Hotel Websites: When Standing Still Means Going Backward
By Tema Frank CEO, Frank Reactions | January 27, 2012
The percentage of people who have researched hotels online is continuing to increase. So are the numbers of those who have actually made hotel reservations online, with 77% of approximately 600 US-based Internet users in a recent study saying they had done so. This means that not only are your prospective customers likely to find you and book with you online, they are very likely to have visited competitors' sites and have a "standard" in mind to which they are comparing you.
Overall, hotel and online travel agency sites have improved since 2003. The percentage of shoppers getting error messages on hotel booking sites has dropped from 15% to 13%. The error messages are easier to understand and the errors are easier to fix. More sites have moved to plain English error messages, and have eliminated some of the more common errors. For example, more sites will now accept a phone number entered in varying formats, such as with or without brackets around the area code. After all, why make your users go through hoops to figure out which format they need to use when simple programming can make your system accept it either way?
Yet despite such improvement, the study of 23 hotel and travel agency web sites saw a significant drop in the number of shoppers who were willing to continue beyond the sites' home pages (from 93% in 2003 to 89%). There were also fewer respondents willing to recommend the sites they visited to friends (down from 4.32 out of 5.0 in 2003 to 4.10).
Even more troubling was that some of the sites taking the biggest plunge in consumer satisfaction had not changed much during the two years. One site appears to have been exactly the same except for a different promotion. Yet it went from being the second most highly ranked site in terms of overall experience in 2003 to one of the lowest ranked sites today. What happened?
In that particular case, one obvious difference in the site was the promotion that the company was running at the time of the second study. Perhaps it simply didn't appeal to the site visitors. The promotion in 2003 was a chance to win a portable DVD player. This year's promotion showed a grey-haired couple wearing leis and drinking a cocktail out of a pineapple (promoting a chance to win trip to Hawaii). It seems likely that these promotions would appeal to a different segment of the market, and it is possible that the earlier one appealed more to mainstream Internet users than the more recent one.
Surprisingly, though, the comments made by the people testing this company's site did not focus on the new promotion. While a few did comment on disliking the picture on the home page, most of the comments made had to do with the navigation and other more structural concerns. For example: