A New Look at the Direct-Booking Game for Hotel Chains
By Jochen Ehrhardt, Founder of TRUE 5 STARS / Cofounder of DNA-QA
In recent years, hotels have been waging a war on Online Travel Agencies such as Booking.com, Expedia, Ctrip, and Agoda in order to win back their customers by offering a wide range of perks, including discounts, in exchange for booking directly with the hotel. "Book direct" has become the new mantra.
Users can choose between hundreds of thousands of hotels in a consistent and easy-to-navigate environment.
Hotels and hotel groups could not do anything about the market transparency argument, but they could provide a great user experience. That is exactly what they did, or tried to do, at least, revamping their websites to enhance that so-crucial user experience (which in most cases, to be frank, had left much to be desired, allowing OTAs to gain massive market-share in the first place).
In the end, did the hotels succeed? Not really. While they invested millions in redeveloping their websites, focusing heavily on visual content, storytelling, and experiences, they failed to deliver on the basics in both the OTA's area of weakness (content with substance) as well as strengths (a user-friendly logic that was easy to understand and thus navigate for a great booking experience).
This conclusion is the result of an analysis by DNA-QA of the websites of the world's top luxury hotel groups, conducted in February 2019.
DNA-QA analyses the guest experience of upscale and luxury hotels, a process that begins, obviously, with selecting and booking a hotel. The website quality check includes over 100 criteria, evenly split into three areas, Website Layout, General & Homepage (landing page), Website Subsections such Accommodation, Dining etc., and last but not least, the Booking Experience itself.
Key findings included:
- Not one hotel group delivered a compelling user experience throughout its entire website;
- The 17 top ultra-luxury hotel groups scores ranged between 70.21% and 82.40%, with an average score of 77.58%;
- Hotel groups in the second tier, luxury category (18+) performed within the same range;
- While bookings in most cases could be accomplished swiftly, there is ample potential to perfect the booking experience;
- Overall the glitzy and chic design that many websites displayed came at the expense of basic content, of real substance (such as such as Hotel Facts at a Glance or complete information on the hotel's services and policies) that also matters to the consumer in order to make an informed decision;
- While large images of quality were the norm, videos were only used by about 50% of the participants;
- The user experience on all different screen sizes was excellent and in some cases even better on smartphones than desktop when focusing on the essentials;
- A (live) chat tool has not yet come into fashion, the few exceptions proving the rule;
- Price-comparison widgets were only present on a third of the sites;
- Key hotel services were only highlighted and displayed prominently by about 40%.
Marketing campaigns do not come cheaply and essentially become money thrown out of the window where the website experience is less than ideal. Obviously, it takes more than a "perfect" website to convince people to book direct, however, of all the actions a hotel group can take to win back the customer, the easiest, least expensive, and fastest to upgrade would be the perfecting of the website. Bottom line? Hotel (group) websites have substantial upside potential and it would benefit guests and properties alike to realize it.
Jochen Ehrhardt ([email protected]) is a Managing Partner and EVP Audits for DNA-QA, an independent QA provider whose most-comprehensive and customized audits, reports, and follow-up are centered not around increasing membership nor publication sales, but simply helping clients improve their product and service offerings for the benefit of their guests.More from Jochen Ehrhardt