Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pre-stay, Post-stay and HTML email: what does that mean for your Booking Engine?

There's nothing worse than wasting time in trying to create something that, ultimately, does not work at all or just a little.

Email is an instrument aged as the web, so it's young if you think about it in absolute terms, but old when considered in relation to communication on the Internet and its evolution. Yet today it is an indispensable and irreplaceable tool, especially for business.

Any booking engine, as well as any e-commerce platform for online sales of any business trade, cannot do without email notifying both the buyer and seller.

About the hotel industry, the email a customer receive after its hotel reservations is always pretty standard: summary of the booking with travel data, references and contacts of the hotel and little else. Being a 'closed' text message, there's no so much work to do about its content, while there is about its shape.

Pre-stay and post-stay email in html format with the ability to insert images and links: they have become indispensable tools for hotel booking engine that all hoteliers want. But does it has only an aesthetic function? Or rather, the aesthetic end in itself really brings tangible benefits?

It requires the utmost attention, this could even be counterproductive and harmful. Do not forget that the html email are subject to spam risk. Many corporate servers block emails containing even a single image. In addition, a careless use of images can determine insertion into black-list by the server you are sending these emails.

Even the major portals, rather than the bigger airlines still prefer text-only booking confirmation email, which automatically eliminates the risk of non-receipt by the customer.

Then put yourself in the shoes of your customer who has booked online, who receive at least three email for one reservation only. Someone could think that it may look cute and funny, a symptom of great attention to the guest and his needs; however, it could also be a redundant process, almost annoying. We think especially to those regular customers who regularly book through the booking engine on your site, who receive at least three mail every time they book. Indeed it can be a bit hard to accept, especially if we consider that the e-mail content is often repetitive. The e-mail post-stay only can count on a different message from earlier ones. But even in this case, Can we truly say that sending multiple mails leads to tangible benefits?

Let's make it simple: even html, pre and post stay emails must have a goal. So they have to bring results. In short, they have to increase your online sales.
How? Encouraging the customer to purchase additional services, showing the real benefits and acting as a proactive sales tool that encourages customer to personalize his stay.

Your pre-stay email should contain a link to his same reservation made ​​through your booking engine, which gives the possibility to add additional services.

For instance: if you have a spa or wellness center, you may try to provide your guest with a relaxing treat for his arrival at the hotel, maybe with a little discount on the selling price, in order to show it as a real benefit you're giving to him.
Or a dinner at your restaurant, a taxi from the airport to your hotel, and so on.

Not necessarily services for a fee, but small gestures which surely will be appreciated, such as a daily newspaper that the customer can directly book from his pre-stay, an extra pillow for those who prefer to sleep 'high'. For sure you will not make extra revenue, but definitely it will be a much appreciated service to your customers, besides give them a valid reason to book on your site, instead of OTA. Whether the customer pays 30, 50, 100 or 1000 $ for staying at your hotel, it's a non-commissionable revenue anyway.

Although conceptually different, the goal is always the same even for your post-stay e-mail. For instance, in addition to greetings and thanks, you may provide your customers with a voucher for a free-drink for his next trip to your hotel, or a small discount.

Even small actions can lead to great results. Of course, you need the right instruments, a booking engine that allows you to create and manage your dynamic proposals, much less room-centric and much more customer-oriented, which gives a real added value to your email communications.

Everything else is figment of your imagination and your ability to sell and communicate with your customers.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

When small hoteliers raise their voices...

It seems that the nodes are gradually coming home to roost. We do not know how far it is because what we know is often only a small part of what it really is.

We're talking about TripAdvisor, the online review site for the hotel industry. Final judgment comes directly from the ASA, Advertising Standards Authority, which after more than four months has concluded its investigation phase against the British giant.

The reason is simple and well known: fake reviews. It's a serious matter, but it is quite ridiculous to read about TA's statement stating that "there are no fake comments or fake reviews on our site." Let's face it, it's like saying that there is no crime all over the world. Apparently even the objectivity can be bought at the supermarket ...

The conclusion reached by the ASA is that inevitably these fake reviews are possible as well as highly likely, if not certain, as then ascertained. In fact, this story was born more than a year ago by two anonymous hoteliers who simply showed how it was possible and very easy to post fake reviews, both on themselves to improve their visibility and, on the contrary, on its competitors profiles in order to destroy their reputation.

At that time, the ASA started its investigations, new realities were born as Kwikchex, created for the management and preservation of the online reputation of individuals, businesses and users in general.
Surely it is an exaggeration to say that only two hoteliers put the giant TripAdvisor in trouble, but it certainly helped to create awareness among other hoteliers, hotel managers and hotel employees in general.

When small hoteliers raise their voices...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Booking Engine and Web Site: how to disintermediate OTA's

Today, the sharing of information through the internet is fast and wide. Especially in terms of blogs, forums and social networks, the expression of our own ideas, thoughts, considerations and even bad luck has become a sort of need.
Even for hoteliers that does not change, indeed. All over the world new Facebook groups were born,  dedicated to tourism industry professionals and employees, places where vent frustrations after a working day spent sipping customer complaints and troubles, sharing them with those who work in the same area.

Sometimes it's quite fun reading about these stories, real life and problems of everyday life, a kind of confession room of Big Brother, but for normal people who work every day and every day is faced with problems, whether large and small ones. And sometimes, in fact, it's sobering to see how increasingly hoteliers feel powerless in the face of reality, halfway between the customer and the broker.

Finally, I have to admit that some of these confessions give me a veil of sadness mixed with anguish: regular customers who start to rely on online intermediaries for their online reservations, instead of booking as they always have. It will be for convenience, fashion, immediacy. Anyway, one has the impression that, despite they are and remain regular customers, they have become clients of the intermediary.

Let's start with a premise. The total disintermediation does not exist, at least today. Let's try to understand how the booking process works and what brings the customer to book on a OTA portal rather than the hotel booking engine:

Such a theory is what happens in almost all of the booking processes. No wonder then to see a good number of visits on your site, but you have to intervene if your booking conversion bookings is not good. A good average conversion is around 3%, but there is no unique threshold for all situations and for all hotels since too many variables involved.

In the picture above, I have not purposely designed the last step of the process, the most important, where customer make the decision about the platform to use for completing his reservation, OTA site ​​or hotel site. At this time so many variables come into play that the hotel may seek to exploit, starting from:

  1. Hotel Web Site: user visits the hotel website after having already seen the room prices on the OTA, trying to get more information on the hotel itself. Do not forget that any user have become "aware" of what happen since the web give them the possibility to be informed because the network allows them to obtain all the information they want when they want. If the hotel is not trying to give them the information through its website, the OTA will do in its place, thus increasing the chances that the portal will take your reservation. Last but not least, user is interested in visiting hotel website making some 'rate hoppers', trying to find more convenient fares, special offers or packages. User does not know that hotels are subject to the constraint of the parity rate, so the curiosity and the hope of finding the most affordable hotel is still alive and he knows that he can do taht through the network.

  2. Booking Engine: web sites are not all the same, and being on the web it's not enough to be 'attractive' to your customers any longer. So are Booking Engines. A good booking engine determines the positive or negative performance of any hotel. The usability of a booking software is to allow the user to browse and book easily, speedly and immediately. For example, what may seem small technical details such as server response time to user's request (the time that passes from the moment user clicks a button until he gets to the requested page), on the web become the fundamental aspects of usability, so a wait of 0.3 seconds and a wait of 2 seconds make a huge difference. On the other hand, the booking engine must be as flexible as dynamic to allows hotelier to easily configure all of the best methods of online sales for its services, rooms, restaurants and so on.

All things being equal (room X at the price Y, both on the hotel website and the OTAs portal), the client will be in a position of having to decide where to make his reservation. Hence what are the fundamental aspects you should work on to start your own process of disintermediation:

  1. Adequacy and completeness of the information: everything posted on your web site, whether they are photos, descriptions and items must be clear and understandable, should not be ambiguous and difficult to realize. The user must be sure of what he's reading and seeing, especially, he must understand it without difficulty;

  2. Make sure you have a booking engine that is powerful and can satisfy the needs of online retail. It is NOT absolutely true that a more expensive booking means better performance. Rather, make sure that your booking engine can meet the today's needs and, at the same time, make sure it is constantly evolving, because tomorrow is another day and the time runs much faster on the web;

  3. Do not simply sell only rooms, but try to offer all other services your hotel has such as restaurant, spa and fitness center, room service, transfer service from the airport or city center ... This is a focal point of the process of disintermediation. OTAs only offer hotel rooms, but they do not treat any ancillary service, unless they are included in some of your package rates. Make sure you have a booking engine that allows you to configure the sale of ancillary services. In addition to helping  you to generate ancillary revenue (or extra revenue), it is an aspect that can have an important influence in the choice of the customer to book on your web site, instead of the portal one;

  4. Clear payment methods and cancellation policies. User does not have to feel cheated and anyway all your policies must be clear and easy to read ... This is the same concept stated in point 1: clarity and transparency. Otherwise, the user, even unconsciously, will feel "guaranteed" by booking through the OTA portal;

  5. Do not 'spam' OTAs' sites with too many special offers and rate packages. Keep them for your own website. I'm not talking about violating the parity rate, rightly mandatory for all the OTAs, but exploiting your special rates to give your website an added value;

  6. Put in evidence the special offers and packages on your website because they are easily identifiable and accessible;

  7. Offer your customers corporate discount codes or codes to book on your web site with cheaper rates (opaque biddings). Give these codes to your occasional customers too, especially those who have booked through an OTA ... just a little present such as an aperitif or a small discount for their next stay. Make sure that your booking engine is able to support this objective.

  8. Be visible and bookable from mobile devices, especially if you are a hotel with a lot of business customers who are used to move even at the last minute and who make use of BalckBarry and Iphone for their work;

  9. Foursquare: the social network for mobile based on geolocation. It is not yet entirely exploded, but the 2012 seems to be the right year and for the hotel opens a new, huge and magnificent opportunity for disintermediation;

  10. Social networks must be used as communciation tools, not even sales tools. The sale can be a direct consequence of the relationship that you will be able to establish with users who follow you. Give them the opportunity to book directly from social networks, but don't force them. It makes no sense to use social platforms to 'spam' offers, discounts, packages. This is not the way you could be attractive;

  11. Find out, find out, find out: the web is out of step with the times because it is already in the future. Not a day goes by without news and constantly changing scenarios, but rather than the volume of these news, very often it's the little ideas, sometimes simple, that can reverse the situation. For instance look at what is going on with Google Hotel Finder and what kind of reactions it has generated;

I know, it's not easy, but starting from a clear idea of what you're going to do, for sure you're already halfway there.