By Margaret Mastrogiacomo, VP Strategy
This article is part four in a five-part series that uncovers top strategies for reaching potential guests in meaningful moments throughout every stage of the travel planning journey to increase direct bookings. This article focuses on the fourth stage of travel planning: the booking phase.
Finally, after the daydreaming, advice-seeking, and travel planning comes to an end, the long-awaited moment arrives where travelers are ready to book. This is the moment of truth where your hotel brand must not only be present, but compelling enough to win the direct booking.
Below we explore the booking phase of our five-part series, “How to Capitalize on the Full Travel Planning Journey to Drive Direct Bookings”, to understand how hotel marketers can win the booking during this stage of the online travel journey. We will uncover what online behaviors are most common in this phase, what marketing channels are most effective, and how to measure success.
How does the booking phase take shape?
The booking phase is when consumers have narrowed down their accommodation options and are ready to commit to one. Google refers to the micro-moments throughout this phase as “Lets-Book-It” moments, where consumers’ have decided on the location as well as the brand they want to book with.
According to Google, in this stage, 94% of leisure travelers switch between devices as they plan or book a trip. In these cross-device moments, people often search for "[brand name] + [location]." And, in fact, almost half of these searches happen on mobile.
Mobile bookings are on the rise.
Google also reports that travelers aren’t just researching on mobile, mobile bookings are also increasing. 31% of leisure travelers say they've booked travel on a mobile device, while an even higher percentage of these mobile bookings came from business travelers at 53%. Yet, while mobile bookings are steadily growing, the question remains: while living our lives on a mobile device has become second nature, why are a majority of hotel bookings still happening on desktop?
Mobile may rise, but desktop still wins.
As much as mobile research and bookings have grown, the majority of travelers, especially those traveling for leisure, still book on desktop. Yet, we can’t ignore the role mobile plays throughout the journey. 46% of travelers state that they make their hotel decision on mobile but then move to another device to book.
So, why the hesitation? Fear of not finding the best rate on mobile, and overall mobile booking limitations. 69% of leisure travelers worry that they're not finding the best price or making the best decision, while more than half of consumers switch to desktop to double-check hotel prices.
Not only do hotel brands face travelers switching devices, they also risk losing customers to competitors or OTAs. According to a study with Ipsos Connect, 88% of travelers with smartphones would switch to another site or app if yours doesn't satisfy their needs—that’s a tough statistic to swallow after being there throughout every phase of their journey. In light of this, it cannot be stressed enough that a fully-responsive website with a seamless booking experience across devices is not only a must, it can be a serious deal-breaker.
What digital touchpoints are making an impact throughout the booking phase?
It’s no secret that reaching potential guests in crucial micro-moments throughout the booking phase is the final step in winning the direct booking. In the booking phase alone, a travel consumer can encounter up to 700 digital travel touchpoints, conduct over 52 searches, and consider up to 8 accommodation brands prior to booking. But, throughout these digital touchpoints where exactly are these crucial “lets-book-it” micro-moments?
A study conducted by Think with Google has confirmed that the majority of time spent throughout the booking phase is:
- Maps: 41%
- Flight Provider: 18%
- Hotel Provider: 14%
- Car Provider: 10%
- Google Search: 7%
- OTA: 6%
- Credit Card Rewards: 2%
- Lifestyle: 2%
- Social: .4%
With almost half of research taking place on search engines and maps, having a strong search strategy throughout the booking phase should be a top priority. Utilizing top travel ad networks that capitalize on first-party travel planning data from flight providers and OTAs (a combined total of 24% of time spent) is also crucial in this phase. Time spent on OTAs can seem misleading as we know that OTAs typically make up a large portion of a hotel’s distribution strategy. This breakdown of time spent can simply reveal that while a majority of time goes to the official hotel website, search, and maps; due to loyalty, user-experience, and lack of rate parity, the OTAs can still ultimately win the booking.
What type of content are travelers looking for in the booking phase?
During the booking phase, travel planners are typically searching for websites and resources they have already visited in the planning phase to follow through on their booking decision. The most common searches in this phase are keywords surrounding the hotel brand in both search and Google images:
- [Hotel Brand] [Destination]
- Images of [Hotel Brand]
- [Hotel Brand] [Neighborhood]
It’s important to own your branded keyword terms in the booking phase to not only accommodate these top searches as potential guests attempt to revisit your website but to ensure you are present in the top position against OTAs.
The best marketing mix to reach travelers in the booking phase:
SEO with a Focus on Hotel Brand Name and Accommodations: While accommodations pages play a key role in the planning phase and narrowing down the hotel decision, it’s even more important to feature well-optimized accommodation pages on your hotel website in the booking phase. Be sure to include hotel schema and rich descriptions of your room types and amenities, and ideally, each room type should have its own dedicated landing page within your accommodations section. To ensure your room types are prominently displayed as soon as potential guests visit your site, showcase room types on your homepage. HEBS Digital offers a Rooms Showcase Module that allows hotels to display room types in a highly-visual, engaging way that puts a spotlight on room amenities, room size, views, and more. Each room type also has its own dedicated image gallery to better aid travelers in finalizing the booking decision.
Branded and location keyword terms should also be an SEO focus to ensure you are dominating SERPs for common searches regarding your hotel brand.
SEM with a Focus on Branded Keyword Terms, RLSA, and In-Market Audiences for Search: With up to 52 searches conducted on search engines throughout the booking phase, showing up for the right keywords at the right time can make or break your strategy. Hotel name combined with your hotel location like “[Hotel Name] + [Location]” or other branded search terms such as “Images of [Hotel Name]” are some of the top searches in this phase. Be sure that search ads for these top keywords are linking to highly relevant landing pages to ensure a high Google Quality Score which will achieve more cost-effective CPCs.
Implementing Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) is also an effective strategy to reach potential guests who have already been to your hotel website and have shown interest with more relevant and tailored messaging throughout search results. Consider implementing this on branded search terms so your ad copy can be personalized to acknowledge that the potential guest has already been to your website and welcome them back. By utilizing this targeting strategy, you can also bid more for a higher position in search results since you know this qualified audience is potentially more likely to book.
In-Market Audiences for Search, which is currently available for the Google Display Network and YouTube campaigns, will soon be available for search campaigns. In-Market Audiences will allow your search campaign strategy to target users based on intent signals such as recent search queries and website browsing activity. This targeting option for search ads will make it even easier and cost-effective for hotels to reach potential guests with intent to book.
Google Display Network & Remarketing: With millions of websites, news pages, blogs, and Google websites like Gmail and YouTube, the Google Display Network reaches 90% of Internet users worldwide, and similar to the planning phase, GDN continues to play an influential role in the booking phase. With an effective remarketing strategy, your hotel brand can continue to be present at key touchpoints throughout the booking phase that inspires potential guests to take action and help you win the direct booking.
Travel Ad Networks & Dynamic Rate Marketing: Travel Ad Networks that utilize first-party data from travel planning websites such as airlines, OTAs, and other travel planning resources are a great way to reach potential guests during the booking phase in key moments of intent. These display networks allow you to reach users during the travel planning process to your destination with personalized messaging and targeting based on the dates, destination, and price points travel planners are researching.
Dynamic Rate Marketing display ads take this first-party travel intent data to the next level by allowing your hotel brand to display the best available rate in real-time for the exact arrival date a user searched for in your hotel’s destination. This is one of the best ways to reach potential guests with useful rates and information at the exact moment they exhibit travel intent to your hotel’s destination.
Email Marketing: Email marketing is your brand’s opportunity to make potential guests an offer they can’t refuse. What better time than the booking phase to send an email? Email marketing is one of the best ways to reach potential guests that have already established a relationship with your brand and to reach guests that may have already stayed and enjoyed your hotel. Email segmentation and personalized offers are key to success, as well as combining email with other marketing strategies. For instance, many top display and travel ad networks can provide an email remarketing pixel that allows you to retarget people who opened your email campaign but have yet to book. These display ads will keep your brand present throughout the travel planning journey long-after email engagement to help win the booking.
Facebook Dynamic Ads for Travel: Facebook Dynamic Ads for Travel allow hotels to retarget people on Facebook and Instagram who have displayed intent by visiting the hotel website and initiating a booking. The ads are highly relevant and personalized and can feature dynamic copy and room rates that automatically populate based on the traveler's dates searched, destination, and other details of their trip. With the average person spending up to 50 minutes a day Facebook, this is a great place to reach potential guests directly in their social newsfeeds to better influence the booking decision.
Multichannel Campaigns: While a well-planned multichannel campaign will reach potential guests throughout every phase of the travel planning journey with one cohesive message, the power of these marketing initiatives and phases combined are critical in the booking phase to win the direct booking. A successful multichannel campaign answers the five W’s of any great narrative: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
Reservation Abandonment: Once you’ve invested in key marketing initiatives and multichannel campaigns to nurture potential guests through the booking funnel, you have one mission: don’t lose the booking. With less than 3% of website visitors ever committing to a booking, reservation abandonment technology plays an important role in winning back the booking if a visitor decides to abandon the booking process. Compelling messaging that ensures a best rate guarantee or even a perk or offer to “sweeten the deal” if they book direct can be a highly effective way to win back your customer.
Measuring the Booking Phase: Getting to the Bottom Line.
In the booking phase, it should be no surprise that KPIs are revenue-driven metrics with a focus on impacting your bottom line. Top metrics include:
- Click-through rate
- Bookings Initiated
- Cost of Sale (COS)
- Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)
- Conversion Rate
- Incremental Revenue
Overall, making an impact on travel consumers in the booking phase is your last chance to win the booking. No pressure. Your hotel brand should be present throughout as many meaningful moments of intent in the booking phase as possible, and there’s no better time to be there, be useful, and be compelling.