The New Age of Online Hotel Reservations
The Power of Online Bookings, Mobile-Friendly Web sites and a Unique User Experience
There’s no question that the Internet has taken center stage as the hotel reservation method of choice worldwide.
As price sensitive vacationers turn to third party reservation systems for the best deal and last minute travelers turn to their mobile phones for on-the-spot hotel bookings, the use of travel agents and dial-in phone reservations continues to rapidly decline.
In an increasingly digital world, it is now second nature for most travelers to start their search for a hotel destination from their PC or mobile device.
The Internet has made it quick and easy for travelers to research properties, read reviews, compare rates and find availability, all from the comfort of their home – or from anywhere for that matter, from their mobile phone, tablet or laptop computer.
More than ever before, independent hotels and chains need to stand out online by customizing their own proprietary channel to attract and maintain loyal guests.
To gain a consistent stream of online room reservations, hotels must offer a web site that focuses on their property’s unique brand, while offering customers the ability to see rate types, room availability and purchase a la carte add-ons or pre-built packages.
These eye-catching, custom sites are vital for independent properties that lack the branding power of large chains. They ultimately result in direct bookings, eliminating 3rd-party fees and thus, increasing revenue.
When looking to develop a unique online experience with the creation of a custom booking engine, hotels should also look past the reservation itself and think about other online functionality, such as e-mail and CRM. A booking engine that can communicate with guests through pre and post-stay e-mail messaging or reservation confirmations is of added benefit to both hotels and their guests.
Internet technology news giant Mashable predicts that 98.3 million travel bookings will be made on the Internet this year.
When looking at the top 30 brands, online hotel bookings accounted for 57 percent of all reservations made in late 2010. That is an increase of 19 percent since 2006 according to an eTRACK report and speaks to the urgency for hotels to get in the game with a custom site that caters to online room reservations.
As online travel reservations have reached their highest peak, smartphones have enabled a new form of Internet-based room booking to step into the spotlight, adding to the complexity of developing a successful Internet marketing strategy.
The use of smartphones for online searches and travel planning is growing at a staggering rate.
A recent study by comScore found that over 50 percent of smartphone users (those with a iPhone, Android, Windows or Blackberry device) had accessed travel-related sites from their phones. Additionally, one in five smartphone users had actually used their device to make a hotel booking or airline reservation.
In 2010, Priceline conducted research that showed 82 percent of those who booked rooms through the Negotiator app on their mobile phone made reservations within one day of arrival and 35 percent were already within a mile of the property booked.
Priceline’s statistics support the theory that mobile bookings and real-time availability should be an increasing focus for hotel marketers.
More recent numbers released by Orbitz this May revealed that smartphone room bookings have continued to increase in popularity.
In a blog post from Orbitz Worldwide CEO, Barney Harford, it was stated that smartphone users make 65 percent of same-day hotel reservations from the Orbitz mobile site. This is in comparison to 14 percent of same-day bookings made from a computer. Speaking further to the growing trend of mobile travel searches is the growth Orbitz mobile web site experienced as visitors doubling from 2.5 million in December of 2011 to 5 million in March 2012.
It is not only the OTAs like Priceline and Orbitz that are experiencing increased mobile traffic, however. Independent hotels and brands are being searched for from smartphones as well.
The deal breaker is that, in order to compete and harness mobile room bookings, hotels must have mobile-friendly web sites that reflect all the pertinent information travelers need, including real time room availability and prices. Creating a simple to navigate, secure mobile site will increase last minute hotel reservations made through smartphones.
All indications are that Internet and smartphone use will only continue to increase in coming years, so savvy hotel marketers are placing an emphasis on developing an online booking channel that works from both PCs and mobile devices.
Greg Thomson is vice president of Sales & Marketing for B4Checkin. In addition to overseeing sales and marketing for B4Checkin, Thomson is a management professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has 15 years of management experience in the hotel industry, including stints as hotel manager at The Westin Nova Scotian and director of rooms for The Prince George Hotel. As director of revenue for Centennial Hotels Ltd., he was B4Checkin’s first customer before joining the company in 2009. Thomson holds a master’s of business administration from Saint Mary’s University. Learn more about B4Checkin at www.b4checkin.com or visit them at HITEC booth #1023.