2020 is a year that most hotels don't want to remember, with many closing their doors in both the first and second waves of the pandemic. From a different viewpoint, consumer behavior changed dramatically and hotels had to adapt. As mobile bookings increased, so too did the need to improve mobile conversion for hotels.
In this article, we analyze the rise of mobile bookings in 2020. We also share how we tested and improved our hotel booking engine to help Hotels respond to this demand.
2020 - The Year when Hotel Mobile Bookings took off
Although overall booking pace remained in line with 2019 at 57 days, for confirmed reservations the booking pace declined to a mere 8 days in 2020. This was likely due to changing travel restrictions which forced most guests to cancel longer-term bookings and confirm their stays last-minute.
Hotels tried to stimulate bookings with flexible cancellation policies, but the environment forced consumers to book last-minute, doing so successfully. This is a behavior change that we expect to become a part of the 'new normal' once the pandemic is over.
This trend is seen across all markets, and even guests that traditionally plan their stays further in advance (Danish, Germans, British) saw the booking pace decline from 26 days to a mere 12 days or less.
The preferred channel for these last-minute bookings was mobile. According to the data processed by the GuestCentric CRS, mobile bookings increased to a whopping 24%, almost one-quarter of all hotel bookings. In effect, this means that mobile bookings doubled in just two short years. We expect this trend to continue.
Why Testing & Improving the Direct Channel is Critical for Hotels
When competing against other hotels and a host of third-party channels online, it's important to recognize that your hotel has a limited number of visitors reaching out to your hotel directly via your hotel website and booking engine. Given how mobile booking behavior and device capabilities have significantly evolved over the past 5 years, adapting to the new demand is essential. A/B testing is a critical tool to do so.
The principle behind A/B testing (sometimes called split testing) involves creating two or more versions of a webpage and splitting your traffic between each one to see which version performs best. With each experiment, you can test for a single variable to accurately measure what impact each successive change has.
To deal with the evolving shopping behavior and increased mobile traffic in 2020, for us at Guestcentric Engineering, we thought that the 'Simplified' mobile-optimized version of the booking engine should be replaced with a more 'Dynamic' mobile booking engine that would address the needs of consumers in 2020.
To understand the rationale behind the A/B test we conducted specifically, it's important to dive into the difference between the 'Simplified' vs the 'Dynamic' models of our booking engine. It's also important to understand why we deployed the 'Simplified' Mobile Booking Engine in the first place, and why in 2020 we decided to test its effectiveness in the current climate.
A Tale of Two Hotel Booking Engines - 'Simplified' vs 'Dynamic'
Our mobile booking engine has always had some of the best conversion rates in the industry. This is due to the fact that we conduct extensive research on mobile booking behavior across hundreds of hotels over long periods of time.
In the early days of mobile booking, over 60% of consumers booked for the same night or the next, and we had those workflows optimized, to maximize conversion.
From a technological perspective, it's also important to note that mobile device screens have been growing, processors are faster, and consumers are doing more on their phones with speedier mobile networks. Hence, mobile applications have grown increasingly dynamic, providing more information and interactivity.
For example, as shown in the image of the 'Simplified' Booking Engine below, you can see there is a limited number of dates on the screen. This is because we optimized the size of the 'Simplified' model for smaller mobile screens back then. This interface also only displayed promotions or special offers when a guest selected the required number of dates to meet the criteria.
In 2020, we optimized the 'Dynamic' model for the larger mobile screens we have today. The calendar also displays both a wider range of dates and the best daily rate, giving guests more flexibility to book at their preferred price and around changing restrictions.
The Dynamic interface also displays all special offers and promotions on the calendar once the guest has selected their stay dates and is ready to make the reservation. This is the case even when the guest has not selected the required number of days to claim the promotion or special offer.
UX and A/B Testing on the 'Simplified' vs 'Dynamic' Hotel Booking Engine
In the early days of the pandemic, we set out to develop our 'Dynamic' mobile booking engine as a mechanism to maximize direct bookings. We analyzed the data from our hotel websites and CRS, created a quick mock-up of the layout, and performed usability testing with both hotel experts and consumers to validate some of the assumptions we had set forth for this major upgrade.
Based on the feedback of users, we were quite confident that the 'Dynamic' model would convert better. But as I always say, the beauty of the Internet is that you don't have to guess, you can test your assumptions.
We set up our experiment in Google Optimize and let the experiment run on a diverse set of hundreds of hotels. Each hotel represented no more than 3% of the total traffic: 5-star and budget hotels, large hotels with over 200 rooms, and small country houses.
We created a 'Redirect' test, meaning we split sessions 50/50 between the 'Simplified' and the 'Dynamic' booking engine. The success factor was determined by comparing the volume of reservations completed on each model. Over the course of 34 days, we tested 113,617 sessions from online travel searchers
'Dynamic' Hotel Booking Engine shows 33% improvement in Mobile Conversion
Analyzing the mobile booking conversion rate between both the 'Dynamic' and 'Simplified' pages, we were expecting an improvement in the 10% to 15% range. In effect, we found that the 'Dynamic' booking engine showed a whopping 33% improvement in conversion in comparison to the 'Simplified' Booking Engine.
These results are outstanding! The A/B test completely validated our assumptions, and our new 'Dynamic' booking engine is now showing increased mobile booking conversion.
This has undoubtedly been an important development in a year where every booking counts. Mobile booking behavior changed in 2020 and it will continue to rise in 2021 and beyond. It is critical that hotels continue to review and adapt their tech solutions to this demand.
GuestCentric is a leading provider of cloud-based digital marketing software and services that help extraordinary hoteliers promote their brand, drive direct bookings and connect with customers on all digital platforms. GuestCentric's all-in-one platform provides hotels with the only unified solution for managing their guests' online journey: award-winning, high impact websites; an integrated, easy-to-use booking engine; social media marketing and publishing tools; a GDS chain code and a channel manager to offer rooms on Amadeus, Booking.com, Expedia, Galileo, Google, Sabre, TripAdvisor and hundreds of other channels. GuestCentric is a proud provider of solutions that maximize direct bookings to hotel groups and independent hotels from collections such as Design Hotels, Great Hotels of the World, Leading Hotels of the World, Relais & Chateaux, Small Luxury Hotels and Small Danish Hotels. GuestCentric is featured on Skift Travel Tech 250, a list of the top 250 travel tech companies shaping the modern-day travel experience.