Amidst the inescapable social media age, brands are experimenting with innovative new booking options. Last year, KLM became the first airline to allow passengers to pay for flights via social channels. Thanks to Dominos, it’s now even possible to use emojis to order pizzas. While booking hotels through any of the major social media players has also become possible, does it ultimately prove worthwhile to invest in these channels?
Facebook’s lackluster track record
Hotels have long been offering booking options on their Facebook pages, and since 2014 have had the option to integrate a “Book Now” feature—one of seven call-to-action buttons the social networking giant offers businesses. While almost half of all hotels provide booking via Facebook pages, approximately 45% of properties surveyed in a recent study reported these transactions accounted for less than 1% of total bookings.
Buyer behavior perhaps explains this low figure, as guests who already know which hotel they want will rarely ever visit Facebook to book, but more likely the property’s website or an OTA. With a significant amount of effort needed to offer this booking option, some brands have decided it’s not worthwhile for such little return.
Conversational, real-time transactions on Twitter
Since 2013, Loews Hotels has offered guests the option to reserve rooms via Twitter. Using #bookLoews, potential customers can initiate conversations with representatives at the group’s booking center. Agents provide links to a chat rooms to complete the transactions. Although the system doesn’t operate 24/7, it does provide a useful option to book, and one that is more conversational in nature than Facebook.
More recently, boutique hotel booking site Stayful launched a Tweetstay Service, not only allowing customers to request a stay, but also working directly with properties in real-time to negotiate better rates on their behalf. A tweet needs to be addressed to @stayful and include #tweetstay, as well as destination, budget, and date preferences. Acting as a “Twitter travel team,” the service offers attractive rates on properties in 28 cities across North America and the UK.
Testing the waters on Instagram
Due to limitations on integrating clickable hyperlinks, Instagram was not utilized to facilitate bookings until earlier this year, when Conrad Hotels became the first in the industry to use the photo-sharing app for this purpose. However, the approach isn’t exactly a direct booking; following a link in the bio section of Conrad’s profile leads to a second gallery of the brand’s Instagram photos, and clicking on one of these will lead to a booking page for the depicted property.
Since this process is slightly complicated, Conrad uses photo captions to remind viewers to click the bio link. Depending on the success of Conrad’s Instagram bookings, parent company Hilton might implement the strategy for its other brands.
Last month, Instagram launched new features including a “Shop Now” button. While no travel companies are making use of this yet, it offers great potential which hotels should explore.
Connecting with the travel community through TripAdvisor
In 2014, Choice Hotels became the first to launch “Book on TripAdvisor,” allowing customers to place reservations directly there rather than being sent to the Choice website. Best Western, Accor, and Marriott have followed suit, each managing their own customer service on the site. Although hotels pay 12-15% commission to TripAdvisor, this seems like a worthwhile investment to seamlessly link to one of the biggest review sites and metasearch channels.
While social media bookings may initially appear a PR stunt, they do in fact wield potential. With the exception of TripAdvisor, these bookings appeal to hotels as they’re direct and eliminate commissions spent on OTAs.
But though they might be a savvy approach to attract younger travelers, older generations will likely be unfamiliar with these sites. Others may feel uncomfortable completing relatively large transactions through such informal communications channels, and as such, adoption rates have been slow.
However, social media remains a very important part of the travel research process, and is a key driver of traffic into the main hotel website. It’s crucial that hotels stay up-to-date with their websites and booking engines, ensuring that they complement social media across all devices, from mobile to tablet to desktop.
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