Guests’ Online Booking Journey from Desire to Reservations

Just a few months after BookDirect MeetUp 2018, timing is perfect to summarize the presentations giving the participants a little reminder, adding a renewed zest for the game and some inspirations and information for those who missed the show.

RESnWEB‘s hospitality director and Hungarian BookDirect whiz: Mr Ákos Gyenes’s talk on travellers’ online booking journey was a wake-up call right at the start. In his introduction, he reminded us that with OTAs’ 13-25% distribution fee we basically burn a considerable amount of our 30% profit. Easy to see why it is better to bank on your direct channels rather than hand over half (or more) the earnings you make. And it is not just a theory: statistics prove that in the recent years the number of accommodations’ direct bookings has increased more than their OTA reservations.

Nice, but what should we do to boast such statistics and profit growth?

Ákos emphasized that it is essential to be familiar with our guests’ online booking journey in order to drive traffic to our direct channels. His excellent illustrations showed us that this journey is not linear at all and if you think predicting customer journey is tricky, you are not wrong. However, there are some general truths that help us to work out and follow a more conscious and better-aimed strategy.

  1. Mobile devices outnumber any other device. When it comes to guests’ online booking journey, hotel websites are no longer a question of being responsive (if yours is not, call your web developer ASAP.) It is also good to know that while the younger generation (25-35) embrace smartphones when they book a holiday online, people aged between 55-65 prefer tapping their tablets.
  2. Ladies first! According to the latest researches, most of the holiday seekers are between 35-44 years old (with 25-34 years olds closely behind them) and 70% of them are women. Keep that in mind when uploading images, packages and programmes next time on your website and remember that they are the decision makers you have to impress (for instance with super-tidy and neat rooms.)
  3. Home, sweet home. Where and when can we approach potential guests? Large percentages of travellers seek and reserve holidays at home, in bed, and at their workplace. Being aware of this, our social media ads can be timed accordingly or we can design our marketing materials to be more ‘tired-after-a-long-day’ or ‘I’m super-busy at work’ friendly with more images and less text.

How do we know all this? Google Analytics, for example, is a free tool that provides us with such data and statistics specifically about our website visitors to get a clearer and more correct picture. (Worth using other analytic tools as well to get a broader perspective.) You are not exploiting online measuring tools? Another reason to call your web developer.

Next Steps?

  • Know your target group. Identify them as accurately as possible to avoid shooting with your marketing messages blindfolded. So take an in-depth look at your current customers before formulating your strategy.
  • Focus on guests. Doesn’t matter if you, your colleagues or the hotel director like your marketing materials… create content that visitors adore.
  • Interests: Want to be absolutely sure? Check your website community’s interests and if you see that they are not huge football fans, let go of your brilliant ideas of having a commercial during the half-time show…
  • Optimize your webpage to EVERY device (desktops, mobile phones, tablets…) Trust the findings: if your website is not responsive, half of your website visitors will return to OTAs and book there.
  • Manage your most important channels. Don’t waste your resources on places where there are few or no reservations. How to sort? See below.
  • Make everything measurable and continuously analyze data. Let’s face it, it is not the greatest task of our profession but interpreting results can help us make better and more informed decisions on our marketing campaigns. With practice, your data analysis gets faster and more accurate, define your questions and focus on what is important for your business.

How to Reach Potential Guests?

To target and connect with our prospective guests, it is important to assess them and know where they get inspired and search for accommodation. Trends suggest that direct bookings derive mostly from travellers’ own experiences and their friends and families’ recommendations. Accommodation seekers typically explore and get informed on OTA sites (and to a lesser extent on metasearch pages e.g. trivago) and then they visit hotel websites. Google keyword searches have decreased but map-based ones are increasing and Facebook is also a hugely inspiring platform for travellers. Effective email marketing, but NOT the discount of the discounted super-discount price type of newsletters, also results in remarkable conversion success.

In analytics we can also examine the steps of the customer journey and the roles of different channels. Although some might think final interaction is the most valuable on a conversion path, do not forget the assist role of other channels, for instance Facebook. It may not be the one that produces the highest numbers as the last step to booking but has a significant part in the preparation. It’s an excellent idea to ask ‘Where do you start searching for accommodation?’ in our guest satisfaction survey, at almost no extra cost we’ll get extremely precious information. Track your guests and know their habits when and even where they are likely to book online.

Brand Bulwark

What is our brand really worth? Our greatest marketing value and strongest marketing tool is our brand name because guests after check out (and even during their stay) full of unforgettable experience will mention our name to their friends and acquaintances and these people will google – guess what? – our name as well. And since online travel agencies are also aware that the most potential guest is the one who searches for the brand name will use it in their ads. How does it look like? Enter your hotel name in Google Search and see how many AdWords campaigns are on beside yours (if you run any.) Well, these ads were all designed to steal our would-be guests. More on how to prevent such abuse and protect your brand in our previous blog post. As an independent hotel we may not be able to compete with OTAs’ unlimited marketing budget so it is better to stop these ads once and for all. With this move we may even reach double-digit growth in our direct sales. Online travel agents do not always act as partners because they recognized that our brand name is the golden goose… we should also treat it like that and protect it.

Ákos’ stimulating ideas, astounding statistics and examples gave plenty of thought and job to do for those present and masterfully introduced the following speakers and topics. Eager to learn how to cost-effectively spur your Facebook fans to convert with your excellent social media presence, how to increase direct reservations with online and offline techniques and how to respond adequately to public guest reviews? Follow our blog on LinkedIn, as this is just a few of the upcoming summaries of BookDirect MeetUp presentations.