How to capture direct bookings, guest data
17 FEBRUARY 2014 7:08 AM
A panel of experts discussed ways to increase conversion rates on brand.com during the Hospitality Technology Europe show in London.
LONDON—As the flood of third-party intermediaries continues to clutter the booking landscape, hoteliers must respond with renewed efforts to capture guests’ bookings and data, according to panelists Tuesday during the Hospitality Technology Europe show.
While the first task spreads throughout the booking funnel, panelists paid particular attention to increasing the rate of conversion for customers who find their way to brand.com.
Providing relevant user-generated content, such as TripAdvisor reviews and social media postings, is becoming more important, said RJ Friedlander, co-founder and CEO of ReviewPro, an online analytics and reputation management firm.
“Once you get people there you need to provide the social content to help facilitate the decision-making process,” he said during the panel titled “Tech disruption and hotels: Threat or revenue generators?”
Reviews in particular have a big impact on bookings, he said, which is why so many major chains are now featuring TripAdvisor postings on their respective brand websites.
But the above is meaningless if hoteliers aren’t addressing the basics, he said.
“I’m amazed at how many hotel websites that are just not even doing the basic very well. … There are a lot of opportunities, especially for small- and medium-sized hotels, to make improvements” as they relate to ease of booking, Friedlander said.
“There’s other content that’s critical when I’m deciding,” he continued. “… Do you have the right content there? Do you have the right information? This is basic, but in the medium or the small channels, the path is inefficient or the information is incomplete. It’s important to start with the basics to communicate the information I need to convince me this is where I want to go.”
That extends to the actual on-property experience, the panelists agreed. Technology can only do so much to drive direct bookings. Hoteliers should aim to win guests over during their stays by getting the basics right. They’re much more likely to book on brand.com for repeat visits as a result.
Whatever the methodology, hoteliers need to do something, stressed hotel consultant Graham Dungey.
“When we talk about investing more to acquire the customer directly, I’m not sure our industry fully understands what that means, what they need to do with their own websites,” he said. “In the next five years there’s going to be moving and shaking in our industry as the (online-travel-agency) community gets more of a grip and gets a hold of the customer base.”
Equally as pressing is the need to capture guests’ personal information to aid with future marketing and promotion—as well as efforts to personalize the hotel stay, the panelists agreed.
Collecting the key data is easy enough when a traveler books direct, panelists said. But when bookings come from intermediaries, such information is typically owned by the third party through which the transaction was made.
Companies such as Louvre Hotels Group are responding by training associates to collect as much as possible at the front desk, said Chinmai Sharma, the company’s VP of revenue and distribution management.
“We do a pretty active conversion at the hotel level. It’s no secret that we don’t get all the data that comes to us from an OTA channel. In order to get that customer in our database, we engage with them at the front-desk level,” he said.
Louvre also entices travelers to sign up for its loyalty program as a means to collect information and stimulate future repeat bookings, he said.
When moderator Patrick Bosworth, co-founder and CEO of revenue-management platform provider Duetto, asked about the success of those efforts, Sharma said they were “hit or miss.”
Hotel associates have to expedite the check-in process during peak periods, which means they won’t stop to have guests fill out email and other contact information. And in the company’s budget hotels, that front desk associate is often being tasked with a number of other operational responsibilities that might take priority, Sharma said.
Louvre does offer associates incentives to increase that capture rate, he said.
Covering all bases
Perhaps the best strategy to employ in the booking funnel is to cover all bases, the panelists said.
“There’s more and more fragmentation in distribution. A big volume comes from the big players, but more and more … there are OTAs that are starting to generate significant volume. It’s not only maximizing the conversion of the traffic that get to you but making sure you’re aware of the relevant channel of the markets you’re coming from, which today goes beyond the big players,” Friedlander said.
Hoteliers must meet their customers on whichever booking platform they happen to be, he said.
That’s why Louvre signed on to provide inventory to HotelTonight, an app that provides last-minute inventory, often at deep discounts, Sharma said.
“With the advance of smartphones, it’s a channel you can’t ignore,” he said.
But while Sharma sees utility in unloading unbooked inventory, he is not a proponent of doing so with big price cuts. Last minute does not mean last resort, he said. HotelTonight is a tool like any other booking channel, and revenue management and distribution professionals must maintain control and set prices that best serve their own needs.