Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) have taken center stage in the tourism industry. Huge players like Booking.com and Expedia control inventories of millions of hotel rooms and have become a major distribution channel for practically all hotel owners. At the same time, many smaller OTAs are emerging, targeting niches, and leveraging unique travel expertise.
As a small or medium-sized OTA, you may not have access to the massive development, testing, and marketing budgets of the big players. However, by offering an optimized booking experience and being smart about online customer interaction, you can achieve great conversion rates and thrive in today’s travel economy.
Read on to learn six ways you can skyrocket your OTA's booking experience:
- Mobile friendly website, completely functional on any device
- Usability and user experience
- Social proof
- Rewards and loyalty programs
- Always be testing
- Pay attention to the last mile
1. Mobile Friendly Website, Completely Functional on Any Device
Travelers use your website on many different devices, including smartphones, tablets, computers with many different screen sizes, and even smart watches. The big OTAs make huge investments developing specific apps for each device. As a smaller OTA, you can find inexpensive ways to address the problem.
The first thing is to make sure your website is responsive, so it can adapt to any screen size and orientation. You should also do cross-browser testing to check that the site works well with the most popular web browsers. Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Samsung Internet and Microsoft Edge should capture almost 90% of web users (keep up-to-date with the stats on the most popular browsers here).
2. Usability and User Experience
If customers can quickly discover the information that they're looking for, they are more inclined to book with your OTA's website. Design it to be clutter-free, easy to navigate, and focused on the most important information needed to make a booking choice.
Customers want to see many, high quality images of rooms, amenities, social spaces, and attractions. The most successful OTAs place imagery at the center of their user experience. When you click through to a hotel, the very first thing you see is an attention-grabbing image of the property with an extensive gallery. You should look to add a variety of photos to help provide guests with more details.
In addition, be sure to provide concise information, such as the view, distance from attractions or city centers, room size, bed size, availability of wifi, etc. Don’t make guests read long paragraphs of marketing text about the property—provide the information in simple bullets or tables that can be scanned quickly.
Never ask customers to click away from the page to gather information they need to book the room. Everything should be presented in one place, with minimal scrolling.
This hotel details page from Expedia.com is an excellent example. It presents all the information a guest could need cleanly and concisely, using icons and short text. The page provides only the essential information and uses links like ‘All amenities’, ‘Reviews’ and ‘View photos’ to give more details.
3. Social Proof
Social proof plays a very big role in the reservation process. Leisure travelers spend an average of 30 minutes reading reviews before reserving a hotel room. The reason is that people want confirmation from other people that they are making the best choice.
Adding reviews as an integral part of the booking process can improve conversion and also increase guest satisfaction from their trip, because they know what to expect. You can go one step further, showing if properties were recently browsed, reviewed and reserved, and thus encourage future bookings.
If your OTA does not have sufficient traffic and registered users to generate reviews for all properties in your inventory, you can use the TripAdvisor widget to add reviews from their extensive database.
4. Rewards and Loyalty Programs
Returning customers are extremely valuable for any business, especially in the competitive travel industry. When people visit your site, whether they book or not, you should encourage them to come back. Provide visitors with multiple opportunities to sign up for free offers, newsletters, or anything else that is valuable and does not require a hard commitment.
For travelers who visit your website and don't make a reservation, offer personalized concessions. For example, if they viewed a certain type of room, email them with a discount on that type of accommodation to encourage a booking.
For those who repeatedly book through your site, reward them with significant incentives. Provide free night stays, or give customers a loyalty card with discounts they can use during their upcoming stay. This can dramatically increase lifetime value for users of your site.
If you are operating in Europe or your site is visited by European citizens, be sure to learn about the EU’s General Data and Privacy Regulation (GDPR), and take the necessary steps to safeguard personal data, to avoid sanctions and fines.
5. Always Be Testing
Testing needs to be an ongoing procedure at any OTA's business. For instance, it’s definitely not enough to create a new product, let a few friends or colleagues see it and release it. The big OTAs invest millions in testing and revamping their design and user experience to fix problems they identify in user testing.
You should do this too, for example, by asking guests who have booked through your site to provide feedback on their booking experience. The basic way to do this is by online surveys, but successful OTAs take it one step further. You can organize a user testing day, invite repeat customers to one of your hotels for a free lunch and drink, and pick their brains about the strengths and weaknesses of your online process.
Testing is simple: build a test version of an important page, such as a hotel property page or a checkout page. Ask your testers to go through the process for the first time, and follow through all the way to booking a room. Watch them doing it and make notes of problems or questions they had along the way.
Finally, ask them to fill out a form with a few questions that garner more information about what worked and didn’t work. Ask them what could be better, would they visit the site again, and how they felt about the look and feel of your design.
6. Pay Attention to the Last Mile
OTAs usually provide flights and accommodation, but this is not the full story of a customer’s journey, which begins the moment they leave their front door. Encourage your customers to book their travel to their final destination, or for getting around during their trip, when they book their flight and hotel room. Through the integration of a web widget, smart mobility solutions, such as the HERE Mobility Marketplace can be added to your website. This enables you to offer a variety of transportation options: taxis, public transport, shared scooters, and more, to your customers.