If hoteliers only look at the raw numbers, it might appear that the number of voice reservation inquiries is indeed dropping steadily every year. However, when you dig deeper, there is more to the story.
If you’re like most hoteliers, chances are you’re observing the raw volume of calls dropping steadily over time. But the rate of decline varies greatly by type of lodging operation, classification of hotel and also the business model.
For example, resort operators in general, and especially destination resorts, have seen slower declines than the traditional hotel sectors. And reservation inquiries have declined at a slower rate for boutique and lifestyle hotels than they have for those carrying traditional, iconic brands. Call centers for major standardized brands have generally seen greater drops than those representing boutiques, soft brands and “collections.”
Of course, operators and asset managers are always looking for that magical benchmark number, and certainly, one could cobble together an “average” drop in calls by doing a survey of call centers and on-site reservations. Yet this exercise would be of limited value across operations because the volume of calls is impacted by so many variables. For example:
- Hotels that offer a multitude of online room categories tend to generate more calls than those with fewer options (standard, superior, deluxe).
- Those that offer a multitude of packages, (typically resorts), tend to generate more voice inquiries, as do those who offer a diversity of rate options (advance purchase, rate options inclusive of services).
- Similarly, hotels that offer recreational activities (golf, tennis, water sports), personal services (spa or wellness centers) and those that host guests who are in town for special events tend to generate more calls.
- Finally, hotels in the luxury and ultra-luxury categories also tend to generate more calls.
- In short, the longer the stay, the higher the rate, the more complex the guest experiences being offered. And perhaps most importantly, the more of a vested personal interest the guest has in maximizing their in-house experiences, the more likely they are to inquire by voice.
So far we have addressed how the number of calls might vary; however, it is also important to address why the number of calls might be dropping for all segments. Again, the raw numbers do not tell all of the story.
Total calls are trending down; but have reservation inquiries also dropped?
When you sit with real-world agents and listen to the other side of the conversation, whether they are located on-site or at call centers, one notable difference these days is that there seem to be fewer of what I have always termed “information only” calls.
Years ago, guests had to call with even the most basic questions, such as whether the hotel had an airport shuttle, Internet or if the hotel was pet-friendly. Nowadays, these questions are easily answered by website visits, a quick Google search, or by simply asking Siri, Cortana or Alexa. Likewise, few guests call to find out what the taxi fare is from the airport as their Lyft app indicates this, or to ask if there is a gym at the hotel as they can look at images in the photo gallery.
Another change is that those who book online at the hotel website and also online travel agencies are more comfortable that their reservation will go through, as compared to the past when nearly every online booking generated a phone call to reconfirm.
In summary, many of the calls that are missing are the “information only” calls, the reconfirms, the order-taking calls (groups/negotiated corporate). What remains are the hottest sales leads of all. When you listen to calls from real callers, you find that the stream of calls coming in these days has far more revenue potential than ever before.
Can you capture more revenue from fewer calls?
At the same time, the process of reservation sales has de-evolved in recent years, especially at call centers of the legacy brands, which I have addressed in past articles.
As we enter a new year, it is a good time for us to once again ask ourselves the question I asked in a previous contribution: Have you forgotten about voice reservations?
If you take time to listen in to a random selection of 20 or so calls, you will find that many callers are saying:
- “I have a question … I read online in a review that says…”
- “I just want to double-check a rate; okay, I see that same rate online, thank you!”
- “What’s the difference between the studio king and the mini-suite?”
- “If you were staying on vacation, would you book the room with the view?”
- “Why does the rate change during my stay?”
- “I want that advance purchase rate, but I need to be able to cancel.”
- “Why are the rates so much higher this time?”
Those who still call are the most savvy of all consumers; they have already researched online, but there is something they need to hear before committing. Provide positive first impressions, engage with them by questioning to find out “their story,” and most can be convinced to stop searching and start committing right now. Alternatively, politely answer their questions and they will hang up and book your hotel online, if you are lucky, costing you a hefty OTA commission that could have been avoided. Worse yet, they will hang up and book another hotel on the list.
Smart operators know this and recognize that voice continues to be a viable distribution channel, which when properly managed, yields ever-higher conversions, a higher ADR per room night sold than website direct and offers a chance to create positive first impressions that set the tone for the guests’ entire stay.
Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Kennedy has been a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations for more than two decades. Since 1996, Kennedy’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.”
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