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Optimizing Hotel Distribution for All Parts of the Customer Journey

by Pamela Espinoza, Contributing Editor, Latin America |

New research sheds light on the unique booking behaviors of Mexican travelers, who show greater propensity for planning last-minute travel. Hotels might benefit from many guests paying higher prices for waiting too long. But it’s still important to their Revenue Strategy to optimize hotel distribution and marketing for consumers researching their travel options further out in the booking window.

According to Expedia.mx, more than 20% of Mexican travelers reserve trips zero to six days in advance, for both business and leisure travel. Carolina Piber, executive director of Expedia in Latin America, said this makes Mexican consumers 15% more likely to book a last-minute trip than Brazilian consumers.

Expedia’s data revealed that the United States was the No. 2 destination for Mexican consumers’ last-minute travel. Their home country was the most popular market for visiting on short notice. The top cities for last-minute trips in 2016 were Mexico City, Guadalajara, Cancun and Monterrey.

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However, there’s a bigger picture to keep in mind. Last-minute bookings are only a small part of hotel distribution, one that is usually dependent on online travel agency partners. Hotels need to optimize a booking experience and a distribution strategy for consumers searching for accommodations in the more typical window. The competition for attention and, ultimately, bookings comes not just from OTAs but also review sites or social media, new research has found.

Is Your Direct Channel Helping You or Hurting You?

Driving direct bookings is every hotel’s goal, particularly for revenue managers, who want to avoid third-party commissions and fees. Therefore, your hotel website is, perhaps, the most important factor in a successful hotel marketing campaign. If the website is ineffective, the entire marketing budget will be spent for nothing, and optimal rates will not be as visible as you need them to be.

A study conducted this year by TrustYou indicates that when consumers search for travel, 77% look for keywords related to accommodation and/or locations, with 57% of keywords accounting for hotel search.

The keywords, photos and copy on your hotel website — as well as the content you publish on each OTA — play a key role in making your hotel stand out and attract potential customers to book your room. This comes particularly true when targeting millennials, as younger generations are more influenced by design, photos and video.

Let’s consider a hotel that would like to drive rate by promoting its suite inventory. The hotel Revenue Strategy should be apparent on the property’s site. If all marketing channels are incentivizing suite bookings, but the property site is not highlighting the unique aspects of the suites, offering a virtual tour or showing the different suite categories, it will be hard to sell these categories via direct bookings. A travel agent or a third party like an OTA might be willing to explain the special features of your suites to consumers, but then their commissions will only dilute the premium rate you’re seeking for those rooms.

Booking is a Journey

In its 2017 Travel Website Behavior Study, hotel marketing firm Fuel concluded that travelers visit an average of 4.4 unique sites prior to booking. That number continues to decrease, as only one year ago the average was 4.6.

As consumers show less interest use multiple sites to research travel, it’s vital to stand out and be visible during the search phase to retain a potential booking and not get overlooked in the consideration phase.

Each time potential guests revisits your site, they are likely at a different stage of the booking phase. Unsurprisingly, 95% of visitors read property and room data and 70% read area information. If we consider that customers are willing to do their homework and 26 is the average days of the research time from first search to booking, revenue managers and marketing directors must communicate constantly to retain the customer via a relevant website experience that provides user-friendly content.

In a world dominated by DIY, a good opportunity is to create a FAQ section on your site to provide the most requested facts being requested to your reservations department that influence the booking.

Social Media’s Influence on Hotel Bookings 

We have all heard about how social media is influencing the way we shop, from review sites to Facebook and Instagram, but some still question its relevance.

In the recent study shared by TrustYou, data showed that 42% of consumers use Facebook to find travel inspiration. Referring to the earlier example of hotels trying to upsell suites, the properties should populate their Facebook and Instagram pages and other social media channels with suite content to reinforce the Revenue Strategy.

TrustYou shares that the review rating score is the second most important factor affecting a booking decision after the rate, with 85% of consumers not booking without first reading a review. Furthermore, 88% of travelers sorted out hotels under 3 stars and 32% eliminated those with a review score under four stars, making it even more relevant to consider your competitive set against those hotels with a similar social score as yours.

The Big Picture

Two hotel distribution and marketing imperatives arise from some of the latest research:

Stand out: As travelers are more willing to do their own research, revenue managers should understand that they are no longer competing against the hotel down the street, but with the OTAs and social review sites as well. The revenue and marketing departments should have an open and constant communication to make your offers and hotel stand out.

Be helpful: The days in which rate was the only driver are mostly gone. Now travelers want to book an experience. As personalization becomes more and more relevant, we must learn to anticipate the guest’s needs and answer their questions before they even ask.

Booking is a journey, so the booking experience must be created for the customer to engage with your hotel during the decision making process. By doing so, your marketing team will help you to move the needle and seal the deal via content that is user-friendly and prevents the customer from leaving your site to continue searching elsewhere.

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Pamela Espinoza, Contributing Editor, Latin America

Pamela Espinoza joined Duetto in 2017 as a Contributing Editor covering revenue management and the hospitality industry for the Latin America region. She is based in Mexico.