How To Better Convert Online Direct Bookings

How to better convert online direct bookings

The shopping-cart-abandonment rate is high in the travel industry. Here’s how hoteliers can provide a seamless website experience to convert shoppers and keep them out of the OTAs’ grasp.

 REPORT FROM THE U.S.— Shopping-cart abandonment—which occurs when visitors to websites who make it to the booking engine but suddenly leave the site—is a huge problem in the travel industry.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, Statista reported an 82.1% rate of shopping-cart abandonment for the travel industry. That was the highest rate of the five sectors observed by the firm.

Whether visitors are jumping ship to book on online travel agencies or simply changing their minds, independent hoteliers who rely on direct bookings to combat high commissions need to invest in their website and booking-engine strategies so that they don’t leave money on the table.

Dave Rubin, VP of marketing communications at Greystone Hotels, an owner/operator of eight independent properties in California, said the company’s core message is “book direct for best of everything,” which has helped to discourage visitors jumping ship.

“It is this message that is making the most headway to help our guests—current, past and future—understand that booking directly with us is by far the best option,” he said. “Altering consumer habits is a key part to our strategy, and by emphasizing this message we’ve already seen the needle move significantly in the first quarter of 2018.”

Provide a seamless experience
Nicole DiMaio-Kennedy, regional director of revenue at Benchmark, said that the booking engine needs to be seamless with the hotel website in order to provide a great guest experience. She offered some best practices:

  • Ensure all offers and packages use the same imagery and content when flowing from the website to the booking engine.
  • Offers and packages should be clearly defined and shouldn’t have similar discounts, which can cause customers to become confused and left with the need to calculate the best option when shopping.
  • When deciding to run a special offer where marketing dollars are being spent, ensure the website merchandizes the offer through pop-up ads, banners, pay-per-click messaging and Facebook messaging. Also, make sure sorting within the website and booking engine clearly displays the offer to ensure it’s easy for a guest to find and book the offer.
  • Make sure all offers are fresh and relevant for the season and made available for prime booking windows.

Rubin said the booking engine’s content needs to be laid out in the most digestible way possible, including straightforward text, compelling photos and easily identifiable links to book.

That strategy is even more important when it comes to mobile design, said Becky Rogers, VP of operations for IDM Hospitality Management, which manages several independent hotels in the Midwest. In addition to websites and their booking engines being responsive, they also need to have clear call-to-action buttons that drive visitors to “book now,” she said.

But the placement of those call-to-action buttons is just as important, Rogers said. For example, if the button is at the bottom of the page and therefore takes a lot of swipes to find, chances are site visitors will never click it. A better placement option is the right corner at the top of the site.

“That button is the cash register to the hotel,” Rogers said.

Keeping guests away from OTAs
On average, leisure travelers visit 4.4 unique sites before booking a hotel, according to research conducted last year by Fuel Travel and Flip.to. While that figure is down from the 38 sites consumers visit before booking that Expedia reported in 2015, independent hoteliers still want to make sure their website is the one that captures the booking.

DiMaio-Kennedy said that in order to do that, hoteliers need to make sure rate parity is in place across all channels.

“If rates are better on other distribution channels, there is no reason for a guest to remain on your booking engine,” she said. “This goes hand in hand with ensuring that the best available rate on OTAs is clearly present on the property’s booking engine as well.”

Additionally, DiMaio-Kennedy said rate and room descriptions are critical.

“OTAs do a great job in showing value when guests shop. If you’re offering 10% off, does your rate description or rate plan name clearly describe that?” she said.

In regard to rooms, she said to make sure that descriptive words are ones that will differentiate against the norm. For example, it doesn’t make sense to mention that an ironing board or bathroom is included with the room as those are expected. Instead, the description space should be used to call out the size of the room and selling features like oceanfront views.

Rubin said Greystone puts a lot of resources into capturing personalized information about potential guests so that the company can deliver exactly what customers are looking for.

“We know most people won’t just arrive at our site and book on first asking; it’s more of a process,” he said. “It’s up to us to make that immediate connection and understand what they want to ensure that when they do come back, we can help see them through to the final booking.”

DiMaio-Kennedy said Benchmark has been able to encourage direct bookings via property websites by using a private offer feature on its booking engine.

“This private-offer functionality requires guests to log in using an email address or social media account login to ‘unlock’ an exclusive offer. Due to a login being required to access the offer, OTAs do not have the ability to shop it and penalize properties for violating rate parity,” she said. “With that being said, properties have the ability to offer the very best rate through this private offer allowing the property’s booking engine to always have the very best rate available.”

Special promotions are also a key strategy for IDM to encourage direct booking and dissuade customers from OTAs, Rogers said. It’s a more “feature-rich” value-add rather than a rate play, she said.

“We have to be careful with rate parity. We can’t offer a better price and think we can then have positioning on the OTAs,” she said. “Instead, we can have a ‘book here’ call-to-action to get a complimentary breakfast, where the OTAs can’t offer those amenities.”