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The majority of U.S. hotel bookers aren’t booking on mobile, and don’t book the day of their stay — although things are trending in that direction. Travel marketers need to cater to the trend, but can’t overlook the variety of consumer behaviors and devices in play.
Let’s face it: Mobile and same-day booking trends are transforming the user experience in hotel bookings, but the travel research and booking experience is still very much a multi-device phenomenon, with desktops, phones, tablets and even foot traffic/walk-ins playing a role, and both the desktop and longer booking windows still play a leading role in transactions.
Travel providers know that the same-day market is big, but just how big is a challenge to measure.
We recently ran an article that looked at user behavior from partners of Sojern, which include brands like Starwood, Hyatt, and Hilton, as well as many travel aggregators. Sojern’s said in its Q4 2013 Travel Trends Report that according to its 600 million data points, in the fourth quarter of 2013, 29% of U.S. hotel bookings were done on the same day — defined as within 24 hours — of their stay.
That data is specific to Sojern’s partnerships with certain airlines, online travel agencies, metasearch companies and hotels, and the way it conducts its advertising retargeting business.
When you consider a larger sample size of travel companies, including hotels where same-day hotel bookings may not be the most common consumer behavior — like resorts — then it is clear that Sojern-specific data don’t represent the U.S. travel industry as a whole. Sojern said as much when it released its findings.
What Others Are Seeing
While mobile-only companies such as HotelTonight are built around same-day bookings and are growing, their booking patterns don’t yet dominate the industry.
Representatives of three of the five major U.S.-based online travel agencies, all of whom declined to be identified, as well as a competitor of Sojern’s offered varying perspectives on Sojern’s hotel-booking data, and same-day booking trends.
An executive from one online travel agency acknowledged that in Q4 hotel bookings on the same day of the stay through its websites and mobile was its most popular day in the U.S., accounting for about 15% of bookings — about half of what Sojern shows.
This online travel agency saw only 30% to 40% of bookings occurring within a week of the stay while Sojern pointed to 66% of bookings taking place up to seven days ahead of the reservation.
A spokesperson for another U.S.-based online travel agency agreed that Sojern’s 29% of bookings taking place on the day of the stay was about “double of what we saw” in the fourth quarter.
A third U.S.-headquartered online travel agency, according to its spokesperson, didn’t have a big problem with Sojern’s numbers.
“I would say the Sojern numbers are in the range,” the OTA spokesperson said. “I wouldn’t call them spot on, but I’m not outraged by them.”
A Sojern competitor, Adara, wouldn’t offer apples to apples numbers about same-day hotel bookings, but instead shared some global numbers for the fourth quarter, although a spokesperson said its figures were likely weighted more toward U.S. hotels than are Sojern’s aggregator-oriented figures.
The Adara spokesperson said 9% of the global hotel bookings it tracked in the fourth quarter took place the same day as the stay, a figure considerably lower than Sojern’s 29%. Adara’s same-day global hotel booking numbers were for Q1 6.61%, Q2 8.13%, and Q3 8.75%.
Lots of variables, from seasonality to whether the the statistics on same-day bookings capture a lot of hotel direct bookings versus third-party bookings, or how brands define “day” can impact the numbers.
For example, the fourth quarter may tend to have lower same-day bookings percentages than the third quarter because business travel tends to slow during the fourth quarter. And it’s possible that brand.com websites may attract fewer last-minute bookings than third party sites do.
Why is the issue important? Although same-day and last-minute bookings, especially on mobile, are a resounding trend, it is still a multi-device environment and consumer behavior varies widely with some individuals and groups preferring to book much further out.
Hotel marketing that focuses overwhelmingly on last-minute and mobile would likely bypass a majority of bookers.
Travelers marketers and revenue managers need to craft their campaigns to take this diversity of booking patterns into account.
Brad King, Sojern’s vice president of sales and marketing, says Sojern’s numbers don’t portray the U.S. hotel-booking sector as a whole, but are worth considering for the directional trends they depict.