Key elements of an impressive online customer experience for hotels
In the world of digital marketing, we often talk about conversion rate as a critical metric. There are countless tactics to increase your chances of sales on a website. Some are useful, others are plain bullshit. One thing is for sure: brand experience and first impression are critical.
The basic formula is pretty simple: get in-market people to your website, offer attractive products and provide the best online experience possible. While attracting quality traffic is a matter of advertising, in this article we will see how to create a winning online customer experience for a hotel brand website.
Beautiful brand experience
An unforgettable first impression is essential. According to our recent market research, Independent — unknown — hotel brands only have a few seconds to make an impression. International chain brands will enjoy a lot more patience — even if their website is horrible. So your website will only have a few seconds to grab the attention of your customers and if it’s not done right, all your efforts are gone to waste.
A captivating brand experience is a combination of immersive visual and valuable information content. Branding is a mix of crafted appearance and communication — displaying what your brand and products are standing for. The goal of developing your brand identity is to make people understand what they can expect from you — within seconds. Be it a chic lifestyle brand, classic luxury or a laid-back resort experience, your potential customers need to understand your identity and positioning in a matter of seconds.
Going further with branding, you will need to understand the typical preferences of your key customer personas, and what people in your key market segments want to be associated with. Your potential guests will ask the following, and similar questions:
- Is this place good enough for me?
- Do I want to be seen here?
- Is this my style of place to stay?
- What kind of people stay here?
Such questions are best to be answered indirectly with branding, through imagery, videos and other forms of content.
All the above applies not only to your website but also for social media channels, email marketing, and every other form of communication.
Clear product presentation & differentiation
Cut all the fluff and fantasy from your descriptions and use appropriate media formats to introduce your brand and products. Anything visual should be communicated with photography and videos, while factual information that cannot be expressed on photos should be written in a simple, no-bullshit language.
Wordy product descriptions stuffed with jargon and cliches are very common in the hotel and resort world, it is not something to copy. Your guests will appreciate your efforts in making it easy for them to understand your product. Keep your sentences short, use lists and bullet-points to improve readability.
Furthermore, learn how to use videos and photos appropriately. Photos are best used to display interiors and items where details matter, therefore make your photography as detail-rich as possible. Your viewers will spend up to minutes examining your phots in case they are interested. Meanwhile, video is a lot better tool to demonstrate dynamic experiences where motion and action matters.
Your product presentation needs to reflect your differentiating factors. Instead of writing paragraphs about how your hotel product differs from your competitors, let your photos and videos demonstrate it.
Offer multiple ways to connect with your sales team
Most people do not visit your website to make a booking, but to collect information before choosing either your or another hotel. When your potential guests cannot find answers on your website, or they would like to speak with someone in your company, then they will want to get in touch.
Offering an effortless contact experience is mission-critical to convert more lookers into leads. People from different genders, countries and age groups have different preferences regarding how they would like to contact you. Some people might want to send an email. Busy folks will want to call you to get answers or confirm arrangements immediately. Younger ones might prefer an online chat. Some people do not like to use a booking engine so they might want to speak to someone “real” before making a payment.
Ideally, your hotel website should offer the following ways to get in touch, all easily accessible with 1–2 clicks.
- Phone number with instant call buttons on mobile devices
- Email address
- Contact form
- Website chat
- Request for proposal form with various options and selections
Don’t sound and look like a supermarket flyer
I know, most e-commerce gurus can not stop talking about funnels, call to actions, free giveaways and other stuff to win sales. This will work for a discount online store but will make your brand look cheap. If you want your brand to be taken seriously then avoid all this, or do it in a way that your website does not look like a discount flyer.
Only offer discounts with specific criteria, such as minimum length of stay, booking for certain periods or reaching an unusually high reservation value, such as 10% discount on bookings over $5,000 — just an example. Make your customers stretch their budgets to become eligible for a discount, this is essential for them to develop respect for the brand. For most people, crazy discounting and the ability to haggle means that the product is in low demand.
Apply lead capture, social proof and urgency plugins very carefully. Do not ruin your website experience with pop-ups bothering your customers just seconds after landing on your website. That shit does not work, especially not in the high-end luxury travel niche.
Seamless booking experience
Similarly to the contact experience, the booking engine experience is a critical part of any hotel website conversion setup. To maximize your chances of generating sales, you need to understand that the less is more: prioritize simplicity during the selection process and clarity at the price breakdown. Ideally, your guests will not need to struggle to understand how your pricing works, what are the differences between different rooms or suites.
To encourage booking higher room categories, create obvious differentiation between each kind of accommodation so your guests will find it easier to see the additional value of higher-priced units. This means using different photos and descriptions rather than copying the same for all.
Needless to say, rate parity is essential. I always recommend doing daily checks as OTAs often manipulate prices. It is mission-critical to match your direct rates to the LOWEST applicable OTA rates, that includes loyalty program discounts, membership rates and mobile app discounts. Regularly cross-check multiple dates on different devices to ensure that your website rates are not higher compared to OTA rates. Using a VPN will enable you to check localized rates in other countries — sometimes OTAs will undercut you this way.
Providing exclusive direct booking benefits such as breakfast, early check-in, late check-out or upgrades are expected on the website. Over 80% of guests who prefer to book directly are doing so for the additional benefits. If price matching and additional benefits are not available, then the guests have no reason to book on your website.
Throughout the booking process, it is important to maintain price clarity. It is advisable to highlight taxes and extra fees in room rates, and once again — ensure that the total price will not become more expensive compared to OTA prices.
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