Contributed by Angelo Directo, V.P. of Application Design & Development, SHR
"The best booking engine features today center around better consistency in everything you do for your hotel guests. It's this kind of consistency that leads to conversions."
—Wendy Norris, Valencia Group
As hotel booking engines offer more and more choices, being able to pick the best of those choices has become more challenging and yet, never more important. According to a recent study from Think with Google, a full two-thirds of Millennials are comfortable using a smartphone to research and book an entire trip, with 64 percent saying that they regularly book a hotel room on a mobile device after shopping on one. With stats like that, making sure your booking engine is all it can be is a must-have in itself.
At a recent webinar featuring Wendy Norris of Valencia Group, and myself, we discussed what the most recent industry reports have determined to be must-haves for your most effective internet booking engine (IBE). Interestingly, the majority of our webinar audience, when polled, reported that they tend to keep their booking engines for more than two years, and the biggest problem seems to be low conversion rates. Considering this, the discussion centered around not only the best features but how to get the best return out of each one.
#1 Responsive Design
It may seem like common knowledge now, but responsive design is still very relevant and will continue to be as mobile bookings continue to grow. You want to make sure that your conversions can happen on multiple devices. This means content that is relevant across all mediums. Wendy suggested that hoteliers look at their own hotel on every device to see what the guests see. Doing so can give you the right perspective for making your best changes and updates, ultimately yielding more conversions.
#2 Reservation "Saved State"
Saved state technology gives you the ability to save guest search results for a later time, saving them from having to re-do the same search later. With SHR, these are features such as Call to Continue™ and Save for Later. Using them not only saves data but also allows that same data to be shared with another decision maker, a spouse, for example, helping to reduce booking abandonment. “We want to make sure the guests don’t waste their time,” Wendy reminded us. “From the perspective of an independent hotelier, we get about half of our reservations through phone calls after they’ve done their research online. So, saving their search results is very important to help them pick up where they left off, and complete their bookings more often.”
It’s all about control when it comes to merchandising. Ask yourself, does your hotel sell rates, or rooms, or an experience? “Whatever you do, it all needs to be consistent,” Wendy explained. “Also, keep things as simple as you can for the guest. Make sure that all your photographs are consistent to the actual room and view.” This is also important because it will help you configure your IBE tech to better follow your needs.
#4 Persuasive Messaging
In a decidedly OTA-friendly world, features like strikethrough, which show immediate savings and value on-screen for the guest, can help you compete in OTA-style. The goal, after all, is to get guests to convert at the moment, so showing true value in that moment is vital. Also, hoteliers need the ability to craft messaging and choose verbiage that suits their target guest audience. “We’ve found that when they can see that strikethrough, they can see and feel that value in real time,” Wendy said. “We get so many more conversions from that one feature alone. It’s definitely a must-have for us.”
#5 Customized Branding
Related to persuasive messaging, you want the user interface to be a seamless experience for your guest. Navigation should blend into your site, not break away from it. To do this, your IBE must share some visual aspects of the hotel website to not jar the guest as they explore. No one wants to feel they’re being redirected out of the hotel website. Again, for Wendy, it’s about consistency. “If you’re using a certain photo in a package, for instance, you want that same photo to show up when they book,” she said. “You want to make sure your guest has a smooth, comfortable experience, no matter where they go on your site.”