2018 is the year of booking trends that will shape the way hotel guests demand service and response from hotels. They’ll also expect flexibility for reservation channels, price comparison, and other features that enhance the booking experience. Here are the most powerful ways for your hotel to make the booking experience a top customer-centric ROI and marketing tool.
AI-powered booking channels
AI-powered booking channels are a fact. Called “Avvio,” the first-in-industry attempts to deliver the AI-booking experience is already here. But poor PR and marketing efforts render them less popular than they deserve to be. Yet, they are relentless, and their efforts generated the world’s first AI-powered booking engine: Allora.
Allora launched last year in October, and it was touted to be “more advanced, more adaptive and more intelligent than any other direct booking platform.” According to the creators of this world-first, 450 accommodation providers are already using the AI-powered booking engine, including the likes of Ashford Castle, Classic British Hotels, Pure Salt Luxury Hotels, and Cheval Residence.
“Allora is more than a booking engine, it’s a conversation platform, which is genuinely trying to curate a more refined and more appropriate experience for each website visitor,” explains Frank Reeves, co-founder, and CEO of Avvio.
And there’s more. Avvio also felt the need to partner with Webio for a chatbot. Read on:
Booking chatbots are a thing too
Avvio and Webio partnered to launch a booking chatbot in February 2018. They dubbed it “the hotel industry's first hotel booking bot.” The entity integrates Avvio Allora AI technology with Webio's conversational middleware platform. The result is a tool that allows Facebook users to find, book, and pay for hotel rooms via the Messenger app.
But first, there’s Bebot. All the way from Japan, Bebot is promoted as world’s first AI chatbot. It’s Bespoke Inc’s effort to provide AI-powered concierge services in hotels globally since 2017 - but it doesn’t book accommodation, although it can book attractions and restaurants. And there are many other chatbots with hotel-booking capabilities to mention: Waylo, AI-powered assistant HiJiffy, Snaps booking chatbots, and the list grows like wildfire. The technology is young, but, if we learned anything since the dawn of the web, it would evolve overnight, and early adopters stand to gain a lot using them.
Offering guests an incentive to book directly may be a standard strategy, but not many hotels use it resourcefully. Incentives can be anything from complimentary gifts to room upgrades and discounts. Discounts tend to be the main booking incentive preferred by guests. Research by Hotelchamp showed that hotels offering at least 5% discount reported 11% increase in conversion rate and 12% increase in average booking value. Discounts can be used alone or coupled with other incentives for better performance.
Commonsense amenities like TV in rooms, free WiFi, in-room tea and coffee making kettles, and complimentary toiletries in the bathroom are not included in this discourse. Granted, free WiFi used to be an incentive in the past, but today, when most people own smartphones and spend so much time connected to social networks online or doing business online, not having WiFi for guests can potentially damage your reputation and chase the guests to competitor hotels.
Focus on hyper-personalization
Guests tend to respond positively to personalized messages and offers. In its Hotel 2020 study, the IBM Institute for Business Value reveals that personalization can provide opportunities to increase revenue. The main forces that drive personalization according to the same paper are competition, commoditization, fragmentation, and guest expectations.
The IBM Institute for Business Value found that more than 70 percent of hotel guests surveyed reported positive experiences with personalization both for on-property personalization efforts and efforts on websites, emails, and social media.
The new buzz word in the industry, however, is hyper-personalization, and many experts consider it to be the future of marketing. Because addressing a customer by his or her name is not enough, hyper-personalization digs deeper, identifying the likes and dislikes of the individuals and offering tailored services to please them. For example, Netflix allows members of a family to create different user profiles with a joint account and to select their favorite movie genres, then delivers suggestions based on these choices.
Other businesses need to collect customer information from other sources because hyper-personalization is based on quality omnichannel data. And experts warn that not using the tools to deliver highly personalized services to consumers may result in loss of ROI.
According to VentureBeat, 76 % of web users “expect to see a personalized website screen on just about every brand site they visit — and your inability to give any kind of individual regard means they think a lot less of your brand and makes them significantly more likely to bounce.”
Experts from large hotel chains like Marriott International already envision that even the guestroom of the future will be hyper-personalized and hyper-connected.
“Personalization of the guest experience is the next frontier,” said Gretchen Hartley, senior director of global design at Marriott International cited by Hospitality Technology.
How Hotels Should Enhance the Booking Experience
Besides embracing new trends and technologies, hotels should also enhance their booking engines for better user experience, either on traditional desktops or on smart devices like tablets and smartphones. Here are the things expected by the connected guests of today from a booking engine.
Because most booking engines collect private data like credit card information, names, email addresses, phone numbers, and residential or postal business addresses, shoppers need to know that their data is kept safe and secure on an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certified site.
Certainly, no booking engine today runs without SSL certification, but there are instances when the overall website of the hotel is not using SSL encryption. This is because the information used on a generic site is intended for the public and it doesn’t need encryption. However, Google now demands that all websites, even those that don’t gather private data, use SSL and make the switch from HTTP to HTTPs:
“Beginning in July 2018 with the release of Chrome 68, Chrome will mark all HTTP sites as not secure.”
Google also provides all the information you need to create a secure site and you need to move fast, or you will lose direct bookings because Google will warn Chrome users that your site is not safe, regardless your use of SSL certificates for the booking engine. Check out Google Web Fundamentals to learn why HTTPS matters and how to make the switch.
Usability is the second most important aspect to enhance the guest booking experience after security. The booking process should be comprehensive, fast, and easy. The booking engine is not just a web form with fields to fill in. It also displays rooms by type and availability, along with room photos, cancellation conditions, and available perks (like complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, and so on).
The user experience, in this case, must be seamless in all the details, from the structure and visual appeal of the booking engine, until the last button used by the guest to confirm the room reservation. The customer needs to be able to complete the booking process in as few steps as possible, so on the booking form it is recommended that you:
- Don’t clutter your booking form with unnecessary information
- Don’t ask for unnecessary information
- Make sure your guests know their data is privileged and secure
- Place the confirm and book button in a prominent/highly visible position
To avoid confusing your guests, make sure that your booking form has a design consistent with the rest of your website, with the same color scheme and visual identity used for all your marketing materials.
Booking call to action and mini-forms on all your pages
People enjoy gathering as much information as they can about the hotel before they book. If they landed directly on your website, they would most likely browse to see the rooms, special offers, information about the destination, the hotel restaurant, and other things like hotel facilities and amenities. You need to make it easy for guests to book a room no matter on each page of your hotel website they are.
Therefore, you must have a “book now” button on all the pages of the site. Ideally, this button should have a mini-form with fields like date-range and number of guests, to lead directly to the page that shows room availability in the booking engine.
Le Mas d’Entremont uses a visual-centric design with elegant images paired with a booking button that expands into a drop-down mini form all throughout the website. The form reassures the guest of the advantage of direct bookings – best price guaranteed, but also presents options to check the special offers, to book a table in the hotel’s restaurant, or to book an event.
Some hotels reinforce the advantage of direct bookings – best price guarantee – by displaying a book now mini form with price comparisons against OTAs, as well as the perks that come with direct bookings.
Obviously, this kind of form is ideal because it shows pricing transparency as well as the incentives to book, which, as we’ve already discussed, increase conversion rates.
The 2018 Travel Flash Report by Criteo reveals some critical statistics for mobile usage worldwide:
- Up to 80% of last-minute bookings are made on mobile devices.
- Most travel categories generate more than one-third of bookings on mobile devices.
- Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) make the most of mobile bookings.
- Apps account for 41% of last-minute traffic.
And data from think with Google reveals that “for millennials, mobile usage is almost 100% and smartphone penetration is in the high nineties” – and this since 2015. This is enough for hotels to strongly consider optimizing the booking experience for mobile users: think responsive design, as mobile devices come in different sizes, allow smooth scrolling, and buttons large enough to click.
Security and all the key elements that made a flawless UX on desktop websites are even more important for mobile users, who are impatient and lose interest fast if the booking experience as enjoyable and reliable as possible.
Another important component that makes the booking experience reliable on hotel websites is the social proof. Most travelers will check guest reviews on sites like TripAdvisor before making their choice anyway, so it’s better to keep them on your website by displaying honest, verified reviews and ratings. TrustYou insists that reviews improve the hotel guest experience, and we’ve already discussed how reviews can help you build trust that will encourage the guest to make direct reservations.
Besides reviews from Google, TripAdvisor, Booking.co, and others, now even social media sites like Facebook allow users to review businesses. Providing social proof with links to your social media profiles is another good idea to expand reach.
Most hotels already include Book Now buttons on their Facebook pages to improve the booking experience. These take the social media user straight to the hotel’s direct booking engine.
To conclude, improving the booking experience for guests results in more direct bookings, increased conversions, and better ROI.