Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Online Booking Fails Consumers

A thought provoking report came into our inbox this morning - American research granted but has much resonance with our sector in Scotland too.

The key points jumped out at me as I read them.

  1. According to a recent study conducted by Merrill Lynch, online bookings as a share of total reservations increased from 30% in 2006 to 40% in 2008. The same study projects that 45% of hotel bookings will be made online by the year 2010.
  2. Booking is the leading preoccupation of hotel website visitors. In this way, hospitality websites face a basket of challenges not dissimilar to mainline e-commerce sites: optimising the transactional experience for visitors who are onsite to book and ensuring that researchers and rate shoppers are efficiently shepherded down the booking funnel.
  3. Industry analysts expect a measurable slowdown in travel this year, as both business and leisure consumers forego travel plans to save money.
  4. Looking ahead, those who do travel will no doubt change their booking habits – specifically, they will wait until the last minute to book in order to obtain the best prices, combing through the online brokerage sites to shave valuable dollars off room rates. Cost sensitivity is already having a negative impact on hospitality website satisfaction scores. The two weakest attributes in the sector pertained directly to price and perceived sense of value.
  5. Only 51% of bookers were capable of completing their tasks. While some of the reasons underpinning this low rate might have been outside the purview of the web experience, significant numbers of bookers reported problems with site navigation, the booking flow, and insufficient hotel/room information, all of which fall squarely on the plate of interactive marketers and website developers.

The report goes on to say that to counteract this, hotel websites will need to focus on better engaging and persuading visitors at incipient stages of the booking cycle.

The research indicated that 50% of website visitors were onsite for the first time and thus not acclimatised to the site navigation, architecture, and functionality. Hotel websites struggled to effectively cater to this segment reflected in lower conversion rates.

To boost their efficiency in a troubled economic climate, hotel websites will need to focus on delivering simpler, more intuitive site navigation, a streamlined booking process, and more robust content, supplemented with better pictures and more lifelike virtual tours.

Ian McCaig from Bookassist Scotland who provide the booking engine to an increasing number of accommodation providers across Scotland was not surprised at the findings, "A website requires three key elements; it must not only reflect the accommodation providers product graphically, it must also be able to be found by the potential traveller but most importantly it must be readily bookable. The booking engine must be easy to understand and navigate through at all stages - and this really must include language and currency options aimed at the increasing numbers of overseas markets visiting the UK.

Bookassist has recognised that conversion rates can only be maintained by making the Booking process user friendly. Creating unnecessary barriers such as frames linking out to other websites, or offering competitive product or no room descriptions only leads to the customer hitting the X button and closing down the process."

Ian McCaig continued, "The percentages however should be sobering to the accommodation provider and really should ensure that they look critically at the booking process on their own website;

  • more than 1/3rd of the site visitors were on the site to book

  • more than 50% failed to do so

In raw numbers? For every thousand site visitors to a website as many as 175 wanted to book but gave up! Hoteliers have to ensure that the booking process they offer is built around the convenience of the site visitor and not simply because the process comes with a PMS system or as an add on to third party distribution products. When deciding on how their bookings are offered the hotelier must make this the first box to be ticked; all else comes after."

You can get more information on Bookassist Booking Engine by clicking the link

Read the full iPerceptions Report here

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