Understanding Today’s Customer Journey & Competence
As business owners, we continually explore the delicate balance between charging a competitive price and reducing costs in an effort to grow the profit wedge. With the travel and tourism landscape tighter than ever, it’s imperative to reevaluate our mix of channels, marketing, and pricing to establish the best output with very little to no increase in spending.
Most industry players agree that guest direct bookings are ideal. Hotel chains pay anywhere from 10 – 22% in commission to third-party booking services. When guests book directly with a property, it results in more profit and less hassle for hotel owners.
Today’s consumers are digitally savvy, with 48% of US smartphone users reporting they are comfortable researching, booking, and planning their entire trip to a new travel destination using only a mobile device (Google/PhocusWright, 2018). Due to COVID-19, even consumers who are traditionally less savvy are purchasing more online, and their expectations are heightened.
When a prospective traveler is in the research phase, a seamless online experience that illustrates exceptional attention to detail and a focus on customer experience can make the difference between securing a reservation or not. The less a user has to work (i.e., fewer clicks) at finding pertinent information, the better their overall experience, and the more likely they will book. An intuitive website often equates to higher occupancy rates.
So, what are the best practices and considerations on how to reduce website clicks to increase direct bookings? Let’s take a look.
How many clicks does it take for a guest to see available room inventory? How easy is it to view the room details? Knowing that people are using their phones to research now more than ever (stat), what does the process look like when a guest navigates the site for the first time or during a subsequent visit when they’re ready to select their desired room and make a reservation? Since you can likely navigate your website like the back of your hand, it is difficult to be entirely objective. My suggestion is to give your phone to a friend at dinner and ask them to imagine they’re planning a trip to your destination. Their behavior will reveal a lot about how new visitors access and interact with your website.
We’ve all used Amazon and seen how effective they are at bundling and upselling additional products. On any given product page, they show the user what is “frequently bought together” with that item, as well as other suggestions for similar goods. When booking travel, guests typically search for properties by price or location. Taking a page from Amazon’s book, we suggest providing recommendations for your visitors with an “In Your Price Range” section, or something similar. Additionally, create a feature in which users can compare various inventory options. Offer incentives to upsell them with the same strategies the big e-commerce brands are using.
A small change in positioning can help guests understand how influential direct booking is to supporting local businesses. Just as Black Friday and Small Business Monday illuminate online and local shopping efforts, emphasize how direct booking puts more money into the local economy and impacts the quality of their stay. Many consumers are unaware of the high commission rates online travel agencies collect and would book directly with you solely for this reason.
Clear Incentives for Booking Direct
Make sure to display how much the customer can save by booking directly. If they’re booking for one night, show them a per night savings. If they’re staying longer, give them a lump sum for the duration of their stay, or provide information on how booking directly can help support local communities or businesses. This technique can be combined with creating a sense of demand and urgency if booking within a specific timeframe to drive them to act quickly.
Simplify the Cart Flow
When booking direct and reducing clicks we can’t just stop looking at the experience once your visitors leave your website. We also have to explore where we can optimize the experience when they leave your site and visit your associated booking engine. It is important to carefully explore the user flow and navigation of your booking engine system to ensure it too limits users clicks and isn’t cluttered with unnecessary and wasted steps. Often, they will be willing to work with you on customizing shortcuts and other approaches that simplify the booking process. By demonstrating proactive attention to detail and customer service, your guests are likely to hold you in high regard and be willing to pay for that extra convenience online because they believe you’ll execute that same level of commitment on property.
Lock Them in Before Upselling
Although there are certainly profits to be made from upselling add-ons, it is essential to secure the reservation first rather than convoluting the sales process and adding additional steps that create the risk of losing the customer altogether. Revisit and refine your post cart upsell and email sequence strategies to educate guests about these experiences instead of trying to close them on everything at once.
Provide Value to Secure Prospect’s Emails First
Since we know first-time website visitors are likely to research other properties and locations, give them an incentive to provide you with their email address. By using a unique contact form specifically for that stage of their travel planning journey, we can create drip campaigns and stay top of mind during their discovery process.
Establish Clear & Well-Positioned Calls to Action
Identify areas in your website flow ideal for calls to action that will drive direct bookings. Beyond the inventory pages, where else can you steer users toward making a reservation? Also, play around with on-brand calls to action that draw people in to learn more. For example, create a button with a catchy phrase consistent with your brand’s messaging that brings the guest to the booking page.
Recognizing that some guests will likely return to the site after completing their initial research, make it easy for them to book, learn more, or see details from the inventory overview page.
Be Exclusive & Remove Yourself from OTAs
While this may seem like a bold move, the desire to seek out unique and exclusive experiences is part of human nature. Suppose you can implement the rest of these ideas and have a healthy digital marketing approach locally, organically, and supplemented with paid efforts. In that case, you have a chance to be able to own your audience through positioning yourself at the top of the market. Booking exclusively through your website and nowhere else allows you to control your supply and demand and adjust room rates accordingly.
Implementing a few of these changes can go a long way toward converting traffic to more profitable bookings, especially during circumstances such as COVID when traffic is slow. While you may not have the resources to invest in a complete redesign of your website to integrate each of these recommendations, we encourage you to prioritize which strategies would most benefit you most. Gather information and feedback by watching some of your friends and neighbors navigate your site, and assess where you can make the most significant impact with a few of these ideas. Make sure to set up Google Analytics to track the percentage of direct bookings per unique visitor after implementing any changes.
If you are looking to update your website with several of these features but do not have the budget for a complete overhaul, SoCap can help. Allow us to perform an audit of your website and recommend how you can implement some of these tactics. As the market rebounds, you will surely see a significant ROI that is easy to track and more profitable than many other initiatives requiring the same resources, time, and investment.