The hotel industry has an opportunity to transform the direct booking process using website personalization. Doing so can help deliver a more efficient and customized booking experience, resulting in better conversion ratios and the opportunity to further cultivate relationships with guests.
Personalization in the hotel industry has ceased to be a trend. Today, it’s an obligation. Back in 2015, American Express Travel reported that 83 percent of millennials would allow brands to track their habits in exchange for a more customized experience. And earlier this year, Deloitte Consulting published the white paper ‘Next Gen Hotel Guests Have Checked In: The Changing Guest Experience,’ which noted that “–truly knowing your guests –what they have told you, what they request, what you have learned, and what should be implied –should yield larger results.”
Today’s hotel industry is increasingly taking this personalization message to heart, using new technology-driven tools to help them streamline the booking process and create a more seamless guest experience. When potential guests are shopping on a hotel’s website, there’s a clear opportunity before a booking is made for properties to demonstrate the acute attention they’ve paid to individual guests’ preferences. This is accomplished by using website personalization technology, allowing hotels to automatically and intuitively suggest particular room categories, package types, and even rates tailored to each user’s expectations.
The results of these improved personalization efforts are numerous, including higher booking probability, increased user satisfaction, and a greater likelihood of repeat visits to the website, leading to better brand loyalty. Taking these steps can even offer hotels a further tool to take more control of their distribution decisions, rebalancing their e-commerce strategies between direct and non-direct channels.
Below are four examples of how hotels are evolving their personalization tools and techniques for today’s changing e-commerce landscape.
Building Loyalty is an Investment
Brand loyalty is what prompted Affinity Gaming chief marketing officer Vincent Lentini to leverage website personalization in its partnership with Duetto’s PlayMaker. As Lentini explained, over-relying on OTAs for cash customers hurts profitability. PlayMaker, however, represents an opportunity to further build the casino’s loyalty program by showing potential guests the benefit of booking directly.
“We have more data on our guests than ever, and even though we know which room types or loyalty rates appeal to whom, it’s not easy to manually provide that level of personalization during the booking process, or test which offerings convert better than others,” said Lentini. “Now that our digital-marketing and Revenue Strategy partners collectively support a solution like PlayMaker, we’re looking forward to getting the most out of our direct channels far more efficiently.”
Lentini plans to advertise special offers for consumers signing up for Affinity’s loyalty program. By discounting rates 10%, he is confident he can drive significantly more revenue than bookings coming from an OTA charging a 15% commission.
Improving the Current Direct Booking Ratio
Today’s personalization technology can also help hotels to optimize the conversion rates for direct bookings. Dr. Arun Upneja, dean of the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration, suggested in an interview with Skift that hotels first take stock of direct bookings made via their website, also known as the “look-to-book ratio.”
If this analysis shows that more users are bouncing from the site instead of booking, it may be time to consider new tools. “When users leave a hotel’s website, they’re likely to have forgotten the details after visiting multiple other hotel-related sites,” he noted. As Upneja believes, personalization tools are one method to prevent this. “Appeal to them on the spot with personalized offerings like the right price, the right room category and the right amenities before they can move on.”
Balancing Human- and Technology-Driven Personalization
There’s no getting away from the fact that a personalized guest experience is an inherent part of today’s hotel stay. But for lifestyle brands like hotel company sbe, this also means balancing between different types of personalization, including human- and technology-driven efforts.
According to Peter Chambers, the brand’s chief information officer, human-driven personalization is essential to the 360-degree sbe experience, a process in which “the human touch is absolutely integral.” Part of this personalized experience is decidedly analog, focusing on staff training, food and beverage, designs and guest amenities.
However, sbe also recognizes that a fine-tuned hotel experience should be consistent across every consumer touch-point, especially online bookings. In fact, much of this consistency is made possible by personalization-driven booking technology. “With new booking technologies, we’re focused on a deep level of integration so that our guests feel immersed within the world of sbe even before arrival,” said Chambers.
A Seamless Digital Experience
Personalization tech is increasingly an essential tool to rethink online bookings. But in order for it to succeed, there needs to be alignment between the personalization of the booking experience and the hotel’s curation of more traditional on-site amenities like service and design. The Viceroy Los Cabos is one example of a property that’s working to achieve this seamless alignment of personalization both before and during the trip.
Viceroy’s digital personalization process starts at the booking phase, when guests are planning their stay via the hotel website. That site is available on both desktop and mobile, and in English and Spanish, the primary languages spoken by the hotel’s two main markets.
But beyond these simple steps, the Viceroy’s website personalization is further extended by means of customized offer packages that may appeal to guests based on the user’s IP address, which identifies their real-world geographic location. “We know that certain markets have a typically longer length of stay and this allows us to bring their attention to a great value package that will appeal to them more than, for example, a local market guest who will be searching for a three-night stay,” said Viceroy Los Cabos’ General Manager Martin Kipping.
Using IP addresses also enables the Viceroy Los Cabos to personalize resort packages to users in locales suffering from bad weather. “Everybody has a different behavior online – some gathering information, some making decisions and some buying right away,” said Kipping. “Ideally we want to sense that behavior and adapt the site for them, showing them customer reviews, social media posts, food and beverage photography – things that we know will be a strong call to action for the customer to continue through to making that reservation.”
The bespoke experience of booking at the Viceroy is further reinforced by the property’s efforts to customize the on-site stay using technology. “’Digital guests’ expect hotels to offer a progressively personalized service,” noted Kipping. Viceroy guests can directly communicate needs and requests like concierge services, restaurant reservations and room service via text. Even guest room TVs are customizable so that guests can wirelessly stream their own content. Kipping also added that the Viceroy extends this customization to the period prior to check-in. Mobile check-in gives guests the option of checking in up to 24 hours prior to arrival and even making additional requests such as a room upgrade, late check-out or specific amenities like a chilled bottle of champagne in their room upon arrival.
Today’s hotelier recognizes the value that personalization has on the guest experience. The more guests feel that every aspect of their experience was tailored exactly for them, the greater the likelihood that they will spend more on property and return again and again.
But in today’s competitive market, truly savvy hotel executives realize that it is no longer enough to only customize during the guest stay. Personalization needs to extend to the booking process, where the right tools give hotels the means to increase conversions, build better loyalty and customize content in order to deliver more direct bookings.