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Take Advantage of Guests' Digital Breadcrumb Trail

Guests leave a treasure trove of data during their booking journey. Harnessed correctly, hoteliers can use this data to entice guests to book direct.

The hotel industry is stuck in a rut of outdated brochure websites that shout ‘book now’ at every visitor, limiting a hotel’s ecommerce strategy to a ubiquitous plea for ‘Book Direct’ whilst simultaneously failing to really engage the guest in a more meaningful way.

Think glossy stock images, impersonal sales pitches and the inevitable pop-up offering a pleading discount to any traveler heading for the exit.

Despite the average guest booking journey spanning three to five days, the industry remains fixated on converting guests from ‘lookers into bookers’ on day one. But the silver bullet lies in the treasure trove of data amassed while they’re on the website – a digital breadcrumb trail left by every potential guest. If harnessed effectively, hoteliers can use this data to identify patterns in guest behavior, uncover preferences, and craft a personalized online experience that builds brand engagement and entices guests back and, ultimately, converts better.

The typical traveler creates around 15 to 20 minutes of data when they visit a hotel website, a digital fingerprint brimming with potential, but no one captures this information. Imagine knowing exactly what a guest does the first time they visit your website – the dates they explored, the room types they considered, the packages, facilities and local attractions that piqued their interest.

We’re all used to seeing automatic currency conversions and language adjustments based on IP address, but the ‘lost 20 minutes’ of data unlocks much more effective personalization than this.

It all starts at stage 'zero' of the booking process - aka the critical ‘first impression’. ‘Recommender’ tools can detect the current weather conditions in a guests’ location. If it’s raining, the hotel website automatically adopts a sunny theme: the hero image becomes a beach scene while the copy promises refreshing cocktails. Recognizing the guest is searching for two occupants, the algorithm prioritizes romantic suites and suggests couples spa packages.

The data collected on a traveler’s first website visit can even be used to assess whether they are likely to return to the website. This means that when potential guests (inevitably) leave, it’s no longer a reason to surrender a discount code in panic. AI algorithms have stored their previous interactions and preferences – the pages they visited, how long they spent on each page, content they interacted with, every click they made. All of this data can be mopped up to provide a holistic view of each guest and determine what their booking journey will look like when they return. Content becomes hyper-personalized, showcasing only relevant information, and dates and availability are saved so guests can pick up where they left off.

Even the call to action can change depending on where they are in the booking journey (‘check dates’ could turn into ‘book now’) and upsells become more tailored, improving the conversion rate. Hoteliers can anticipate every individual guest need, challenge and opportunity throughout the booking process, and guests feel a genuine connection with the brand.

The data that is collected then becomes a powerful marketing tool. As well as providing a hyper-personalized booking experience, operators can identify how many millions in revenue are currently sitting in the website sales pipeline, and even predict the likelihood of a guest canceling based on their engagement and location, leading to greater confidence in conversion predictions.

Understanding the guest booking journey — and therefore the guest — is the only way hoteliers can really understand their true conversion rate. The lack of knowledge about online guests and their actions leaves hoteliers unable to accurately evaluate their conversion performance. If, for instance, 200 people browse a hotel website in a given period, but only two bookings convert, the apparent conversion rate stands at 1%. But this figure is misleading, as those two bookings were likely made by returning guests, visiting the site for the third or fourth time – so the 1% conversion rate becomes inaccurate and provides little valuable information.

This means that any data a hotelier has collected about the effectiveness of their different marketing strategies and channels is probably also completely misleading.

Hoteliers have a secret weapon post-booking too — they understand why a guest ultimately went on to book. This pre-stay personalization empowers hotels to offer more relevant targeted upselling and guest re-engagement strategies that can reduce cancellations.  

Final word

The guest booking journey isn’t just a one dimensional series of web pages and calls to action. It’s actually made up of seven or eight stages that may be separated in time. When the hotel industry treats it as such, using the data available to create relevant and meaningful booking experiences, it is much more likely to be able to attract, communicate with and convert guests.

This shift will signal a departure from the conventional playbook of brochure websites and desperate discount tactics, towards a guest journey defined by data-driven hyper-personalization.

About Frank Reeves
Frank was the co-founder and CEO of Avvio, a technology provider to the global hospitality industry, which merged with SHR in 2022. Under his leadership, Avvio pushed the boundaries of technology meeting hospitality, particularly with the introduction of, the world’s first direct booking platform powered by artificial intelligence. Frank brings this knowledge and insight to SHR Group and champions the evolution of, the hospitality AI that powers SHR Group’s products and services. He is passionate about revolutionizing the digital experience to help hotels create more revenue, whilst delivering innovative technologies and new distribution networks to grow direct bookings for hotels.

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