LONDON—Content is king. Design drives decisions. And speed of communication stuns.
In the fast-paced world of digital sales, hoteliers must address all of the above if they want to stay ahead, said experts Monday during the Travel Technology Initiative’s Optimising Digital Sales conference in London.
Hotels marketers are getting a lot better at the visual process of creating a Web page, said Jonathan Greensted, business development director at Zolv, a company that specializes in software design for online travel applications. The same parties still have some work to do in terms of sales conversions.
One of the key ways to drive more conversions is to be quick off the mark in response, Greensted said during the keynote titled, “Designing the better travel website.”
“Sales velocity is critical. It is all about sale conversion. If you build that excitement and velocity throughout the sales funnel, people are less likely to jump off that path and go with someone else. If people browse your website, and you have their contact details, why not send them a message the next day with some information about what they might be interested in?” he asked.
“Speed stuns—and customer service is still rarely very quick,” Greensted added. “If you can get speed into your pipeline, that will impress people. How about you click the call back button and five minutes later the phone rings? Not many companies are doing that.”
But it’s not enough to convert on one sale, he said. Hoteliers should work to foster lasting relationships.
“We are trying to attract new audiences all the time, but if we retained more we wouldn’t lose all the people we have sold to before,” he said.
With a hotel booking, for example, he advised emailing the guest before departure with offers for upgrades, interesting excursions or other additions they might want to book in advance.
Greensted also emphasized the importance of adapting your digital channels to different platforms, such as desktops, smartphones, tablets and televisions.
He said the iPad is the single biggest growing platform. “But people are buying on their iPads but will still research on their iPhone. How do you connect these items together?” he said. “We’re not yet seeing an awful lot of selling on smartphones for travel products.”
Greensted said that people aren’t reserving their family vacations while on the train. “People like to do that at home; there’s some sort of psychology at play.”
Content is king
The importance of high-quality editorial content in digital sales’ communications was a key theme throughout the conference.
“Images with people in them work really well with a hotel,” Greensted said. “If you are trying to sell a family holiday, photos of a family enjoying the hotel work well. If you’re trying to sell a romantic break, a romantic couple in the photo works well. Adapt the images to the user, and you’ll find sales conversion goes up.”
During a session titled “Feeding the cookie monster,” Frommer’s Unlimited’s Giles Longhurst advised attendees to think about what types of content are most relevant to customers throughout the travel-buying cycle.
As an example, the director of Frommers’ EMEA region cited the company’s work to improve client SLH Hotels’ search engine ranking.
“SLH had not spent much time on the content itself, so we devised a set of country, city and some neighborhood articles for SLH that really allowed them to hit hard in competitive terms in the luxury market,” he said. “Great results showed content really can significantly drive increased awareness, as well as content that converts.”
Frommer’s also worked with hotels.com to create content that allowed the online-travel agency to target key destinations “in a way that wasn’t too pushy but was extremely relevant.” Frommer’s created multilingual destination guides that provided general overviews, key points of interest and other information—all customized through the hotels.com tone of voice. As a result, the “Top 10 Paris food and drink” article ranked it as the No. 1 relevant search on google.co.uk. A “Top 10 Valentine destinations” did the same.
With Frommer’s overhaul of Web content across the InterContinental Hotels Group’s network, Longhurst said the key question was, “What does a customer expect every time they turn up to a Crowne Plaza?” Web content was then tailored accordingly to highlight the brand’s business facilities, free Wi-Fi, location and convenience.
Mapping revolutionizes hotel booking
The advent of mapping is one of the greatest digital developments in hotel bookings, Longhurst said.
“Mapping really is starting to become a way we find products and buy products,” he said. “… Everything is geo-coded. We geo-code our sales, we geo-code where we are going to sit on the beach.”
During the booking process, mapping allows potential guests to get a virtual lay of the land that helps convey value, Longhurst said.
“On a map you see your hotel (and) you can go and witness what it is like to walk out of that hotel foyer and see exactly what is going on in the neighborhood,” he said. “In travel we have always thought that price is more important than location, but with hotels, maps allow us to focus on much more than that. If there are lots of things to do nearby or if a hotel is closest to the area I am going to be in, why wouldn’t I spend a bit more on the price of the room?”
New models emerging
The mobile market was a key focus when Daniel Reilly, managing director of BlinkBooking.com presented “Moving into mobile.”
Blink’s “Same day hotels” app, which was launched in Spain during 2011 to allow booking on the same day, has more than 500 hotels on its network and is expanding worldwide.
The mobile platform is growing exponentially, he said.
“In 2010 you had 13.3 million people (in the U.K.) regularly accessing Internet on mobile phone, and by the next year this had increased to 19.5 million. That’s 47% growth in one year, and that number is expected to continue at a similar rate,” Reilly said.
£1.3 billion ($2.1 billion) was spent on the mobile platform in the U.K., he said, adding that Barclays projected an increase to £19.3 billion ($30.7 billion) by 2021.
Despite an initial reluctance of people to book through the mobile platform, Reilly said more travelers are converting. He cited a 2011 Amadeus survey that found 16% of polled travelers and 33% of active travelers (i.e. those taking more than eight trips a year) have booked with smartphones.
Blink’s “Same day hotels” app is projected to record approximately 10,000 transactions during its first year, Reilly said. The app allows guests to book on the same day after 12 p.m., with reservations peaking around 5 p.m. There are only four hotels in the app on any day, taking 15% off the best available rate for that day.
“We’ve signed up 500 hotel partners,” he said. “… In Barcelona and Madrid, we’re doing eight to 10 transactions per hotel per week. This doesn’t sound like much, but for a ‘newish’ company who specialize in on-the-day booking, it looks very good and channel managers are very pleased with the way it’s working.”