To make the most of your online marketing and distribution strategies, it is important to get a clear understanding of traveller shopping habits. Who are your potential customers and how do they like to book their hotels online?
Regular online hotel bookers look for personalisation, seamless usability and unique travel experiences.
The key is to tap into the 5 stages of the booking cycle:
1 IDEA TIME – DREAMING :
So how can a hotel tap into the dreaming stage? Travellers who follow travel-related social media posts or newsletters start browsing through Facebook, Travel magazines and articles, Hotel & Travel Agency Newsletters among others to choose a destination
Consider the following actions:
1. A daily update on the hotel’s social media pages is ideal to engage with followers on a regular basis. Topics can include relevant articles related to your hotel or hotel location, photographs of the property, a unique story behind the hotel, seasonal offers, photo contests etc.
2. A fortnightly or monthly newsletter promoting offers and news or any events related to the hotel will ensure that the hotel is fresh in the minds of travellers searching for a hotel in your destination.
3. Hotels should consider promoting their property on niche hotel/travel websites to gain additional visibility. For example, a family hotel in the UK should Away With the Kids and an eco-friendly hotel should look at Responsible Travel.
2 FIGURING OUT THE LOGISTICS – PLANNING:
The natural next step is to rely on the internet to plan travel. The average traveller visits at least 5 different websites to research hotels in the chosen destination. Trip Advisor Reviews, Social media presence etc are studied to get as much information they can. Hotels need to be highly visible on OTAs with lots of visually appealing content as this is the opportunity to catch the eye of the traveller.
Consider the following actions to ensure that you are found during the planning stage.
1) Ensure that your hotel is visible on major OTAs relevant for your destination – While Booking.com, Expedia.com, Agoda.com, are global in scope, ensure that you do your research for your market or check where your competition is selling online. In Europe, this may include companies like eDreams and lastminute.com. In the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East, this should cover Makemytrip.com, Cleartrip.com and Travelguru.com
2) OTA’s need to be actively managed. Maintain a relationship with the OTA Market Managers on a regular basis just as you would do with a strong offline travel agency. This will help the hotel to participate in special promotions. The market managers can also guide you on improving your presence and scores – and eventually drive down costs.
3) Invest in specialised OTA channels to ensure that your hotel is present in the distribution channels most relevant to your market segment. For instance, if you have a wildlife resort, identify a niche list of online agencies that promote adventure & wildlife tourism exclusively.
3 DECISION TIME – BOOKING:
Consider the following actions to make maximum impact. By now the research phase is just getting over and the decisions have been made on where to go and when. It’s time to book the stay! Now the question is – how easy is it for the traveller to find your website and book it. Will they find you through your hotel website or OTA?
1) Collect user feedback on the flow of your hotel’s website. And take corrective action where necessary. Loading times are critical as they test a booker’s patience and this is an area where a hotel can lose a lot of customers.
2) It is the age of instant gratification. Make sure it is easy to book and receive instant confirmations. Provide “Book Now” buttons on every page that link to your hotel online booking system.
3) Hotels should ensure that the availability on OTAs and Booking Engine are live and accurate so that the online traveller is able to book when they are ready. Rate parity is important. Make sure you have the best rate available on your hotel website at all times. Add some additional incentives like a free airport pick up if they book direct.
4) Ensure that your hotel website has engaging content. The more time a potential booker spends on your website exploring, the more likely they are to get hooked and book. Destination stories and places of importance are critical.
4 THE ACTUAL EXPERIENCE :
The greatest impact to a guests experience happens at the property and will influence their decision to return and/or share their experiences.
Consider evaluating the arrival experience for your guests and related processes:
1) Front Desk is the first point of contact with the guest and as such, it sets the tone for the hotel. Work with the team on a detailed arrival process – each step is to be identified and then the team can suggest how to make a guest feel great at every step. For example: check how much time it takes currently to complete the check-in process. Can you reduce it by 1 minute or 2? Do you even need a check-in or can the guest go directly to the room and complete the paperwork there?
2) Identify other aspects of the guest experience with other departments eg: At the hotel restaurant and repeat the exercise. Travellers want simple, quick and efficient processes. So time spent on it will make a big difference in matching their online expectations with their “at hotel” experience. Giving guest choices throughout their stays help build opportunities to emotionally engage with them.
5 SHARING THE EXPERIENCE:
Consider enhancing your presence on User Generated Content websites like TripAdvisor with the following actions:
This is the point at which the traveller who just experienced your hotel can help plant seeds for the next traveller who will go through this 5 step process A well-written hotel review on Trip Advisor & OTAs, a great photo of the hotels pool, a testimonial from your guest published on the bhotel website is the key to a successful online revenue enhancement.
1) Every hotel should encourage guests to write reviews, whether on TripAdvisor, the hotel’s own website or on the OTA they booked through: fewer reviews imply a less popular or less interesting hotel. Encourage guests verbally at check out and in communications or thank you e-mails sent to guests.
2) As each guest checks out, provide him/her with a small card inviting them to share their experiences on Trip Advisor. By offering an incentive (like a discount off of the customer’s next stay), more customers will be willing to take the time to complete a review. An added bonus to offering a discount off of a future booking is that you are converting the customer (who may have originally booked through an OTA) to a direct customer which also increases your profitability.
3) The hotel team must clearly establish the hotels’ response policy. Ideally, hotels should respond to all reviews – positive and negative within 24 hours in a personal and professional manner. This demonstrates a hotel’s commitment to listening to and acting on guest feedback. In responding to guest reviews, always start by thanking the guest for writing a review.