This used to be a much simpler topic back when people spent more time speaking to one another.
In the past it was easy to get to know what the customer wanted and influence how they bought. It was a time when traditional travel agents ruled the roost, since customers would walk into the travel agent’s office, sit across the desk from them and ask for help. It was the travel agent who got to decide what the traveller got to see and where they stayed.
Enter the age of the internet and everything has changed. No longer are customers wanting someone to steer them in the right direction, but instead they are wanting to research destinations themselves and then book based on what they considered to be the best value for money with minimal personal engagements unless they initiated it. An article written 10 years ago referenced 90% of shoppers skip marketing pitches and rather research online and over 50% check customer reviews before making a decision. These numbers are most certainly much higher today.
How often have hoteliers faced into a customer walking up to the hotel front desk, phone in hand and advising that they have just made a booking at the property while walking into the hotel lobby.
The internet has made information about a hotel (the good as well as the not-so-flattering), it is products, rates, and competitors readily available at the click of a button.
Consequently, hoteliers have little control over a customer’s perception of their value proposition. It is therefore vital that hoteliers have a proper understanding of what customers want and align their product accordingly as this will trigger the customer’s decision book their property instead of their competitors.
Customers have become very savvy when it comes to how and where they book so it is vital that hoteliers become just as savvy in their approach to selling.
The cardinal sin is to assume that we already know what the customer wants or in some cases what they “should” want.
Hoteliers often go to market with innovative strategies with the goal of educating the market and then wonder why it did not work.
This is where the OTAs have hoteliers beat. For years OTA’s have been making use of customer engagement, website cookies, follow-on marketing, and experimentation to gain an understanding of what customers are looking for. They make no assumption and base every decision on data.
If we want to sell the way the customer wants to buy, we need to know how customers are booking and what customers are saying about our products.
Let us look at the booker journey and here I am going to use broad strokes as going into details regarding the booker journey is a topic for another time.
What does the customer booking journey look like and how can we leverage this to drive higher rates, more revenue and increased occupancy.
Travel Inspiration & Researching destinations.
Below are key resources customers are utilizing.
- Social Media
- Popular destinations
- Travel Ads
- Guest reviews
- Customers rely heavily on Google and OTA’s to compare and evaluate the overall budget for the trip.
- Simultaneously, they are also checking the hotel website for price and additional information.
At this stage, the customer has narrowed down their choices based on price and value for money.
Next step is a more focussed effort to benchmark the properties in terms of price and value for money.
This is also where they make the decision on whether to book Direct (Hotel Website) or OTA’s (Booking.com, Airbnb, Expedia, or region-specific.)
The customer is looking for options based on preferences (location, recommendations, budget, listing, ranking, ideal time to travel, etc.)
They are looking for the best deal.
There is a possibility that the customer may have pre-booking questions and would reach out to the hotel staff through various modes.
Pre-arrival & Check-in
Checkout and Post stay
Now that we have an understanding regarding the booker journey, albeit a very simplified version, how do we leverage this information to sell our product more effectively.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to expand on social media and guest reviews as these are two valuable indicators of customer sentiment.
This is a brilliant platform to engage with your customer, position your product and learn from customers based on browsing and booking trends.
60% of the world’s population uses social media. The average daily usage is 2 hours and 24 minutes (April 2023).
Effective Social media management is key and includes the following.
- The management of META Channels (Facebook & Instagram)
- The setting up of content calendars
- Targeted content creation and scheduling of regular eye-catching posts multiple times per week.
- Setting up a social media strategy so the storyline and theme is consistent.
- Active engagement with customers who choose to communicate with you on the various platforms.
- Social media advertising
- Social Media promotions
This is where we truly get to know what our customers are wanting based on the data.
- Customers place great value on what other customers say about a property.
- It is vital that you showcase your property in the best possible light across all channels. This means that customers need to be speaking positively about your property.
- “76 percent of travellers are willing to pay more for a hotel that has positive ratings and reviews than one without.”
- 1% improvement in review score (5 point rating) can allow for an 11.2% increase in rate
- OTA’s heavily leverage guest reviews and even factor this into the ranking algorithms.
- The best way to ensure you get more reviews is to ask customers to review your property. Studies suggest that more than 40% of travellers will leave a review if they have a positive experience, so make it as easy as possible by sending a friendly review request within 48 hours of check-out, with a link to the relevant review site or platform in your branded app.
- 71% of guests say online content influences their choice of where to stay.
- Socials play a crucial role in this regard managing the customers perception of your product. Ensure that your social media platforms are effectively managed in terms of content and testimonials.
- According to online reviews statistics and analysis by ReviewTrackers, only 4 sites are responsible for the distribution of 88% of all reviews. After Google (73%), Yelp (6%), Facebook (3%), and Tripadvisor (3%). Some key take aways
- Review Interaction Up by 50% from Pre-Pandemic Levels
- Reviews are (A Lot) Shorter
- Companies Aren’t Responding Fast Enough (or At All) to Reviews
- Responsive Industry Leaders Get Higher Ratings
- Customers Don’t Trust Companies with Lower than 4-Star Ratings (4 out of 5 or 8 out of 10)
- Reviewers Demand Greater Value from Businesses
In closing, customers are constantly screaming loudly and clearly about how they want to buy, we just need to take time to listen to what they are saying and track how they are buying.
Article Written by Cassim Waja – Senior Commercial Portfolio Manager
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