Do Toll-free Lines Increase Bookings or Cannibalize Them?

By Donald R. Smith Executive Vice President, Nor1 Inc. | October 28, 2008

Hospitality industry experts agree, offering a toll free number on a hotel or hotel brads website not only is likely to increase oval bookings, but provide an important customer service element.

Over the past decade the internet has grown to become one of the major sources of for hotels. It has also proven to be one of the lowest costs of distribution for them. Major hotel companies have marketed their Web site as the best place to book, offering incentives like frequent quest points and lowest price guarantees to entice consumers to book directly on their Web sites. As more and more of their individual leisure and unmanaged business travel booked via the web, they were able to scale back their call centers which reduced their cost per booking due to the higher cost of call center staffing.

Many travel companies made it difficult if not almost impossible to speak to a human, frustrating many consumers and resulting in the loss of bookings. There is a misconception that moving bookings to the Web lowers cost and ultimately saves both the hotel and customer time and money by elimination the costs involved with 800 numbers and call center staffing. In fact, while rates vary from state to state (some may be as little as 7 cents per minute, with others running as high as 42 cents per minute.) There are definitive costs, to be sure. Even more significant can be the costs for multiple lines and the expense to staff them.

Jason Price, Executive Vice President of Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, a New York based hospitality emarketing consulting firm, finds in his experience and research, the following trends:

Logical arguments can be made for and against the 800 numbers. But ultimately consumers want a choice, and they want to know that a human can assist with their decision making and travel booking process. While some hotel groups have hidden their toll free numbers, others have made them prominent for the following reasons:

Some consumers are reluctant to book online due to credit card concerns or lack of confidence in online transactions. While these concerns are at a fraction of what they were a decade ago, they still exist with many travelers. Purchases of expensive and detailed / complicated itineraries found that they needed to speak with an agent to be sure that they could ensure they would have the exact experience they desired (i.e, confirming the room they booked was ocean front in the Aloha Tower, making sure they could be guaranteed tee times - perhaps even specified times or reservations - during their stay... even dinner at 8 PM sharp in the fine dining room.)

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.