Last week I flew to London to participate in the first Direct Booking Summit, organised by Triptease. My aim? To tune in to a discussion centred around a very hot topic this year: direct bookings. You’ve probably heard the term tossed around a lot recently. And it’s no light subject, either. With more and more hoteliers around the world expressing their demand for greater opportunities to get guests to book directly with them, it’s got techies, hospitality professionals, and industry giants talking.
Direct bookings aren’t just a matter of commissions. They can influence the personal relationships and loyalties that hoteliers establish with their guests, what investments hoteliers decide to make in their properties, and ultimately even affect consumers’ behaviour when booking online.
The spotlight of the summit was on educating consumers. More specifically, the focus was on what it is that hotels can offer travellers during their booking experience that OTAs can’t.
Let me guide you through the top three most helpful highlights of the event.
1. How industry heavyweights are driving direct bookings
According to the research presented by Triptease, 75 percent of consumers believe that they can find the best hotel price through OTAs (online travel agents) rather than on hotel websites. It seems, however, that there’s a gap between guests who say they prefer to book directly on hotel websites, and those who actually do it.
Chris Robinson, Senior Manager Digital Services at Marriott International, said: “We found that there’s a myth about cheaper rates on OTAs. We need to educate consumers that they can get the best rate on direct channels.”
A shift towards this goal began earlier this year, when two major players in the hotel industry both launched education campaigns on why consumers should book directly with them: Marriot, with “It Pays to Book Direct” and Hilton, with “Stop Clicking Around”.
Though we have to wait and see what these winds of change will actually bring, Premier Inn already receives 93 percent of its bookings through direct bookings.
Simon Jones, Managing Director at Premier Inn & hub by Premier Inn, anticipates much more than just a pricing issue in the future of hotel distribution. Software integration and a seamless booking experience will be vital. He further believes that the power of a hotel’s brand will always be important, and that hoteliers will need to better understand the marketing mix they’ll have to manage. He also added that “there’s a lot of technology hoteliers should start experimenting with.”
2. The importance of testing
Today, more than ever, Millennials are bombarded with thousands of hotel offers. But what converts a looker into a booker? It’s important for hoteliers to understand the dynamics of booking conversion better in order to apply them to their own properties.
OTAs have heavily invested in data analysis in the last decade, and this is one of their main advantages.
Hoteliers should optimise their websites by transforming them into efficient booking engines. A/B testing—experimenting with small changes to see how these increase the booking conversion rate—is a good place to start. Does the “book now” button stand out? Try changing its colour or location on the page and see if this impacts the number of bookings you get. How much time does a user need to complete the booking process? Try removing unnecessary steps to speed up the process. Are users maybe getting lost in the content of your website? Try different ways to display your hotel information and images to see what is most navigable for the user.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Determine what makes for the best guest experience on your website and gauge the reaction.
In this regard, Lennart de Jong, Chief Commercial officer at citizen Hotels, said: “We lose 20% of customers because we ask for the credit card details before giving them the reservation—and this is dumb. We need to work to make this easier for the consumer”.
3. The future of the booking experience: chatbots
According to Forbes, “2016 is the year of chatbots.” Tom Ollerston, Marketing and Innovation Director at We Are Social, spoke about how the integration of chatbots on social media channels is going to change the way we book hotels.
A chatbot, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), is a computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual channels.
Facebook Messenger and some travel companies are already experimenting with these functions that have the potential to revolutionise the way consumers behave, how we interact with brands, and how we shop. Can a chatbot on social media make hotel bookings faster, better, and cheaper?
This next frontier of brand and consumer interaction is still in its infancy, but it’s something that hoteliers and brands need to follow. For Tom Ollerston, the future will be a company communicating (via Facebook Messenger, for example) with you and your friends about a trip to a specific destination.
So, there you have it. Are you looking into direct booking opportunities? What about experimenting with your own hotel website’s booking process? Curious about the rapid developments in user experience and the future integration of chatbots?
Let’s talk about it on Twitter or in the comments below.