LAS VEGAS—With nearly 80% of the average consumer’s Web experience beginning with an online search, optimizing online content for search is crucial for hoteliers to compete in the market.
“That’s an advantage for us,” said Tran Hang, head of the travel industry at Google, who shared that statistic last week during a session at EyeforTravel’s Travel Distribution Summit North America in Las Vegas.
“We’re seeing a big shift from offline working media to online working media,” said Jack Feuer, founder and president at digital consulting firm Digital Marketing Works.
And that can present a challenge for independent properties and smaller chains. “Today, there really aren’t a lot of opportunities for smaller chains to outrank or compete against the bigger brands. It’s a challenge in the environment of brand building,” Feuer said.
Hang said Google’s intention in the travel space is to surface the right contextual information that helps consumers book at one of their partner sites.
And some of the company’s investments, including the acquisition of Zagat and Frommer’s, are expected to make the search experience richer, she said.
Google is focused on extracting even more value for its consumers as travel remains one of its largest areas of traffic, Hang said.
In that aspect, the online-search giant is working to find the best way to send the most relevant information to its travel partners. For example, it would be ideal if a hotelier in Chicago could know if a consumer did a search for a hotel in the area, as well as for a flight that was seven days out and have the knowledge of the traveler’s price sensitivity, she said.
Mobile vs. desktop search
Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, said the company is seeing a major surge this year of transactions completed on a mobile device.
In fact, over the U.S. Labor Day weekend, 20% of Hotwire’s bookings came from a mobile device. “It’s advancing much, much faster than we thought it would, and we’re seeing the averages go up every day,” Bason said.
And Feuer’s statistics backed that up: “We’re seeing (that for) limited-service hotels, 20% of the traffic is coming from smartphones, but that traffic is converting at 34% of the conversion rate of desktops.”
Because of that, Feuer believes the next big frontier on mobile is voice. “Only 20% of the mobile conversions are coming through without the phone. Eighty-percent are coming through the voice channel. That’s the future … voice is the new sales center.”
Also, Feuer said many people are jumping off the smartphone and going on the desktop because the experience on the smartphone is not a great one. Typing credit-card and personal information on the smaller screens is a frustrating experience for many consumers.
Adam Goldstein, co-founder and CEO of Hipmunk, a flight and hotel search site, said mobile platforms just aren’t equipped to handle the large amounts of data some travel consumers are searching for.
“We are big believers that it’s important on the Web that you give people a subset that’s most important to them. Some consumers just want to know you have everything … And on mobile, there’s just not the space to make that kind of distinction,” Goldstein said.
On the Hipmunk app, the company shows curated results for the airlines and hotels most relevant to the consumer. “We don’t even give the option to ‘show me all,’” he said because it would be too difficult to send that amount of data over a smartphone.
Goldstein’s been hearing a lot of talk regarding the death of mobile apps as the mobile Web improves in functionality. “I completely disagree with that,” he said.
“There’s a fundamental psychological thing that apps have tapped into,” Goldstein added. There’s something about having a high number of apps on a smartphone that draws parallels to baseball-card or stamp collecting, he said. People enjoy showing off their dozens of apps to their friends.
“I think there’s going to be some innovation there that we haven’t yet seen,” Google’s Tran said.
The future of search
In terms of online search, the panelists said they believe it only will get stronger.
“Everyone has the intent to scale this channel as much as they can. We’re getting higher conversions and a happy customer, so we have incentive. I think the thing will continue to explode,” Bason said.
Search will take different forms, Tran said. “We talk a lot about the search experience, but people are searching in all different places … so we need to be customizing the search results based on what they’re looking for.”
In the world of travel search, there are going to be a lot more images and video content in the future, and a lot of people out there are looking for that, she said.
As for the more traditional channels: TV advertising is in trouble, Feuer said.
Bason agreed. The ability to distribute video content to millions of people online is going to crush 15-second ad spots on radio and TV. “The traditional TV market will die,” he said.