Although this insightful presentation was released in late 2013, it’s worth revisiting… or visiting for the first time for some. As Google states on the second slide, they wanted to know the following: “How have the attitudes and behaviors of leisure and business travelers changed over the past year?” Well, here are six ways travelers have changed over the past year, and what your property can do to capitalize (i.e. better reach, engage and convert these “changed” travel shoppers in the form of direct website revenue):
1. 65% of travelers book travel directly on company sites more often than via online travel agencies (OTAs), up 11% over 2012.
What does this mean for your hotel? In short, this results in an increase in your more profitable website direct bookings, and a decrease in your less profitable (thanks to commission fees) OTA bookings. When hotel marketers say “shift share to your most profitable channel,” this is precisely what they mean. It’s perhaps the most important part of any property’s online marketing strategy. Of course there’s a catch – it’s MANDATORY that you have a modern website with strong search rankings, so that travel shoppers can actually find your site first. The fact that more shoppers prefer to book directly on company sites is partially a testament to the efforts properties and their hotel Internet marketing partners have put in over the years, especially efforts centered on proper search marketing (like focusing on themes, instead of individual keywords) and website design and usability best practices
2. Price is the #1 factor when selecting lodging.
Based on the range of travel shopper budgets—and other factors like property type, location, etc. - your property will sometimes automatically be included in or excluded from a shoppers’ group of choices. If your property is the right type and in the right location, you do have some control with pricing. Have you recently compared your rates to your comp set? Are you competitively priced? Depending on your OTA contracts, do you have the lowest (or at least close to the lowest) advertised rate on your direct website, so that you prevent shoppers from quickly running to an OTA to book? Do you run promotions during off or shoulder seasons? There are countless pricing strategies that can improve your key performance indicators.
3. 60% of leisure travelers and 53% of business travelers rely on search engines.
This is NOT shocking, or even new, but should continue to be a point of emphasis. The bottom line is that you can have the most beautiful and engaging website in the industry, but if travel shoppers can’t find it, it’s worthless! And how are the bulk of those shoppers finding your direct— also known as independent or vanity—website (their preferred location for booking according to #1 in this article)? Search engines, namely Google and Bing (per Search Engine Land, Google currently has 2/3’s of the market share). And it’s simply not sufficient to have a one-time setup approach to search engine optimization (SEO). Professional, ongoing SEO that adheres to Google’s algorithm updates, researches trends in themed searches, understands the impact Google+ has on the first search engine results page, and realizes how SEO and pay-per-click advertising work in concert is 100% imperative. No questions asked.
4. 42% of leisure travelers and 55% of business travelers read reviews.
It’s actually surprising that these numbers are not higher. Unless I’ve stayed at a hotel previously, I read reviews before every booking. So do my all friends and family members. Travel shoppers put a high value in earned media, such as reviews... it’s less corporate website copy from the hotel and more honest opinions from their peers. First, you have to monitor your review and other social media mentions with one of several programs available. Second, you have to promptly, sympathetically and tactfully reply to ALL of your negative reviews and some of your positive reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp in order to show travelers you genuinely care. No one is a better authority on this matter than Daniel Edward Craig.
5. 25% of travelers book hotel rooms on smartphones.
Do you have a separate mobile website that displays when visitors are on smartphones? Or do you have a fully responsive design that renders well across all devices? If not, you’re behind the times. Travelers are increasingly researching and booking rooms on both smartphones and tablets. As they get more comfortable with the security and usability of these devices, 25% is going to be 50% before we know it. You must have a mobile solution that is condensed enough so that it’s easy to use, yet still provides ample information so that travelers can make a purchase decision. And make sure your website experience is seamless across all screens, as shoppers often jump from one screen to another in various patterns, from the beginning to the end of their purchase process.
6. 51% of leisure travelers and 69% of business travelers watch online travel videos.
Internet users enjoy consuming information through a variety of means, including, and often preferring, video. And they’re not just watching 30 seconds of a video in the planning stages; they’re utilizing it throughout the purchase funnel, from planning to booking. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you can say the same about a video’s worth to travel shoppers. Does your property have a YouTube account? Do you have a mixture of corporate produced videos and user generated content in the form of homemade videos? Are guests encouraged to post, tag and share their homemade videos? Although video marketing isn’t quite a mainstay, it’s the type of content that can elevate you above your competition, especially at a high end destination property.