The case of Direct Bookings and Chatbots
Hoteliers will fondly remember the ‘Stop Clicking Around’ ad campaign by Hilton hotels that ran in Feb 2016. Besides being a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) that became the uniting mission for Hilton, it was a bold initiative to encourage guests to book directly using Hilton mobile apps or hotel websites. While big brands have the wherewithal to undertake such initiatives, most of the hotels end up losing traffic and bookings to OTAs. Efforts are underway, en masse, in the industry to reverse this trend, though a lot of ground needs to be covered. Some of the hoteliers we spoke to are prioritising their guest facing digital assets to deliver more, while ensuring marketing efforts remain pocket friendly. Much of the focus remains on websites, social media and messaging, an intersection where agile technologies like chatbots are taking shape.
It’s no secret that most of the hotel websites under deliver for majority of the visitors don’t convert into paying guests, at least not the first time. To grab a booking a hotel must not only compete with those in the neighbourhood but also but also check these boxes for on a guest’s list – price, brand, location, epicurean indulgences, technology, speedy wi-fi, activities, user reviews, etc.
A recent survey — ‘Why do guests abandon their booking?’ — published by SiteMinder highlights the key reasons for abandoned direct bookings:
- 39% of visitors wanted to research further
- 21% needed to check with others before booking
- 37% thought the price was too high or they wanted to spend time scouting for better deals
- 13% found the booking process too complicated and were put-off
- 9% faced a technical issue during the reservation
- 10% of bookings were lost for asking too many details
A host of common friction points include:
- Websites take longer to upload
- Limited communication options with the hotel
- Too many details required to complete a booking
- Complicated booking UI and UX
- Website not optimised for mobiles and other screen sizes
Needless to say that an effective website is propped-up by a robust technology stack that contributes to the user experience. The critical components being:
- The Channel Manager — distributes room inventory to Online Travel Agents such as Booking.com, Expedia, Priceline, Trivago, Ctrip, etc.
- The Booking Engine — housed on the hotel website (for chain hotels it’s a function of the Central Reservation System) to let a guest book a room directly with the hotel.
- The Property Management System (PMS) — the backbone of hotel operations to manage and automate functioning across front desk, housekeeping, S&M, and revenues, as well as considered to be the holy grail of guest information.
Given the conventional technology make-up isn’t achieving its objective for most of the hotels, leveraging chatbots can push the envelope in the right direction. Consider this: chatbots are interactive, multilingual, available 24×7, handle multiple concurrent chats, automate FAQs, apt at lead generation; it only makes sense to throw them into the mix! They can be nested on websites, social media channels such as Facebook business page, and consumer messaging apps including Messenger, Telegram, WeChat, Skype, Slack, WhatsApp, etc.
Research and Direct Booking — Not only chatbots can be primed to showcase hotel features, services, amenities and local attractions, with proper plumbing they can lead the website visitors down the booking path. Furthermore, as interactions are on one-to-one basis, hotels can seize the opportunity to present the best available online room-rate with a smart incentive packaging (on going promotion or special deal) to drive direct booking. Once the guest has the booking reference number the chatbot can facilitate online check-in and help them beat the queues at the reception desk.
System integrations with Channel Manager for sourcing best rate, Booking Engine for completing a booking with a reference number that is further supplied to the Property Management System can unlock the potential to profitable direct bookings.
On-property Guests: Imagine if your guests have an option of not picking up the room phone and yet be able to send service requests for laundry pick-up, order room service, order amenities, book a spa session, and leave feedback and reviews.
Integrations to Property Management System and Point of Sale can enable seamless experience that exacts less manual interventions.
Post-stay: Chatbots pack the potential to complete the circuit — hotels can now stay connected with their guest throughout their journey. With automated feedback and review messages hotels can keep the guest engagement live.
Personalised rebooking offers based on travel plans can keep the guests in the booking funnel even when they aren’t a part of the hotel’s Loyalty Management System. For instance, a guest interested in activities around the hotel can be offered a package deal for the next visit.
With Machine Learning chatbots not only keep improving the responses but also profile the guests better. Right incentives can keep the engagement on-going making the chatbots more sticky with time.
The OTAs have mastered the art of optimising the process to simplify the booking experience. They invest thousands of dollars to decide the type, colour and positioning of a new CTA button on the booking screen. Of course hotels can’t follow in track, but rather use new technologies at hand to up the ante. It’s paramount to keep up with the technological advances as savvy guests demand simpler self-serving options without being tethered to a hotel mobile app. Both voice and text chatbots are gaining prominence in the global hospitality market as hoteliers find it imperative to hit refresh on their Marketing Canvas and Guest Engagement Management (GEM) KPIs.
HeyMojo is envisioning hospitality marketing and customer engagement through the medium of automated text and voice chat. We apply Artificial Intelligence to collect meaningful data that improves your understanding of customer behaviour and preferences. Our products and solutions are designed to cut-out the intermediaries and enable direct customer engagement. Visit www.heymojo.com/hotels to learn more.
Read how Stately Suites hotel increased direct bookings.
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