Your Hotel Website as a Distribution Channel; What You Need to Know

By.  Ahmed Mahmoud 17th Jan 2015

Nowadays the web has become a powerful search engine tool for travelers. Hence hotels must make sure that their websites transmit quality, professionalism and credibility together with a good design and comfortable look-and-feel.

Online channels, including online travel agencies and hotel websites, continue to experience dramatic growth in hotel bookings. Together, sites and OTAs account for nearly half of all leisure bookings, while the number of travelers who prefer calling the hotel directly, calling the brand’s 1-800 numbers, walking in or booking through a travel agent continues to wane, according to recent data from TravelClick.

InterContinental Hotels Group and many other hotel chains always point to an increasing dependence on OTAs as a potential impact on the company’s brands and profitability.

Travelers now have access to far more information through comparison websites, search engines and online travel agents, the report reads. Sales through these channels typically have high commission rates and are taking an increasing share of bookings across the travel and hospitality sector.”

While the old-fashioned channels cannot be forgotten (as they still represent about half of leisure bookings today, and are often the most profitable), revenue managers are shifting their focus to the channels that are growing the fastest. So just how are distribution experts evolving their strategies to keep up with the shift in booking demand?

The increased move toward attribution modeling will allow hotels to better understand the value of each channel and of each guest and to price upgrades and amenities appropriately, because the focus needs to be less about which channels drive the most volume and more toward which drive the greatest long-term value to ownership.”

While online channels may not be the most profitable, it’s important for hotels to be present there because it’s most often where travelers begin their search. Most travelers use a number of sources-and devices-when planning their travel, with almost half moving across devices during their trip-planning process.

A recent study by SaleCycle revealed that more than 50% of online travel searches are abandoned when the shopper reaches the price screen and before the booking is completed.

To discover why travelers opt out of their bookings, SaleCycle gathered the opinions of 1,000 online shoppers in 12 countries; the survey revealed that 53% of searches are terminated once the user is shown the price. A further 26% opt out when asked for personal details and 21% when asked for payment details.

But this is not necessarily a reflection of the price being too high; the majority of respondents said they abandoned their search because they wanted to shop around. Thirty-seven percent cited price as the key factor, while 21% needed to check with fellow travelers before committing to the booking.

According to the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, hotels that are listed on third-party distributors’ websites like online travel agents, or OTAs, can expect to capture additional direct reservations. In order to leverage the full marketing potential of distribution channels, it is extremely important for your website to offer the best available rate always to ensure rate parity.

“Unsurprisingly, the most commonly cited reason for abandonment was that consumers were ‘not yet ready’ to book and were still in the ‘just looking’ process. This trend is common in shopping cart abandonment too, with consumers using the basket page as a way of creating ‘wish lists’ and building up an idea of what their dream purchase would be,” SalesCycle said.

“Price plays a huge part in the booking journey and a large proportion of responders highlighted they wanted to compare prices elsewhere before completing their booking. This was highlighted further when asked ‘where’ in the journey people were likely to abandon, with over half citing the moment they are shown the total price as the point they’d most typically abandon,” it added.

Two factors are always included in the decision of travelers: price and availability. It is critical that the website displays prominently, in every page, the ability for travelers to check rates and availabilities for the travel dates. Moreover, many travelers nowadays have flexible dates and are actively bargain hunting and willing to trade off some convenience for a better price or package.

Make sure your calendar overview displays a longer-term view of the rates and availabilities so travelers can choose the perfect vacation or business trip according to their needs and possibilities.

But, and according to SalesCycle’s survey, it appears that online travel retailers do have the ability to convert a greater number of searches into bookings simply by improving their processes. Thirteen percent of respondents said they abandoned their searches as the booking process took too long to complete, while 9% opted out due to technical issues and 7% due to payment issues.

Many hotel websites include links to external sites like for users looking for 3rd party information. However, once users leave the website they will be attacked with advertising of competing offers. So, it is critical that you leverage content syndication technologies like RSS to provide the turnkey package for decision making on your website and turn that looker into a booker.

And the opportunities for online travel sales are clear to see; 86% of those surveyed said they typically book their travel online, with only 14% preferring to book in person or by telephone.

One of the most important aspects for e-commerce success has to do with the way the business is presented and the services are sold. Creating a sales-focused website is not trivial but for hotels there are many important details that must be taken into account.

By having a website with easy usability and friendly navigation can be a decisive factor for how long your visitors will stay on your website. Bad navigation and usability can lead to visitors abandoning the website within 2 seconds thus not converting into bookings. It is important to keep the navigation of a website simple and to the point, preferably just one level of navigation with a clear menu that feature items that users recognize. It is not recommended to try to innovate and distinguish this area of the website from your competitors.

Your hotel website must facilitate instant online booking by making sure that the booking engine offers a quick and easy online booking process for guests to reserve a room to decrease the abandon rate and increase online bookings.

The effectiveness of your website should be measured based on the following two major issues:

1- Conversion ratesIs your website converting lookers into bookers?

2- Website optimizationIs your website driving visitors to your site?

* First, your website is a sales tool; therefore, speed and quality of the site’s accessibility will affect your users’ satisfaction. The site needs to offer a simple, easy-to-use navigation scheme and a good link strategy in addition to site attractiveness.

* Second, your website needs to include technical and marketing principles to attract bookings. These would include well-written content, keywords, sales text, technically acceptable photography, researched and carefully chosen search terms/phrases, workable description, and Meta Tags title.

Third, you should develop and utilize the website to its full potential. You will need to incorporate a functional reservation booking system or inventory management system. Additionally, your site needs to include a medium that establishes e-Relationships, one-to-one communication, or a form of interactivity with the users.

* Fourth, the website needs to provide the optimal paths to maximize sell-through and conversion rates. Your website needs to be user-friendly especially in the number of steps to make the actual reservation. The key is to maximize usability and minimize bailout rates.

As consumer purchasing behavior has shifted more towards shopping on the internet, having an effective website is more important than ever. Whether you are the owner of a small lodge, hostel, guest house, inn, bed & breakfast, or hotel with less than 50 rooms, a custom hotel website can increase your operation’s performance, yield direct bookings, and produce greater long-term financial growth.

Travelers of tomorrow will spend more time and money researching a site before traveling to a destination. With that your website will need to help them find you, capture their attention, and create opportunity so your customers can make direct bookings through you.

The rapid growth in the use of the internet for hotel and travel searches on laptop, mobile devices, and tablets has substantially increased competition. By making an investment in developing a hotel website, you’re on your way to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

More than ever, today’s hotel websites need to be functional both for the hotels and the visitors. The design and purpose of your hotel’s website can greatly affect your potential and existing visitors’ online experiences and ultimately tap into your target markets. If you simply think website traffic will determine your marketing success, then you’ll need to think again.

About  Ahmed Mahmoud

Ahmed Mahmoud has more than a decade of experience in the hospitality industry and business administration, Ahmed began his career early by holding a variety of management positions with such top hotel chains as Accor Hotels, Hyatt International and Starwood hotels. With decades of revenue management experience Ahmed founded the very dedicated site for revenue management news, articles,

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