Measure Hotel Reservations Through Increased Mobile Bookings
By Ryan Fitzgerald, Co-Founder, Net Conversion
Online marketing campaigns were generating a 5% click-to-call conversion rate. Booking on the web has been encouraged by the likes of Hotwire, Expedia, Kayak and Travelocity. Hoteliers, looking to reduce costs, assuming that call centers were the more expensive option pushed their customers to book online through third parties. This was convenient, but the loss of revenue is astounding with hoteliers paying upwards of a 25% commission average on each of these bookings. The solution is to target mobile devices and double click to call to 10% based on the conversion rate.
"Mobile purchasing has become an increasingly large trend in travel, given that more than half of Americans now own smartphones," said Henrik Kjellberg, president of the Hotwire Group (2). This year, mobile bookings are expected to reach $26 billion in the U.S., according to Neha Parikh, U.S. and Canada president and general manager with Expedia's Hotels.com. (5).
Consumers are shifting to using their mobile devices to call hotels and travel destinations to book due to the amount of friction in the booking process. What's friction? Let's say that a consumer is trying to book a hotel room using a mobile device while they are traveling. The hurdles of fumbling with credit cards and small screens on cell phones and tablets can be frustrating. They might be driving, or riding on a train, or waiting for a plane or sitting at a Starbucks.
"A lot of people search on their mobile devices, but because it's too cumbersome to make a booking on the mobile phone—punching in your address [and other information] takes way too much time—they just click the call-to-book button and talk to a live agent and make that booking," said Best Western International CEO David Kong in an interview with Business Travel News (3).
The booking process, which may be three screens and a quick 10-minute process on a desktop computer, could nine steps on a mobile device due to the mobile versions of desktop applications. The easiest way for the consumer to avoid that friction is to call.
"Mobile is the future. You can get a new phone in two years, so there's a built-in market for new invention, and we all want to do more with our phones," says Kong (3).
The formula behind the increase in mobile bookings is that consumers are finding it easier to call to book rather than trying to use their cell phone's mobile booking applications, to search for the accommodations they desire and punch in their credit card information.
Basic Mobile Positioning
Hotels can avoid paying the commission to the OTAs if they position their direct telephone number in the correct place so it shows up at the right time. Booking information shouldn't be eliminated from the mobile version of the hotel website, but the position of the booking phone number makes the difference to consumers and gives them an option if they are frustrated, or not accustomed to, online booking.
The benefit of mobile bookings is that you can track where your bookings are coming from in a whole new way. The measurability of mobile bookings gives the hotelier the opportunity to build a relationship with the consumer by having a human voice connect with them. Needless to say, the opportunities for upselling and targeting are more flexible with this type of booking. Hoteliers should place their phone number in an obvious position on their mobile site, the website and on advertisements. Once the basics are covered it's a matter of tracking what type of placement works best.
Multiple Numbers by Channel
One of the goals with mobile is tracking bookings made by phone, through the hotel website and on the mobile version of the hotel website. Due to increasing abilities to analyze big data, hoteliers can obtain advanced call tracking metrics for a few hundred dollars a month. They can also obtain a phone number that goes directly to hotel bookings, but generate hundreds of alternative numbers leading to the same place for multiple forms of measurability. By forwarding that number, without a third party, hoteliers can track the length of the phone call and other quality metrics. This will help a hotel dig a little deeper into who exactly is booking using mobile. You can also study the hotel website Google Analytics data to identify the current size, growth and behavior nuances of smartphone website visitors.
For example, our team at Net Conversion, a digital marketing firm out of Orlando, used targeted channels including Google AdWords based search marketing, contextual, and interest category campaigns for a recent project with a major hotel property in California. Based on the hotel website analytics that they studies, technology was added to the main website to auto-detect smartphone visitors to the site from other traffic sources and direct them to the mobile website (4).
The mobile campaign efforts were targeted specifically to users utilizing a smartphone to seek targeted key resort and golf interests in key geographic markets in California, Arizona and Nevada. The campaigns deliberately excluded the immediate area to avoid customer service phone calls.
Enable Google Numbers
Hoteliers can now use Google Advertising to track their mobile bookings. Google will compile a portfolio of phone numbers and connect the online data to phone calls through dynamic number usage. Some historic hotels may want to stay loyal to the same booking number because they have used it for years. Now, hotels are realizing that it's more important to gain tracking and optimization by using Google Advertising to measure their hotel bookings even though the hotel does not own them and are note vanity. That usually outweighs the single phone number placement, but it's up to the hotel to decide how advanced they want to go. Do they want the number to be remembered or do they want the quality tracking? The complexity of society that we have created has added the element of not remembering or staying local to certain phone numbers. This is due to the population having a mobile device at all times with various phone numbers saved within the device.
Dynamic Phone Numbers
One of the most advanced tools within mobile booking is dynamic phone numbers. They are advanced levels of sophistication based on how the user finds the website. Through a search, the technology changes the number that the customer views online and keeps the tracking consistent. If someone books in the booking engine the customer can tell exactly what keyword drove the call all the way to revenue. You get a full, robust data set just like the web (if analytics are properly set up). Tracking includes key words, campaign, origin, the time of day, how many times the visited the site before booking, etc. Before the days of dynamic phone numbers, there would be a collection of web data and call center data, but you couldn't connect the two. Dynamic phone numbers induces the connection between the two robust data sets. It's an advanced form of call tracking that hotels and resorts can use for bookings.
Driving Bookings through Phone Calls
When a consumer is on a mobile device, it can be complicated to book using the booking applications. The best chance at selling a hotel booking is to have designated employees whose sole purpose is to answer calls for reservations. Representatives of the travel industry are not trying to move commodities for the least amount of dollars possible; hoteliers are trying to make our product different from competitors. A website can only do so much before content starts to get repetitive across the board. It's up to great customer service representatives on the phone that can really provide that unique experience of quality that consumers are looking for. There's pressure from the consumer side and for marketing professionals for something as intangible as the travel industry. The product that hoteliers are trying to sell is not something that consumers can hold in their hands. At the end of the day it's about an experience, which is described through human emotion. That is much easier to be translated by a good salesman on the phone rather than trying to illustrate it through the hotel mobile website.
A popular sales tactic for phone call bookings is the "call now for specials" tool. With the right kind of professionals on the line, the opportunities to upgrade and upsell are much higher when speaking to an individual rather than using the website. Technology doesn't allow us to utilize the selling tools of travel planners. For example, if a customer is looking for a high end, luxury experience, they may not know the potential of what the hotel has to offer when they are pushed directly to the purchasing tool. It's up to those skilled sales professionals to find out who the valuable customers are and provide them with the type of experience that they are looking for.
Create Quality Call CentersThe call center within your destination is one of the most important aspects of mobile bookings. Having a well-trained representative on the phone to assist customers makes a world of difference in the entire process. Clients of Net Conversion noticed that after business hours, booking calls were forwarded to the front desk which was not providing a quality experience. The marketing wasn't working, so Net Conversion placed a dynamic phone call system in place so they could listen to the phone calls that went on during those off hours. What they discovered was that the front desk representative would tell the customer is that the booking desk was closed and to call back. This pushed bookings onto competitors and turned business away.
Net Conversion assists their clients when driving hotel booking through mobile by measuring and operating successfully. Some clients may outsource call centers, which helps the hotel find passionate representatives who are well educated on the product and can provide a quality experience to the consumer. It's important to weigh the options between an in-house professional who know the product well enough to sell it versus an outsourced call center.
In order to successfully track and manage mobile bookings, hotels should alter the basic mobile phone number positioning on their sites and advertisements, obtain advanced call tracking metrics, use multiple booking phone numbers, possibly invest in dynamic phone numbers and create quality call centers with educated and dynamic representatives to increase sales and booking upgrades. The future is mobile and it's up to the hotelier to decide the proper management system to put in place to track and measure their bookings in the new mobile world.
- Walker & Sands Communications
- Hotwire Press
- Business Travel News: Interview: Best Western International CEO David Kong
- Net Conversion Case Study – undisclosed hotel group in Monterrey, CA.
- Orlando Business Journal