Last week we discussed how the traveller goes through a 5-stage cycle. Stage 1 – Dreaming – is important as it gets the idea into their heads that your destination might be a great idea. Now, we need to get them to focus on your hotel and feel confident enough in your offering that they make a reservation.
Stage 2: PLANNING
Why is this stage important?
- The average traveller visits over 20 different travel websites before making a booking
- 62% of leisure travelers use the internet for researching their trip
Now you’ve got them thinking. That random consumer is now a potential traveller because you’ve managed to spark an interest in a future trip. But you still have a long way to go before you’re rolling out the red carpet for them.
Your hotel is just one of many in a nebulous idea-cloud of potential destinations and locations. In fact, over the course of this consumer’s travel cycle, he or she will have visited over 20 different travel websites in over 9 separate research sessions on the internet.
Yep, you’ve got some competition. The question is: how do you help them cut through the clutter to focus only your hotel?
So how does a hotel reach this planner in stage 2?
- Diversify: Consumers research at least 20 different travel websites. This means that travelers are going to be checking all kinds of channels to compile their research including TripAdvisor, OTAs, your hotel’s or brand’s websites, Google searches, blogs, social media channels and more. While you may not be able to afford to be everywhere, the key is to create enough of a presence on these sites to at least have a fighting chance.
- Consistency: Because you’re hoping to appear on all these 20 different websites that your guest will look at – you better make sure that the information is accurate and similar, if not identical, on all those sites. The consumer is very savvy these days. Any inconsistency in not only the facts but the portrayal of your site will add confusion. If they don’t know what to believe, they’ll choose to focus their efforts on hotels they can trust the information about.
- Search engine optimize your website: It goes without saying that your website should be optimized. Stage 2 and 3 are where your SEO efforts should pay off. Make sure you’ve conducted thorough keyword research to determine what your customers are searching for.
- Optimize your local listings: Nothing helps a traveller orient themselves like local mapping sites such as Google Maps or Bing Maps. Make sure your hotel’s listing in the local search results is claimed and fully optimized so travelers can find you as they investigate their potential destinations.
- Clean up your OTA listings: You may not like the OTAs – they don’t rank your hotel first in your city, they eat away at your rates, commissions are out of control… Still, if you opt out of OTAs or don’t optimize your listings, you’re missing out on a great marketing opportunity to get your hotel in front of the customer. The fact is that people love to comparison shop, including for hotels. OTAs make it incredibly easy to compare you and all your competitors. Whether you like it or not, you have to play the game to reap the benefits.
- Manage your online reputation: Sign up for Google Alerts to monitor online buzz about your hotel, respond to TripAdvisor reviews (good and bad), address comments on your social media channels and just be aware of what users are saying about your hotel online in general.
If you don’t speak up for your property then the public will have the final say in your reputation. If you don’t communicate you let the most vocal consumers determine your fate. Don’t sit on the sidelines.
Stage 3: BOOKING
Why is this stage important?
- 37% of travelers said the internet was the primary source prompting them to book (word-of-mouth was the second most important factor to influence bookings, coming in at 16%)
By now the research stage is just about over and your guest is ready to take the plunge on what they hope will be trip that lives up to his dreams from stage 1. Answer the following questions:
- How easy is it for this consumer to find your website now that he knows he wants to book?
- Will they find you easily on your brand’s website?
- Are your prices competitive with the OTA? Groupon?
- How many steps / screens does it take to complete a booking? Is it a clear path?
Consumers are savvy, as we mentioned before. So while you’d like them to book direct on your official site, you need to make it easy to find you and to complete the reservation.
- Don’t make people think: Make your website easy navigate and easy for users to reach their goal. If you make the booking process too cumbersome or make it difficult for users to navigate your site, potential guests will look elsewhere to book their vacation.Usability is crucial to getting users on your site to convert to booking guests. Include a reservation widget on every page of your site; don’t call the link in your main navigation bar “Your Special Day” instead of “Weddings;” and don’t clutter pages with unnecessary bells and whistles that overwhelm the main site content. Precious seconds lost to these usability mistakes can mean the difference between a booking guest and just another non-productive website visitor.
- Optimize for your brand – In the previous stage, users were researching their travel plans and were likely searching for more generic keywords such as “Hawaii beachfront hotels” instead of “Maui Dream Resort.” Make sure that your site appears for the appropriate keywords. It seems like an expensive proposition to consistently review and improve your keyword usage, but it is essential to continually optimize in order to be in the game. If your website hasn’t been updated for a year or more – you have work to do. If you’re a small or independent hotel, travelers may not know your domain name, so they’ll likely run a search using some variation of your location or property name. Make sure that your site appears in natural, local and PPC search for brand-related terms.
They’re in the home stretch of the buying funnel and it would be awful to work so hard to drive qualified website traffic, only to lose the customer right before they cross the finish line.
Next week we’ll finish off with stages 4 and 5 – Experience and Sharing. These are often the most overlooked stages, so stay tuned!