Remove Friction from the Hotel Booking Process

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Remove Friction from the Hotel Booking Process

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor - 06/07/2017
In part one of this two-part series, HT discussed how hoteliers are often confronted with problems that prevent the booking process from being frictionless. For instance, a one-size-fits-all, cumbersome direct booking experience and the loss of bookings and fees to OTAs and other channels. But these aren't the only issues to affect hoteliers. In part two of this series, HT will discuss four more impediments and their solutions.
 
Problem: OTAs win with easy, advanced payment while hotels continue generous no-penalty cancellation policies.
 
Solution: About 50% of guests opt to pay in advance; this is business worth winning, which hotels can do by enabling easy, fast pre-payment in direct booking. The William Vale Hotel incentivizes guests with discounts for pre-payment. Reducing steps is key; some OTAs reportedly saw conversions triple after halving the number of payment steps.
 
Another strategy is to adopt emerging payment vehicles such as those preferred by international travelers, as well as virtual cards and wallets, which are increasingly available for browsers.
 
Problem: Limited guest data from third-party booking sources
 
Solutions:
 
1) Enact processes to collect guest data at first point of contact, either at check-in or if they call into the hotel pre-visit, a strategy used by William Vale. Record guests’ preferred booking channel to tailor future offers. Sceptre Hospitality suggests making it easy to interact with the hotel directly even if the reservation comes from a third party, such as helping the guest modify a reservation. Don’t treat OTA guests differently.
 
2) Leverage customer intelligence platforms to collect data from other sources about incoming guests, such as services that sift through social posts, online feedback, and user-generated content for hotel and guest mentions.
 
3) Automate data transfer. SiteMinder suggests capturing and acting on guest data you do receive by integrating the channel management tool with the PMS/CRS, rather than manually entering data and risking delays and errors. Data then becomes accessible to revenue management, marketing and other important tools. Make sure the integration uses standardized coding. William Vale uses SiteMinder to automatically integrate its OTA reservations, while its RMS automatically feeds rates to the OTAs.
 
Problem: OTAs dominate search and metasearch
 
Solutions:
 
1) Boost marketing might. Allocate resources to ensure your brand shows up in meta search right alongside the OTAs. Sceptre says hotels should be tapping both their marketing and booking engine budgets toward this effort, which can pay off by driving direct bookings. Benefit from OTAs’ well-funded user interface research by offering similar features, such as posting customer reviews, suggests REBEL Travel.
 
According to Morgan Stanley Research, mobile and desktop traffic for Marriott, Hilton, Choice, Hyatt, and Starwood saw median growth in traffic of 127% for mobile and 18% percent for desktop in the first quarter, 2016. Hilton’s campaign was called “Stop Clicking Around.” Independent hotels should also hammer home the direct-booking-is-best theme.
 
Highgate Hotels has refined its user interface with partners including LodgIQ and TravelTripper, reducing required clicks to reach popular pages by about 70%, improving imagery and deals, and leveraging IP-based pricing, all based on analytics, says Chief Revenue Officer Ankur Randev, Highgate Hotels. The company has reduced booking steps substantially for independent properties, improving conversion rates. Highgate also displays competitors’ rates.
 
2) Learn OTA search and metasearch techniques, including strategies to boost search results. Detecting and respond to changing consumer search habits is critical, Randev notes.
 
“It’s a matter of allocating the resources and capital to generate the best ROI,” he adds.
 
3) Ensure content is maintained across channels.
 
“There is inconsistency because there is no central repository for that,” says Dave Sjolander, COO at HTNG. “Distribution points have a difficult time keeping track of information on a hotel,” whether it’s branding, current amenities, or the pool is closed for maintenance. REBEL Travel offers content verification to automatically update OTA, local search, social profiles and other sites with this info.
 
Problem: OTAs are eyeing in-stay services
 
Solutions:
 
1) Identify and own that guest as early as possible, to gather a full profile of their preferences and activities.
 
2) Deliver a great guest experience that includes communicating through the stay. Sceptre Hospitality suggests creating guest itineraries, and seeking ways to deliver that package even through third-party booking sites. REBEL Travel urges hoteliers to work toward a flexible e-commerce platform to significantly increase their ability to serve individual guests, by integrating a merchandising system, data warehouse and guest relationship database together. This becomes the connecting point for POS, services and other transactions and integrations.
 
3) Drive loyalty membership. Red Lion Hotels actually partnered with Expedia to quickly ramp up volume in its loyalty program.
 
4) Leverage analytics to better understand guest activity and spending through the stay. Use this, positive reviews and other data to personalize marketing and future stays. William Vale matches emails to a database of past guests and offers a discount, even if they have not signed up for its loyalty program.