To drive more travelers to book directly on their hotel websites, hoteliers must first understand what motivates customer booking decisions and behaviors. A study by STR’s Tourism Consumer Insights offers some perspective.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—From a traveler’s perspective, the best way to book a hotel is via the most convenient, easy-to-use and rewarding channel.
Research from STR’s Tourism Consumer Insights suggests that in at least two of the three requisites, travelers give the advantage to the online travel agencies. (STR is the parent company of Hotel News Now.)
Where the hotel or brand website can and often does prevail in the booking battle is in rewards for its loyal guests, Sean Morgan, director of research at STR’s Tourism Consumer Insights, said during a presentation at the Hotel Data Conference titled “OTA or direct? A traveler’s perspective.”
“Loyalty is one of the key drivers to shift the balance of direct versus OTA booking,” he said.
Half of all respondents to a 2019 STR travel experiences survey noted loyalty programs were a factor in their decision to book direct. That number increases to 72% among North Americans and 58% among respondents who are age 55 or older.
But while these travelers listed exclusive benefits as the main appeal of loyalty programs, the study shows more than half (58%) rarely or never cash in their points for rewards.
- For more on what hoteliers are doing to win the booking battle, read “Hoteliers confident distribution pendulum swinging back.”
Convenience and ease of booking consistently ranked as a top motivator for booking decisions, with 70% of all survey respondents listing it as the most important aspect, and 50% of travelers who booked direct citing it as their key reason. More than half (55%) of travelers who booked hotels on an OTA channel said their key reason for doing so was “to see all accommodation options.”
“OTAs have been very successful in addressing this concept of convenience booking,” Morgan said. “Today, the marketplace for buying travel and hospitality products is online, so it’s no surprise that today’s consumers are increasingly internet-savvy. That’s placing increasing demands and expectations on what the booking experience should look like, which is seamless, intuitive and quick.”
While hotel websites aren’t likely to start listing rates of their competitors, he said, there are other ways they can gain booking share, which starts with understanding the needs and expectations of their guests.
For example, hotels can cater to guests’ desires for responsible, personalized and experiential travel.
“Increasing disposable income and less focus on materialistic goods, combined with technology and advancements, is fundamentally shifting some of the traditional practices of travelers,” Morgan said, noting that “thinking about the needs of travelers, including what can be done at a destination and how to get there,” and offering experiences that increase the length of stay can have a positive impact on brand recognition.
Familiarity is also a factor in travelers’ decisions on how to book a hotel, with about half of survey respondents who booked via Booking.com and Expedia listing “I know the site well” as one of their top three reasons, he said.
Past experience with a hotel operator is also an influence in direct bookings, Morgan said, noting that actively promoting a hotel’s local initiatives and partnerships with local agencies can help “raise your profile at the local level.”