A ten step booking process masquerading as five

Here is the progress bar of a well known booking engine – the Synxis Guest Connect product.

The bar indicates that it will take the user 5 steps to make a booking. Let’s examine this claim via the booking process on Guest Connect as implemented for Preferred Hotels.

Step 1 – “Select Dates”

So far so good.

Step 2 – “Rooms & Rates”

We choose the room and rate and move to:

Step 3 (Still called Step 2 – “Rooms & Rates”)

though the title is misleading because we’re really buying extras or addons.

I should not have been offered breakfast because I chose a breakfast inclusive rate. Also I can’t seem to select my addons by day – which is weird because I’d like to know when to show up for my lunch or dinner. Anyway, at least I am offered stuff. I select some items and am taken to:

Step 4 (Called Step 3 – “Checkout”)

…which is really more of a review page than a checkout. So I click “Checkout” again…

Step 5 (Still called Step 3 – “Checkout”)

 

Then I’m finally asked to enter my name and other details and am given two confusing options to choose from. After figuring it out, I get to:

Step 6 (Still called Step 3 – “Checkout”)

and realize I’m still checking out… but have no idea what purpose this page serves. Finally, since I build booking engines for a living, I figure out that this must be where I enter my credit card details. I click the relevant link and am taken to:

Step 7 (Still called Step 3 – “Checkout”)

I enter the card details and am taken to:

 

Step 8 (Still called Step 3 –“Checkout”)

Cool! I guess I can add another credit card to populate a dropdown list. I also realize (but only because I worked for the Taj Hotels and for Pegasus and for Amadeus before doing what I do now, i.e. I really am an industry guy and remember the good old days of strange “booker” loyalty programs) that just in case I was booking on behalf of my boss or something, I could also provide my own details by clicking on “Reservation Agent”. I decide to ignore it since probably less than 0.05% of direct online bookings are made by someone who’d consider him/her-self as an agent and I’m taken to:

Step 9 (Called Step 4 – “Review”)

Aside from the fact that the “View Packages” link does not work (so I can’t review what extras or addons I bought), everything looks ok. I click “Confirm Reservation” and am taken to:

Step 10 (Called Step 5 – Confirmation)

By now I’m confused and exhausted – and suspicious that I can’t really be done, so I scan for something more I might need to do. Thankfully, the booking saga is over and I’m really done -my hotel reservation is complete

One note: I captured only those screens that I had to complete in order to finish the booking and did not deviate from the most linear path to the confirmation page.

Aside from all the broken links and usability issues I encountered, it was quite magical – 10 steps were made to look like five 😉

But why I am obsessed with the number of steps?

Well, hoteliers and others in our industry are irrationally focused on the number of screens/steps in the hotel booking process when evaluating booking engines. There is a strange assumption that the fewer steps in the booking process, the faster a consumer is able to complete a booking, and therefore the better the booking engine. It’s almost as if the hotel wants to hide something or trick the guest into finishing the booking and getting the hell off their website before they change their mind.

But truly, I don’t think Synxis is deliberately trying to trick or obfuscate. The ten step pretending to be five step process is just a result of bad design and even poorer business requirements, probably provided by Preferred Hotels, who may be the only Synxis customer who will ever use this unreasonable booking process. But however this booking process was birthed, it is pretty unfortunate for the hotels, as I suspect conversions will go down over time.

Let me be clear that I am not a proponent of a hotel booking process that requires the least possible number of steps. I believe there is an optimal booking flow that balances three objectives:

1. Compartmentalization – allows the consumer to focus on one activity at a time i.e. entering search criteria, selecting a room/rate, buying extras, reviewing their booking and deciding on upgrade and other upsell offers from the hotel, providing payment information, getting and reviewing the confirmation. (Travel Click’s iHotelier booking engine did not compartmentalize, with their one – now two – screen booking process and is suffering as a result.)

2. Interactivity – engages the customer with interesting up-sell opportunities that increase the value of the reservation for the hotel. (Synxis has done a decent job here, in fairness to Guest Connect, although usability is not good.)

3. Efficiency – just the right number of steps so as to not be annoying. (This is where Synxis and Preferred have screwed up big time!)

When we designed the booking flow for RezTrip 2.0, we kept compartmentalization, interactivity and efficiency top of mind – take a look for yourself and let us know what you think:

RezTrip 2.0 – it’s the smarter booking engine.

Gautam Lulla

Gautam Lulla

Gautam is CEO of Pegasus and an outspoken expert in hotel technology and distribution. When he's not busy disrupting the status quo, you can find him ripping powder on the slopes. Contact him at gautam@pegs.com.

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