More and more travelers prefer to make their hotel (or flight, or car) reservations directly on the brand’s website—direct bookings outnumber aggregator bookings three-to-one. Although the big online aggregators still offer highly-competitive prices and decent customer service, seasoned travelers are changing their booking habits. While most travelers are still conducting their primary research on an aggregator site, they are increasingly turning to the brand itself once they’re prepared to book.
This is of course a positive development for brands in the travel space: more choices make for better offerings. The reason travelers still do much of their research through aggregators? Finding a hotel (or car, or flight) directly on provider web sites is kind of like grocery shopping in a foreign country: eventually, you’re likely to find the type of cheese you like, but the process is confusing, things aren’t where you expect them to be, and the results don’t always taste as expected.
Why is it that the big aggregators are doing the search for information so much better, and what do hotel chains need to improve? The why is easy—aggregators have always been online operations. They’ve been around longer and have more experience. The what? Turns out, there’s a lot that can be done to improve the direct booking experience on hotel chain sites. I’m not talking about major site overhauls, but relatively simple steps that hotel brands can take now in order to make a big difference.
By way of example, here are five concrete fixes that hotel chains can make to better compete with the big aggregators. Because in today’s digital travel space, customer experience is the true differentiator.
Quick Fix No. 1: Let them compare
The beauty of the hotel chain is the spectrum of pricing and availability options for any given vicinity. Make sure that when a traveler searches for a room in your mid-level Cleveland facility, you show them results from all area hotels, across all your brands. Perhaps they’ll go for a higher-price room in a different hotel if the price difference sounds reasonable. Either way, they’ll certainly be impressed by of the richness of your offering.
Quick Fix No. 2: Currency of choice
More and more consumer-facing sites offer prices in the shopper’s local currency, which makes comparison shopping much easier. Let your visitors choose their currency, then retain this information throughout the session and in future sessions. Another point: when facing a long alphabetical list of currency options, users get lost. Offer a “Most Popular” short list that includes the major international currencies (USD, Euro, GBP, etc.) and the currency of the user’s current locale based on simple geo-location.
Quick Fix No. 3: Search again
Travel booking is an iterative process. Almost no one books based on the results of their first search. Make the “Search Again” option prominent and clear. Don’t annoy travelers by making them reenter information—there’s no technical challenge in retaining information already entered, and this speaks volumes about how much you value their time.
Quick Fix No. 4: Show date range pricing
Much leisure travel is flexible travel, with decisions taken based on fluctuating prices. The smarter aggregators capitalize on this by offering a “show prices X days before and after” or a “flexible dates” option in their search results. This is information you have readily available. Demonstrate your commitment to traveler economy by volunteering it.
Quick Fix No. 5: More robust search
Often a traveler will type in the name of a landmark (e.g. “Champs-Elysees” or “Dulles Airport”) rather than a city, or simply misspell a search term. Search has come a long way. There is no technical reason to return a “No hotels found, please try again” message. A large percentage of visitors won’t try again. They’ll simply switch over to a site that intuits their needs better. Try implementing a Google-powered search engine on your site, or find another search option that can offer a Google-like user experience.
As the ultimate beneficiaries of online sales, hotels have a vested interest in bringing the user experience on their sites in line with the consumer expectations created by the big aggregators. By doing so, hotel chains can grow more profitable direct sales, enhance overall brand perception, and raise traveler satisfaction.
About the Author
As a Customer Experience Consultant at Clicktale, Jonathan uses the Clicktale solution to go beyond traditional traffic analytics to analyze and understand actual visitor behavior and user experience. He works closely with industry-leading customers to optimize and increase online ROI and achieve their business goals.