Hotel Bookings – What is the Guest’s Decision-Making Process?10 min read
In today’s highly competitive online travel marketplace, it is vital that hotels understand who their consumers are and what their decision-making process entails when making hotel bookings.
However, the science behind the decision-making process involved in booking a hotel is by no means a straightforward matter. It’s driven by a range of important factors, including the customer profile, their personal preferences, and whether hotels meet these criteria. Navigating through these factors to increase direct sales can be a tough nut to crack for many hotels competing online.
So what makes your hotel stand out to people booking their next holiday? Where do your prospective guests book and why? Read on to find the answers to these questions.
So, how does the hotel booking process start?
Choosing a hotel is not a 100% rational choice, it is also an emotional one. In fact, research published on HospitalityNet shows that booking a hotel is 59% driven by emotion, and 39% rational. Therefore, it’s extremely important to understand who your target guests are and how your business mix resonates with them.
So let’s assume a family of four is planning their leisure trip. Peter and Maria are a young couple with two children. They have already chosen a destination, and the flight must be no longer than two hours. With only accommodation left to book, they are looking for a family-friendly hotel with beach and cultural activities.
Maria, who is now in charge of booking the family’s stay, follows the 3 steps below:
1. Researches Hotels via an OTA
Google research shows that when travelers start planning their trips, only 16% have decided which hotel to stay at. This isn’t the case for Maria, who at this stage also doesn’t know any hotels in the chosen holiday destination. For this reason, she decides to go to an OTA to see all their options. After selecting the destination and the dates, she adds two filters: 1. Price range according to their budget and 2. The hotels’ score is based on guest reviews.
What should your hotel do to grab her attention?
In order for your hotel to be visible in the search results list, it is crucial that your availability is up-to-date. Your hotel score also plays an important role since it might be a discriminatory variable.
After carefully checking some hotels, their photos, room options, and reviews, Maria consolidates a shortlist of six properties. She proceeds to gather more information about these hotels, in order to make the best decision and leaves the OTA to find it.
2. Takes a Closer Look at Shortlisted Hotel Websites
A study by Fuel and Flip.to reveals that a staggering 87% of guests will visit a hotel’s website before making a reservation. Maria will start searching for her top 6 hotels on Google by copy-pasting your hotel name from the OTA.
How can you make your Hotel Website Easier to Find?
Is your hotel website listed in the first organic position for your hotel name on Google’s Search Engine Results (SERP) page? Is your hotel name consistent across all OTAs and your hotel website? Is your Google My Business updated? These are very important factors to take into account to ensure your hotel website is easily accessible.
Unable to find two of her shortlisted hotels in the first positions on Google’s SERP, and discovering that the third website is not marked as secure with HTTPS in the domain, Maria eliminates these three hotels from her shortlist. She then begins to compare the remaining hotel websites – including yours.
3. Visits & Compares YOUR Hotel Website with the Competition
Let’s not forget, Maria is a working mom of two and certainly doesn’t have all the time in the world to treasure-hunt for information that fits the family’s vacation criteria.
When Maria lands on your hotel website for a closer look, she will search for information quickly and arbitrarily. Slow loading pages, broken links, and messy navigation are all major turn-offs that will both frustrate Maria and make her abandon your website in a hurry.
How do you Keep Her Hooked on Your Hotel Website?
At this stage, it is very important that your hotel website is user-friendly and cuts to the chase when displaying information that will drive Maria’s decision to book. Remember, she will quickly review whether your amenities, location, commodities, activities, surroundings, events, and room types are a match for her and her family.
If your hotel is a family-friendly one, this information should echo across your hotel website. Be sure to highlight everything from family rooms, extra beds/cots, babysitting services, and family activities, etc should be clearly highlighted across all areas of your hotel website.
The image below is a good example of how you can clearly communicate the family-friendly qualities of your hotel across your website:
What Other Information is Maria Looking for, that Will Drive Her Decision to Book Your Hotel?
Apart from the obvious information that resonates with the family holiday plans, Maria will also evaluate the hotel and make a decision based on the look and feel of your hotel website, the special offers your hotel can deliver, and what other guests have to say about your hotel.
Let’s take a closer look at these decision-drivers, and how you can ensure they inspire Maria to book:
1. The Look & Feel of Your Hotel Website
According to research by Fuel, images are the number 1 decision-making factor when visitors are navigating through a hotel website. The visual elements of your website will significantly influence Maria’s decision to book, because visual content appeals to the emotions, and accommodates the quick, instinctive way people navigate websites and choose to book. For these reasons, it is crucial that your hotel website has good-quality and updated images.
An extensive study by Leonardo shows that guest room images are the most viewed category of media on a hotel website, out of over 500,000,000 media items. Therefore, your rooms page should make Maria instantly feel like she is looking at home away from home for her and her family. Seeing quality photos of the entire hotel’s interior and exterior, with young and happy families enjoying the property, will also inspire Maria’s appetite to escape to your hotel.
Several studies show that websites with images that include facial characteristics are more positively received by users than images with no humans. In addition, photos should be real because Maria can tell if you are using stock photos.
To stand out, your hotel website should humanize your Hotel Brand with photos that showcase the guest experience. According to a study by HRS.com and eResult, photos actually are the most important factor in choosing a hotel for 78% of travelers.
2. What other Guests have to Say about Your Hotel
Nielson’s research shows that 70% of people will trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know, while 92% of people are more likely to trust non-paid recommendations than any other form of advertising. To make Maria’s life easier, your hotel website should boldly showcase good reviews from your customers. This will not only give Maria a good impression of your brand, but you will also save her the extra step to TripAdvisor to read more reviews.
3. The Best Deals & Special Offers
The booking decision is getting closer, and finding a good deal is extremely important to Maria. The more positive benefits she perceives, the greater the chance she will make a purchase decision on your hotel website. Does your hotel have an exclusive deal available on your website? What is the added value to your target audience? Is your price / added value better on your website than on the OTAs? These are important questions you need to address.
Finally, the Booking Process…
After researching your website and discovering your hotel has a special package for families that do not exist on OTAs or any other channel, Maria is ready to book.
Our research of over 1,000 hotels within our portfolio shows that 97% of online visitors will abandon a hotel website at the transaction stage. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure you don’t create any obstacles to her decision to book your hotel. Below are some important factors to review:
Is your booking engine reliable, easy to book, and clear? Do you offer Maria some options (like different meal plans and flexible cancellation policy) but not an infinite scroll of possibilities that will confuse her?
Can she book easily, with just a few steps?
Do you have shopping activation widgets that create a sense of urgency? Stating, for example, that you only have 5 rooms left?
If your booking engine ticks the boxes above, congratulations! Maria just booked on your website and she is ready to have some great family time off at your hotel!
Maria, and indeed all the consumers, evaluate options before making a decision based on information received. This evaluation process is particularly difficult when we are talking about hotels, as hospitality service is intangible in nature. However, to make a decision and choose a hotel, consumers look at your hotel characteristics, quality, price, facilities, reputation, location, reputation – not only on OTAs but also on your website.
The consumers weigh all these attributes, they connect emotionally with your hotel, they have a good or bad experience on your website, they perceive whether or not you value them. Your hotel needs to target its own market segment, whether it be families (like the example in this article), millennials and younger crowds, corporate professionals, or adventurers and thrill-seekers – to name just a few of many possibilities. Don’t try to target everyone, because that way, you’re not targeting anyone.
Since choosing a hotel involves a mix of emotional and rational decision-making factors, you should take both into account when delivering information, photos, and deals. Deliver the information your target wants to see in an easy way, create an emotional connection with them, make them feel they are making a very good choice by booking your hotel on your website.