When I first started coming to hotel conferences, I was always taken aback by how many exhibiting companies promised to drive direct sales, while OTAs were racking up historic results.
That’s because, as hoteliers, we don’t think about the world from an e-commerce point of view, and we’ve used systems and companies where we dictated what we would like, rather than focusing on what actually works. Usually, though, what works best is that which is natural: if someone was to ring you up, and ask to make a booking for the best price, saying that he’s got the other hotel reservation department on the line, I guarantee you wouldn’t ask him 20 questions about his address, whether he’d considered the special flower spread package. No, you’d just want to convert them, right then and there and take their details.
And yet, I’ve sat there, at these conferences, watching people get sold on the idea that somehow customer interaction is different and that having a comprehensive website with lots of package opportunities makes you ready to fight internet marketers.
We never realised this at first, but the truism about the internet making people feel impatient hold true, and you see that discomfort with every second of loading time and every tick of a box with options. Netizens may be people too, but they are less patient than they are on the phone, and much less than when they are speaking to someone in person. It’s almost as if the more impersonal the process is, the less willing you are to wait. Of course, this makes sense, you’re not going to turn around and walk away from someone accosting you on the street, but you will do if that “person” is just a screen on your laptop and you will always do so when that screen is a flickering mobile screen.
Similarly, while it is good to ask questions for clarity and to encourage a narrative flow, too many screens asking too many questions in turn asking one to buy something they haven’t thought of buying, just don’t work. You’re introducing questions for sales’ sake, not in order to get the sale done as quickly as possible. For example, to this day, airlines try to gain extra revenue by taking you through multiple screens asking whether you would like to buy insurance, extra leg-room etc etc. Now, many of you will have heard how much these extra services convert - yes, but as opposed to what? As opposed to you having no upsells before? I agree that the buying of a ticket represents a better opportunity to offer extra baggage allowance on said ticket, but why not offer this at a more narrative/contextual moment? Perhaps on the day when the person is scheduled to leave and are thinking of what to bring..? Perhaps with a better offer you may not want to just cram everything into your tiny carry-on suitcase..?
The point about conversions online, is that they will only happen if you go out of your way not to introduce moments of doubt or data-entry fatigue (“Oh, I have to go and get my passport for this part? Urgh, well, maybe I should just do the booking on…”), just like in real life. The more you treat your online space as if it were a conversation, the more bookings you will receive, and that is also why you should be looking at what your overall conversion is on all of your online channels and learn from where it is perhaps higher (for example, are you experiencing better conversion on Expedia than your own pages? Is your proposition lacking in clarity?).
The point is, however, that this is all an art form, one that can be expanded upon and improved with rigorous testing, but still there is no one-size-fits-all (which is why, unlike other booking engine providers, we provide a completely open API so that you can build your own booking engine if you would so wish). You should be mindful that if your website is too slick, it is also forgettable - friction creates fuller memories. One of our favourite concepts/brands that we’ve come across in the past few years is a hotel in Berlin. If you open their website and try and make a booking, it’s a bloody difficult process - which is the point: the idea is almost to bring about a process whereby you find it easier to email the hotel directly than finish the booking. By restricting their availability on other channels, email is currently most productive OTA - and, as I mentioned above, a conversation is still the best way to turn lookers to bookers and the most effective way to sell your services to a customer.