The Wired Hotel: Catering to the Casual Visitor
By Jerry Tarasofsky CEO, iPerceptions Inc. | January 27, 2012
In my last article, I touched on the importance of optimizing your website so that it would feel like a second home to your higher frequency visitors, who inevitably tend to be higher volume travelers and thus compose a highly attractive, high value segment (see The Wired Hotel: Pleasing Your Higher Frequency Website Visitors). Equally significant, however, is the flip side of the coin. Infrequent visitors can sometimes get short shrift when too much effort is devoted to catering to the needs of repeat visitors. The factors that will add value to the online experience for repeat visitors - storing of travel history, updated counts of rewards program points, storing of AAA membership numbers - will only be of incidental significance to the infrequent set. With this in mind, I'd like to touch on some strategies for making your site as effective as possible at converting on booking intent for infrequent visitors.
This is an equally important proposition for hospitality website decision makers, but one that is not without complexity. We know empirically that the infrequent visitor and the seasonal traveler are often one and the same. Data pulled from a study running on the website of a major economy class hotel chain, which operates several well-known brands, provides insight to that effect. The share of visitors who were onsite for the first time constituted 50% of the total sample in July 2007, a figure that was up 11 percentage points from February 2007. Given that these lower-frequency July visitors were onsite during the peak summer travel season, it is unsurprising that 34% were onsite to book a reservation.
Converting on these intentions to book is of paramount importance. Certainly, the importance of effective visuals cannot be overstated. It begins with the room itself, but by no means does it end there. The greater the breadth and the range of the catalogue of hotel pictures, the better. Seasonal visitors may have never set foot inside of one of your hotels, and now they are entrusting you with their accommodations during a family get-away. It is therefore imperative to ensure that they get as much as they need in the way of visuals.
Looking beyond the visuals, however, two of the leading barriers to conversion that our research has identified among first-time visitors (with intent to book) center around two themes of confidence. Firstly, 17% were not confident enough in the online reservation process and indicated that they would prefer booking over the phone. Secondly, 16% were not confident that they were getting the lowest possible price.
I'll touch on the first booking inhibitor a little later on in the article. The important point that warrants consideration here is the fact that many visitors falling into this persona bucket (first-time visitors who travel seasonally) will likely have already gleaned some information about the price point of your hotel rooms (and/or those of your competitors) from the ubiquitous online travel agency sites, such as Travelocity or Hotwire.
Certainly, the online travel agencies have been a tremendous boon to lower-volume travelers, both in terms of breadth of selection and in terms of convenience as a one-stop-shop for trip booking needs. Visiting each hotel brand's website individually may be perceived by the web user as a pointless expenditure of energy. Thus, something extra has to be there to reward the visitors for doing the leg-work; the visitor should be incentivized for by-passing the online agencies and going directly to your brand's website. While it may not always be possible to achieve price parity with the online agencies, the hotel website owner must at least ensure that the booking process is functionally sound.