The importance of online guest engagement

OTAs provide consumers with a one-stop-shop for travel, offering a variety of accommodation options in one place, whilst putting valuable information at their fingertips, writes Helen Maher, director of market management, London, Expedia Group.

They are the leading resource during the planning phase of a trip, and remain prevalent through the booking path, with OTAs converting the most travellers. Since their introduction in the mid-90’s OTAs have increasingly gained market share in the UK and Europe, and forecasts expect this trend to continue.

Helen Maher

However, understanding the phases leading up to the trip, and the traveller experiences throughout, is a fundamental part of improving the guest experience and maintaining a hotel’s online reputation.

Unlimited resources

Let’s look at the traveller journey. There are four phases: dreaming and planning, shopping and booking, the trip experience and post-trip. Throughout this journey, today’s tech-savvy, mobile-first travellers are looking for personalised content relevant to their preference and it is predicted that by 2022, more than a third of European supplier-OTA bookings will be transacted via mobile websites and apps.

Travel seekers have unlimited resources and most take advantage of them when considering a purchase, resulting in an intricate and complicated booking process. So, what tools can hoteliers use to help attract and engage travellers throughout their journey when they are given such a huge wealth of options?

At Expedia, we offer our lodging partners a suite of self-service tools to make it easy for travellers to visualise their stay and differentiate their property. They can access market data about what travellers are most interested in to help improve property content, optimise photos and provide tools to better engage and influence their online reputation.

During the initial ‘dreaming and planning’ phase of the journey, travellers are viewing immense amounts of content and spend a long time sifting through information whilst researching their options. Once they’ve chosen a destination, robust hotel descriptions, compelling imagery, and information on nearby points of interest all influence a hotel booking decision.

Emotional reactions

The importance of content and how it provides an opportunity to inspire travellers and empower hoteliers to be a true destination ambassador cannot be overstated. Expedia research found that travel shoppers often gravitate toward images that evoke emotional reactions. Rooms, restaurants, and general spaces with pleasing views instilled a feeling of delight for the hotel and photos showing unique and attractive features also inspired a good reaction. Furthermore, images that looked natural and undistorted instilled a sense of trust that it was an authentic and realistic depiction of the hotel.

Hoteliers should also aim to be the local expert and share insights into local activities and landmarks, as research found 90% of travellers do some sort of tour or activity while on holiday. When determining which hotel to book, consumers rank location above amenities, price and ratings.

By the time travellers move into the booking phase, they have already narrowed down their options and are one step closer to purchasing, but hoteliers still need to account for diverse needs and budgets. Understanding the market and offering competitive rates and availability can be what results in travellers make that final booking decision. Leveraging performance and market information, paired with public shopping data, can help hotels set strategies that convert travellers. Expedia offers several analytics tools to support hoteliers with revenue management and property performance, which provide valuable information on a property’s revenue performance.

Once a traveller has booked, the hotelier can begin delivering on guest experience by opening the lines of communication. Lodging partners told us it was challenging to communicate with travellers who book through OTAs, and they needed the ability to communicate with guests before they arrived at the property, not just on-site.

Engaged guests are returning guests

Our guest communication platform EPC Conversations was developed with this in mind, allowing hoteliers to acknowledge, confirm, and manage special requests and provide information about the property’s offerings helping to enhance engagement. Since launch, more than six million conversations have been started between hoteliers and their guests, resulting in 9.8 million exchanged messages.

Engaged guests are also returning guests – they are 40% more likely to return to the property, according to a study by Local Measure, illustrating that there’s an opportunity for hotels to drive incremental profit through active engagement with their guests.

During the post-trip phase, travellers want to relive their experiences by posting on social media and leaving reviews – positive and negative. Understanding the role of reviews throughout the journey, and their impact on online reputation is imperative for hoteliers. Reviews provide actionable insights on what guests think of a hotel, but also maybe the tipping point between consideration and booking for potential guests.

In addition to monitoring post-trip reviews, it’s important for hotels to respond to questions and concerns from past guests. In fact, Phocuswright research found that 62% of users say that seeing hotel management respond to reviews generally “makes me more likely to book it” and 87% of users agree that an appropriate response to a bad review “improved my impressions of the hotel”. To further demonstrate the value of engaging with guests, properties that respond to real-time feedback can see post-stay review scores that are up to 10% higher than those who don’t respond. Investing in your online presence and guest satisfaction are key drivers to help increase positive reviews, generate more direct traffic, improve visibility and grow conversion.

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