The Wired Hotel: Making Booking Painless
By Jerry Tarasofsky CEO, iPerceptions Inc. | January 27, 2012
In my recent articles, I've tried to set forward some best practices to make the online experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible for both die-hard and infrequent visitors. Each of these visitor segments has a unique set of expectations and needs to be catered to in a distinct fashion to ensure site satisfaction. As important as the online experience is as an end in itself, however, the ultimate goal of any site and of any site changes is to convert lookers into bookers and drive revenue through the online channel.
The paramount importance of the web as a sales channel for hotel brands has been amply proven in recent years. As such, optimizing the online booking process has become the Holy Grail for marketers and the subject of much analysis and punditry. All can agree that the goal is to weed out any potential sources of dissatisfaction and to give the booker a clear, streamlined, and unimpeded path to checkout, armed with all the information he or she needs to feel comfortable and satisfied with his or her decision to reserve online with your brand.
Knowing that you need to optimize and discovering which elements of your website are functioning as road blocks to conversion are, unfortunately, two vastly different things. Almost every website decision maker can admit to themselves that some element of their site would benefit from tweaking, but finding out which site-level changes will engender the greatest booking returns can be a tricky process. Clickstream analytics can tell you all you need to know about which pages are causing leakage along the booking path. This type of analysis will not tell you, however, about what irked abandoning visitors or what warning bells rang in their minds, causing them to close their browsers or surf away from your site. The only way to fully understand why certain visitors abandon the booking process is to ask them. By drawing the most salient insights from this data, we can hot-button the site-level pitfalls and reverse-engineer the optimal conditions for turning perpetual lookers into high-value bookers.
First and foremost, it begins with functionality. For your site to convert on booking intent, the interactive components have to be top-notch. Whether you are leveraging Flash/Ajax technologies or using simpler means, your tools just have to work. Data from our hospitality surveys show that visitors want comparison tools that allow for effective inter-brand rate and feature match-ups. Equally important is a soundly-functioning calendar tool. Time and again, open-ended commentary reveals visitor frustration with the fact that rate quote and vacancy calendars only run so far in advance. In the era of Web 2.0 and user generated content, visitors crave flexibility and customizability more than ever, so don't be afraid to let them explore dates and rates that run well into the future.
Stressing the opulence of your hotel is also of vital importance. In a website survey we're currently running for one of a major international hotel chain's brands, 79% of visitors indicated that pictures of the hotel were either very or extremely important in their booking decision. One of the best incentives for a visitor to book is a stunning 360 degree view of your rooms or a virtual tour that immerses the visitor into the leisurely atmosphere of a swimming pool, spa, or dining room. But it goes even beyond the confines of the hotel itself. The old real estate maxim of "location, location, location" is hugely applicable to the hospitality space. If your hotel is situated in a trendy area, then by all means, flaunt it. Ensure that the maps showing the area around your hotel highlight all the hip restaurants, clubs, and coffee shops. In the same study cited above, 69% of visitors said that information on the local dining scene was very or extremely important when deciding which hotel they would book a reservation at.
Likewise, if your building is within walking or cab distance of major cultural landmarks, draw attention to that fact. Letting your visitors zoom in on these from a satellite vantage point with Google Maps integration can be a wonderful value-add. Finally, to cover any questions that require human interaction, ensure that the contact information for your individual hotels is displayed in a clear fashion. There is nothing more frustrating for a traveler searching for very specific information about a hotel than to be directed to a generic 1-800 number, where a call center agent can only provide cursory information about individual hotels.