Last month, we held a webinar about how hotels can better optimize their hotel websites to adapt to the fast-changing world of e-commerce today. Surprisingly, many hotels haven’t adapted their websites to fit the needs of today’s digitally-savvy travelers. In contrast, OTAs have been incredibly successful in capturing bookings and growing their share of the market.
In this webinar, Steffan Berelowitz (VP of Digital Platforms) and Tristan Heaword (Director of Digital Marketing) from Travel Tripper discussed strategies in web design, conversion optimization, and digital marketing to help hotels efficiently increase direct bookings. You can access a full recording of the webinar by clicking below. We’ve also compiled a list of the top takeaways from our discussion.
Are hotels asking the right questions?
When it comes to hotel websites, many hoteliers look for best practices from the industry. What are the best hotel websites? Which ones have the best designs? But that’s only half the story. When it comes to your website, the questions you should be asking aren’t just about aesthetics. Hotels need to be asking about function as well: Which hotel websites produce the highest direct bookings? Which have the highest conversion rates? That should serve as the focus of how you design and build your website.
E-commerce and its influence on travel
The explosive growth of e-commerce within the last decade has sparked a revolutionary change in how we think about and measure hotel website performance. There’s already a lot we can learn from e-commerce leaders like Amazon and Netflix, as well as travel e-commerce brands like Expedia, Booking.com, Priceline, and TripAdvisor.
In recent years especially, the evolution of technology has changed the buying and booking habits of consumers. OTAs have become trusted brands with immense power, and over the years, hotels have become increasingly dependent on them for business. It is only in recent years that hotels have realized that by improving their own websites and booking engines and capturing more direct business, they can lessen this dependency on third-party bookings.
Brochureware vs. e-commerce sites
Many hotel websites still work on an outdated model that we term as “brochureware”—essentially a web version of what a printed brochure may look like. The idea of brochureware speaks to the fact that many hotels focus more on aesthetics than on e-commerce functionality and user experience.
For one, there is currently a massive division between the hotel website and booking engine on most sites. The two typically run on different platforms with very minimal integration between the two. It’s almost like having two separate sites under one URL—and the difference can be confusing to consumers as they browse the websites.
Another big issue is designing for mobile. Hotels have been slow to adopt practices such as responsive design. Now that half of all hotel website traffic comes through a touchscreen device, it’s more important than ever that hotel websites are adapted to screens of all sizes.
When designing websites, hotels need to focus on their primary target users, which is prospective travelers, and think about things from their perspective. What information do they need to make a purchasing decision? Have we provided the information in a way that is easy for the traveler to find? All of this goes into crafting the user experience of a website.
Hotels should always be testing their hotel websites on user experience in order to make continual improvements. Some tools that can help out with that:
- UserTesting.com — can pay to have test users visit your website, review it, and share feedback with you
- Craigslist — use this tool to recruit random testers to look at your site; great for conducting interviews
- Inspectlet — use this tool to record actual users browsing your site; this helps you gain valuable insights on how users navigate
Modern hotel website features
There are now a number of tools available to hoteliers to help them bolster the function of their website. For example, to bridge the divide that current exists between the website and booking engine, you can now integrate live rates on the website that update dynamically from the CRS. For example, you can show tonight’s rate on the homepage and rooms pages so that travelers no longer have to perform availability searches if they are just browsing. Or display the number of recent reservations made to create the perception of scarcity and popularity.
Cross-promotion of offers is also an important element of e-commerce sites. This includes adding integrating special offers and rates throughout various pages of the site. By adding dynamic content that updates automatically on strategic areas of the site, you make it easier for users to find information and make quicker buying decisions.
Mobile changing the way we book and travel
Conversion rates for travel sites on mobile have grown 88% in the last few years, showing how much more comfortable consumers are with purchasing travel on mobile. People now begin aspirational journeys mostly on their mobile devices —they’re used frequently albeit briefly in “snacking moments” (a Google travel study reference) to find information about a destination and research flights and hotels.
While this speaks to the importance of using responsive design for hotel websites, it’s also important to note that hotels also need to shorten the booking flow on mobile in order to increase conversions. Mobile users behave differently than desktop users; their decision-making processes are quicker and they are often last-minute users.
Integrating conversion techniques used by OTAs
OTAs are successful because all they have to worry about it getting people to book on their site. They don’t have the overhead costs of hotels, and they certainly aren’t the ones who have to worry about inventory on a day-to-day basis. Because of that, they’ve become masters at conversion.
For example, an OTA site will employ many psychological techniques on their sites that subtly push a consumer to book. They’ll use strike-out pricing to make a hotel look like a deal (even when it isn’t). They give easy access to ratings and reviews to help consumers vet hotels without having to leave the site. They’ll also target a consumer based on previous searches to help make recommendations on where to go or what to search for next.
Hotels can easily adopt some of these techniques and put them on their own sites; there are a number of ways that hotels can create a sense of urgency and get people to book.
The role of digital marketing in e-commerce
Having a website isn’t enough—if you build one, it doesn’t mean the people will come.Having a solid digital marketing strategy is a crucial accompaniment to any hotel website. The question all hotel marketers should be asking is, “how do I get the right person at the right time to my website?”
This is done through a number of marketing channels: SEO, PPC search marketing, ad retargeting, metasearch link placement, social media marketing, and more. It’s important to work with the right specialists who can help your hotel identify the right target markets and audiences, bid strategically for the right keywords, and craft ad copy that is going to get more click-throughs.
Just as importantly, digital marketing is not a set-and-forget process. It’s important to review the data and analytics, make adjustments where necessary, and build on previous results. Always test ideas to see what works best.
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