, etc). And 24% said that a lack of recommendations for these additional activities was one of the most common frustrations of the booking experience.

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Data from Travel & Hospitality Survey Report 2022

Hotels must cater to these travelers who prefer to stay on one site to book as much of their trip as possible. For example, a Lucidworks hospitality customer generated nearly $13B in annual revenue from recreational experiences like golf packages and access to world-class restaurants, but these amenities were not included in its website search. That had to be fixed. A different approach to what you are offering up in your search results ensures travelers know that your site offers much more than just hotel rooms.

Another way to point guests to additional amenities is through recommendations. Travelers ranked travel and hospitality brands as one of their top three favorite resources for researching and booking trips. Proactive recommendations that match up with traveler preferences are a key part of the experience. Unfortunately, it can be tough to know what guests are looking for. The next section explains how to match what guests want with what you have to offer.

Use Customer Behavior to Inform Digital Experience

Regardless of where you decide to start, the number one priority must be understanding your guests’ preferences across the board. Brands can’t coast on loyalty. Roughly three in ten respondents said that they’re not loyal to particular hotels, and the majority of travelers said that a $100 price difference or less between their loyalty and another brand would drive them to book with another brand. You have to know what someone wants before you can give them what they need, but in a digital experience, it can be tricky to figure out a traveler’s goal.

The quickest way to understand what someone’s looking for is through their search and browse activity—it’s the place where people act with the most intent. Advanced technologies can pick up search and browse behavior and instantly improve recommendations, filters, and add-ons to help the customer imagine (and book) a dream trip. Prioritize investments in the platforms and applications that have these capabilities to connect guests with the lodging, activities, and information they need.

Two-thirds of survey respondents say the top reason they would book brand loyal, even if it’s

more expensive, is because of familiarity with the brand. That means they can count on the entire experience from booking, to their stay, to support while they’re vacationing. Ask yourself if your guests can count on you to deliver at every part of their journey. See where you’re falling short—and where you excel—and move forward from there. There's a massive opportunity to ride the wave of “revenge travel”; make sure you’re making dream trips come true.