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How can we get Millennials to book direct?

Millennials travel more than any other demographic. On average, they take 35 days of vacation each year, and they’re also bucking the trend by increasing their annual travel spend as other generations intend to be more conservative with their cash.

As it turns out, OTAs are the ones benefiting the most from this lucrative market segment: studies show that over half of Millennials book through OTAs. That means hotels are losing out on a big chunk of potential direct booking revenue.

Adding to the challenge, Millennials are also generally averse to traditional loyalty programs, making it harder to retain their business once won.

But it’s important to bear in mind that 31% of them still book through a hotel website. It’s not that Millennials are particularly loyal to OTAs, rather they are most driven by convenience. So how can your hotel website work harder to ensure you capture a piece of this direct business?

In the following post, we’ll dive into that topic by outlining the specific ways Millennials research, browse and book their trips. We’ll also offer a series of strategies you can use to implement this knowledge and get ahead of the competition.

Mobile discovery

Millennials do a lot of initial research on their smartphone. According to a leisure travel study from Google, around two-thirds are comfortable planning their entire trip on a smartphone—compared to around one-third of those aged 35 and older.

Millennials are also more likely to book via a smartphone, with 64% stating that they typically book a hotel room on a smartphone after they shop on one. For comparison, 42% of those aged 35+ say the same.

This mobile-first mindset means having a mobile presence should be considered an absolute necessity. How does your own mobile experience stack up? It’s worth giving it a thorough road test to identify possible weaknesses.

As a basic guide, start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How easy is your website to navigate?
  • How quickly does it run?
  • How simple is it to find information?

To get a clearer insight on these points, carry out some usability tests on a site such as UserTesting. Our dedicated guide on mobile provides further tips and tactics to upgrade your mobile presence.

As a final point, we strongly recommend optimizing your room and photo information. These two elements are sought out above all else as people research their plans. To that end, make sure your gallery pages and photos are optimized for mobile so they’re easy to view and navigate on a smaller screen.

Strong social presence

Social presence travel

Once a Millennial is excited about your hotel, you can bet they’ll cross-check your property with feedback and comments from other travelers. When planning and researching a trip, 49% of this group consult a review site, and 89% plan travel activities based on content posted by their peers.

To capitalize on this social behavior, the importance of having a strong social presence can’t be overstated. Instagram and Facebook are especially influential: 87% of Millennial Facebook users say they use the site for travel inspiration, while 40% report ‘Instagrammability’ as the most important factor when they choose their destination.

There are now a host of Facebook features you can use on your hotel page to engage your audience and drive them to your website. Instagram Stories also represent a great way to boost direct bookings. As an example, mobile app travel company Hopper used ads in Instagram Stories and increased booking rates from new users by 80%.

Video content is also hugely influential with Millennials. Check out the glossy ‘Take Three’ short film on the Sixty Hotels website. It’s a great example of a storytelling, lifestyle-driven approach aimed at resonating with the aspirations of its audience.

Social influencer marketing is also becoming huge. High-profile social stars have stronger connections with Millennials than any other generation. Their credibility and influence means they can boost your hotel’s exposure and reputation as brand ambassadors.

Make deals easy to see (and compare)

Millennials have become expert deal hunters on the web. According to a study commissioned by Expedia, almost 90% search for a deal before making a final booking. So your website needs to be designed to meet these price-savvy sensibilities.

First, ensure that your room rates (and any special deals you’re running) are prominently displayed, immediately showing that you’re offering the best deal. Also, be sure that the information you provide is easy to compare to other sites.

For instance, it’s important to consider where your audience is coming from. Does your website only display your prices in EUR when your Millennial researcher is looking in USD? Are you showing a U.S. calendar (where Sunday is the first day of the week) to a German searcher (where Monday is usually first)? Internationalization mistakes like these often derail a direct booking.

In addition, if your rates are in parity with OTAs, try to sweeten the deal by offering rewards for booking direct. Companies like Stay Wanderful allow hotels to add instant rewards to their booking engine, which can dramatically improve conversion rates and booking revenue.

User experience

A clunky online experience frustrates everyone, not just Millennials. A study by Desk.com found that 52% of consumers will abandon an online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer.

That said, Millennials are especially demanding when it comes to technology. They expect information to be easily accessible and simple to find on any device they use. Suffice to say, a hotel website with a poor user experience can lose a lot of direct business.

So what irksome usability issues are to be avoided at all costs? The big ones include:

  • Poor navigation
  • Confusing booking processes
  • Slow page load times
  • Booking widgets that make users enter their reservation dates twice

To iron out issues like these, you could always conduct website usability tests with a group of Millennials. Again, sites such as UserTesting let you refine your audience to a specific demographic, but there are plenty of other ways you can independently recruit users for testing.

Once you’ve got your test group in place, ask them to make a booking from start to finish on your website within a few minutes. If they hesitate or get confused anywhere along the way, you’ve probably already lost them.

Encourage user-generated content

User generated content for travel

As mentioned, Millennials are highly influenced by peer reviews and recommendations. In fact, 84% say user-generated content on websites is what convinces them to make a purchase. They’re also a generation that loves to share—while on vacation, 97% post their trip photos on a social network.

This is where you can leverage all that spontaneous sharing to your advantage. Brands such as W Hotels and Aloft have an Instagram-style gallery on their websites that guests can add to, helping them build strong social proof through user-generated images.

If you want to encourage guests to post their own content on your website, you could offer incentives such as a free drink, or a discount off an evening meal or hotel spa treatment. To spread the word, be sure to promote your Facebook Page or hashtag around the property.

The real value of the Millennial traveler

There’s been plenty written about the importance of Millennial travelers, and for good reason. Overall, they still represent the most valuable demographic to the industry in terms of the amount they travel and spend each year.

But in addition, they’re also helping their Baby Boomer parents research and book travel. So what Millennials want in a booking experience is really what hotels should be focusing on.

As a reminder, here are some of the key ways to increase the chances that this audience books with your hotel direct:

Mobile-friendly site: Your mobile site needs to be quick to load, easy to navigate, and simple to book on. Room and photo information should be prioritized with optimized gallery pages and photos.

Social presence: Having an engaging social presence on your website will help you build social proof and influence a group that relies heavily on the recommendations of their peers.

Deals and discounts: Given the price-savvy sensibilities of Millennials, your website should let them know you’re offering the best price with prominently displayed room rates, deals and offers.

Quality user experience: Millennials are especially intolerant of a poor user experience. Consider user testing your site on a group of Millennials to make sure it passes muster.

Apply these strategies to your website and you’ll instantly improve its ability to engage, inspire, and drive more direct bookings from a customer that’s ready and willing to do so.

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