Hotel Online  Special Report


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 Going Beyond Search Engine Optimization; 
Converting Looks into Bookings

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By Bhanu Chopra, October, 2004

If you are in the business of selling online travel to leisure travelers, you understand the value of Search Engine Optimization for attracting more customers to your website. Though the importance of SEO is relevant, what happens after you do get the customer to your website? It is important to understand their needs and present your product that helps convert the customer. With a rising look-to-book ratio, it is important to convert the looks into bookings.  Estimates suggest currently only 1-2% conversions happen for any SEO or offline marketing campaigns. With the higher cost of acquisition, it is important to get the customer the very first time they visit your website.

In my opinion following are the important factors that can affect retention of your customer and convert more looks into bookings.

Price and Availability – 

Studies by Internet analyst firms Gomez and PhoCusWright, and also by TIA, have all identified price as being one of the key motivating factors that encourages consumers to purchase travel products online. For example, the PhoCusWright study found that competitive pricing is the best way to attract customers. When travelers who haven’t bought online were asked what would encourage them to do so, 64 percent said that saving money would make them more interested. No other benefit — saving time, getting bonus loyalty club points, more control or obtaining better information, came close to this level of response. According to Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, almost six out of 10 leisure travelers now actively seek the "lowest possible price" for travel services. Lastly, a study by the Joint Hospitality Industry Congress found that there is a real expectation among consumers that Internet prices will be lower than those in the "bricks and mortar" world. However, with the advent of multiple online travel giants, the competition is not as much from the “Brick and mortar” companies as it is from competitor websites. On average a leisure traveler visits 3-4 websites before making a purchase.

Perhaps the most important factors in deciding whether a customer lead provided by SEO or other offline marketing channels is going to be converted to a sale or not is PRICE. Not only is important to provide a Low price guarantee labels on your website but to actually conform to those Low Price Guarantees. Though labeling of your website with Low Price Guarantees helps you position yourself as the Lowest Price provider, the ultimate test is to conform to the Low Price Guarantees. This would involve either manually checking competitor websites or a more systematic approach would be to use a technology partner that can help in using their search engine technologies in tracking the price and availability of competitor firms. 

Equally important is the Availability factor.  In order to attract customer loyalty, availability is a key issue. Having  SOLD OUT on your properties does not encourage customers to come back to your site. Also important is to have an adequate number of properties available per star segment. If you are focused on the up market and luxury market segment then it is important to have a sufficient number of 4-5 star properties available on your website. However, if you are targeting the budget market segment, a good collection of 1-3 star properties is required. If you are focusing on the whole market a good representation of all-star segments is essential. 

Affiliates that use travel inventory from one of the big brand websites often do not have control over either the pricing or availability. However, it is important for the affiliates to research the pricing and availability trends for the markets they operate in. Though they cannot control the pricing, the affiliates can look at sourcing travel inventory from multiple other travel intermediaries.

One Stop Shop V/s Specialize in Airfares or Hotels - 

The big brands in online travel have been emphasizing on packaging especially dynamically packaging. They can however do this because of their big size and the ability to negotiate directly with the travel suppliers. There is no doubt that the packaging is preferred by both the online brands as well as the customers and thus making it a win-win situation for both. However for the smaller online websites that focus on either certain segment of the marketplace or focus on a geography – providing a one-stop shop could not justify the incremental costs. In order to make a business case your incremental costs should be substantiated with over and above incremental revenues. 

Layout and Content

It is important to have a third party conduct a usability study on your website to judge the layout and content on your website. It is important to have relevant and updated content on the travel inventory. Equally important is to ensure a simple, straightforward booking process. Going through multiple pages is sometimes tedious and can lead to the customer being distracted and exiting your site. 

Inclusive or Exclusive Rates

A number of websites today show exclusive rates when you first search for a hotel on their website. It is after 2nd or 3rd page that you see the total amount that is due for a hotel room night including taxes and service charges. There are sites such as OctopusTravel and Hotelopia that do provide all-inclusive rates on the first page itself. In my opinion, including all-inclusive rates is a better strategy because of the following

  1. Inclusive rates are easier to navigate, compare and understand. In case of Exclusive rates, the user might have to navigate through multiple pages to get to the final rate.
  2. Exclusive rate can confuse the user and eventually result in loss of patronage. With the inclusive rates, they are easier to understand and there is no guesswork involved in understanding the total charges for the room.
Summary

Once you have the customer to your website, it is important you do everything in your power to convert the look to book on your site. An effective SEO campaign should be managed by an effective customer conversion strategy using above methods.

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Bhanu Chopra is the CEO of RateGain. RateGain provides Internet based competitive pricing intelligence to the global travel industry. The mission is to deliver a comprehensive view of Internet based travel airfare and hotel-rates information to travel portals, airlines, hotel chains, travel inventory consolidators and travel industry related market research firms. The availability of this market intelligence enables our customers to reach their price-decisions faster and remain ahead of the market by deciding appropriate sales strategies. This in turn helps our customers increase their sales and enhance efficiency of Internet as the preferred and low-cost medium of transaction. For more information visit www.rategain.com or email bchopra@rategain.com.

 
Contact:
Bhanu Chopra
1-800-525-0301
bchopra@rategain.com
Also See: Internet Based Rates Monitoring Services from eMark Services Relaunched as RateGain / April 2004


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