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Is Your Site Hospitable?

5 Simple Strategies You Can Use to Improve the
Customer Experience and Dramatically Boost Conversion

This article is from the Fall 2009 issue of Hospitality Upgrade magazine.To view more articles covering technology for the hospitality industry please visit the Hospitality Upgrade Web site or to request a free publication please call (678) 802-5307 or e-mail.
by Claude Guay

Chances are, as a hospitality company, you run a sophisticated reservation Web site that drives a large portion of your business. After all, the hospitality industry was full of e-commerce pioneers, launching some of the first fully transactional Web sites in the late ‘90s. The only problem is 40 percent of people who come to your site with the intention of booking a room leave without making a reservation – and it’s not just because they’re shopping for a cheaper rate. The largest grouping of would-be bookers abandon your site due to a technical problem.

In a recent study of over 123,000 visitors on hundreds of hospitality sites, iPerceptions found that only 60 percent of visitors with a stated purpose of visit of making a reservation actually completed one; this statistic didn’t measure the conversion rate of all visitors, just the one-third of visitors who said their intention was to book a room. What’s more, 41 percent of the would-be bookers abandoned the reservation process because of a usability problem with the booking engine or a technical/navigation issue–compared to just 29 percent who abandoned the reservation process because of price or to continue looking.

These figures are eye-opening. While price obviously plays a large role in whether a person completes a reservation or not, it’s not as crucial as many hospitality companies think. In fact, the main reason 40 percent of your highly-intentioned customers are not completing a reservation is because of technical glitches and frustration with booking engines.

The good news is these issues are relatively easy to fix. You can dramatically boost conversion by making the booking process easier, more compelling, and more interactive – and here are several tips to get you started.

1.  Ask your customers why.

2.  Take a second look at site analytics.

3.  Conduct focus groups on site usability.

4.  Get social.

5.  Re-architect your booking system.
 
Ask your customers why. At a minimum present customers with a simple, three or four question survey asking them the purpose of their visit, whether they were able to easily complete that task, and inviting them to give open-ended feedback about their site experience (see www.4qsurvey.com). You may be surprised at what your customers want, and how often your site fails to meet their basic needs.

Take a second look at site analytics. You’re probably already using a behavioral analytics platform like Google Analytics, Omniture or Webtrends, but have you ever reviewed this behavioral data (the what) with an eye to understand the why behind the clicks? Combine analytics data with open-ended customer feedback to get an accurate picture of not just where people are dropping out of the reservation process, but why.

Conduct focus groups on site usability. It’s time to take a good hard look at your site. Does it present an outdated, hard-to-navigate interface that puts people off from the start? Is your booking engine linked too closely with your back-end reservation system, making the booking process clunky and inflexible? These are common problems for many sites first developed in the late 1990s, so it’s probably time for a usability overhaul. Unlike 10 years ago, today your site is likely not an intentional destination; roughly 56 percent of visitors arrive via a search engine. Your site needs to wow these drive-by visitors on first glance and then offer comprehensive features to keep them there all the way through to reservation.
 
Get social. One of the most surprising findings of the study was that while only 6 percent of visitors to hospitality Web site arrived from another Web site link and 2 percent of visitors arrive through “a link sent by a friend,” 75 percent of these visitors completing their intended tasks vs. just 55 percent of those coming from an e-mail campaign and 61 percent of those arriving through a search engine. Tap into the power of social interaction and your local business and tourism ecosystem to drive bookings. Make sure your site offers features such as user ratings and reviews or a guest blog where people can share stories or upload photos of their trip. Get a Facebook and Twitter presence, and use buzz monitoring tools to see who’s talking about your brand, what they’re saying, and who’s sharing your site links with whom. Engaging consumers in an open, ongoing conversation will drive traffic to your site and build customer confidence in your brand.

Re-architect your booking system. OK, so this isn’t as easy as adding a blog or making the homepage look pretty, but it’s crucial to boosting bookings. The first timers are not pleased with their experience and there are a lot of them these days. Whether they are mature and attracted by the promise of finding value on the Internet or they grew up with the Internet, you need to re-build your booking engine to make it completely intuitive to today’s comparison-shopping, review-reading, socially-connected consumer.
Create a booking engine that gives people ample information to make an informed choice, and also allows them to get answers to their questions in real time (“Is just one free aquarium pass included in the room price?”, or, “Is there free Wi-Fi in the room?”). During the booking process, allow people to read consumer-generated reviews in real-time, engage in live chat with booking agents, scroll through detailed photos, click on information about local sites and restaurants, and anything else that will give them the information they need to make a reservation based not just on price, but on overall value.
 
Visitors to hospitality sites know what they want; a simple experience offering complete information and transparency so they can make a reservation easily and in full confidence. And they want a Web site that works. It might seem simple, but few hospitality sites have delivered this Holy Grail. Why not be an e-commerce pioneer, once again, and truly listen to your customers?





Claude Guay is the president and CEO at iPerceptions. A widely recognized expert in travel-related ecommerce and technology publications, Guay has served as a speaker at many travel industry conferences, including Online Revealed, PhoCusWright, ResExpo, TravelCom, marcus evans, Travel Industry Association of Canada and multiple IATA events.

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Contact:

Geneva Rinehart 
Managing Editor 
Hospitality Upgrade Magazine 
and the Hospitality Upgrade.com website
www.hospitalityupgrade.com/
grinehart@hospitalityupgrade.com

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Also See: Aligning Digital E-commerce, Distribution, IT, Revenue Management, Sales, Operations and Marketing Objectives / David Atkins / December 2009

Sales 3.0 Technology; Key to New Business Development in 2010 & Beyond / Carol Verret / December 2009

Hospitality Upgrade Magazine Surveyed Hospitality Industry's Top Technology Leaders at Annual CIO Summit With Intriguing Results / October 2009

Hospitality Upgrade Magazine Reports Record-Breaking Attendance for Annual Meeting of Hospitality Industry's Top Technology Leaders; The eighth annual CIO Summit will be held September 9-11, 2009 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts / August 2009

Twitter or Not to Twitter; Time Waster or Lead Generator? / Cindy Estis Green / August 2009

Clean Up Your (Server) Room! And find some immediate cost saving hiding in plain sight / Lyle Worthington / July 2009

Marketing to the Cell Phone Generation / Bill Geoghegan / July 2009
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