The role of price transparency in converting hotel guests online | By Fig Cakar

The role of price transparency in converting hotel guests online

By Fig Cakar, Managing Director – the Americas, SiteMinder

Hotel brands, online travel intermediaries and technology solution providers are all too aware that online conversion is a huge issue. Depending on who you talk to, online conversion rates for most travel websites sit in the low single digits and all stakeholders are challenged with what to do about it.

So, which way is the industry moving and how does price transparency fit in?

While more hotels are today educated about the ‘billboard effect’ and its role in increasing direct sales, research released by SalesCycle earlier this year will have been welcomed by anyone involved in selling travel online for the insight it provided into the reasons travellers abandon a booking.

As a refresher, most travellers (39 percent) say they are just looking and want to do further research, while high prices/desire to compare and the need to involve others in the process were cited as the next two biggest reasons.

Finally, stumbling blocks – such as an over-complex booking process, technical issues and payment problems – were also reasons cited for abandoning a booking.

Empowering travellers to make the choice

A deeper dive into the SalesCycle research also reveals where in the booking path travellers drop off and more than half admit to abandoning a booking when they are shown the total price.

It’s no wonder, then, that brands and intermediaries employ various techniques to keep people on their sites and ensure they have everything they need to complete the booking.

One good example, recently reported by Tnooz, was a move by UK-based chain Shire Inns which recently introduced a price comparison feature on its website.

It seems like a risky move because the hotel group could lose the booking altogether by enabling potential guests to compare its rates against those of four large online travel agencies (OTAs). It could also risk the ire of those same OTAs but Shire argues that it recognises travellers want to shop around.

Getting the distribution mix right

Early results are positive for Shire, with the chain experiencing significantly-improved, double-digit conversion rates. Not a bad result when considering the industry average is around four percent.

What the story highlights is the need for hoteliers to track where their guests are coming from and ensure they are getting their distribution mix right, both direct and indirect.

On the one hand, hoteliers should not be paying twice for guests they believe they would have attracted anyway. However, most hoteliers recognise the value they get from the OTAs, in terms of the extended reach they offer via the sales marketing clout that sits behind the online giants and helps smooth out the peaks and troughs in the hotel business.

So, moves from hoteliers to push the direct channel are only a part of the equation.

SiteMinder recently produced its own findings on the power of direct bookings, showing that while Booking.com continues to hold the top spot when it comes to revenue generation, TheBookingButton Internet booking engine came third in terms of business to hotels.

So where does hotel distribution go from here?

2014 was certainly a year of upheaval with further consolidation in the online travel market and new entrants to consider in the mix. 2015 has not been that different so far with Expedia’s planned acquisition of Orbitz and rumours around Priceline acquiring RocketMiles.

No one can say where it will all end up.

Hoteliers will continue to consider initiatives like Shire Inns’ price comparison tool because, ultimately, it’s about attracting, reaching and converting all travellers, and giving them the choice to book what they want in the way they want.

But as part of the increasingly-complex distribution strategy that today’s Internet economy demands, hoteliers will – and should – also continue to sell rooms via a mix of channels, direct and indirect, to ensure their businesses reap the benefit of reaching both global and local travel markets to generate the most value and in the most effective way.

via The role of price transparency in converting hotel guests online | By Fig Cakar.

Travel Companies Ranked on Best Social Media Practices | TravelPulse

Engagement Labs, the technology and data company, has recently released the social media rankings of the top performing hotel chains, airlines, online travel agencies (OTAs) and metasearch sites.

The rankings are based on Engagement Labs’ eValue scores, which take into account three factors: Engagement, Impact and Responsiveness.

Travel Companies Ranked on Best Social Media Practices

The top three hospitality companies on Twitter are (in order) Hyatt Hotels, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Trump Hotel Collection. Hyatt was highlighted for using highly visual vacation-related content and the use of creative hashtags.

The top three Facebook marketers in the hotel industry are The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Country Inns & Suites by Carlson. Ritz-Carlton stood out based on its regular engagement with travelers and its posting of images and facts of its resorts.

“As social media is increasingly becoming an all-purpose communication tool, the hotel industry excels by providing real-time information to their customers on their social media channels,” said Bryan Segal, chief executive officer of Engagement Labs, via a release. “Companies like The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Hyatt Hotels utilize their social media channels to provide up-to-date resort news and industry information as a one stop shop for their audiences.”

American Airlines, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines led carriers in Twitter marketing. American Airlines also was No. 1 in Facebook marketing, followed by Island Air and Delta Air Lines.

On Twitter, American Airlines was adept at responding to consumer postings and weaving in topical news and events to drive interest, according to Engagement Labs.

On Facebook, American Airlines received a high eValue score for updating travelers on company information and relating major news and events back to the airline industry (to celebrate Women’s History Month, the major carrier asked Facebook followers to share stories about female American Airlines members who exemplified premier customer service).

In terms of the travel aggregators (OTAs and metasearch sites), Hotels.com, OneTravel and CheapOair were the top Twitter marketers (parent company Fareportal owns both OneTravel and CheapOair). Hotels.com was highlighted for using Twitter to dish out the latest deals and promotions, as well as posting travel tips and trivia to boost engagement.

BookIt.com, Orbitz Worldwide and Travelocity were the top three Facebook marketers. BookIt.com scored highly in large part because the site posted articles that included travel ideas, tips for things to do in particular destinations, and contests for their followers to win trips to different destinations.

Travelers on social media “want convenience, trusted brands and good deals,” Segal said. “Social media is a key resource to help consumers navigate the complexity of travel today. We see marketers optimizing social channels to enhance user experience, customer satisfaction and develop trust and loyalty with their audiences.”

Engagement Labs’ eValue Analytics leverages more than 300 conventional social media metrics to produce a single benchmarked score, analyzing more than 75,000 handpicked, verified brands that include marketers, advertisers, publishers and broadcasters around the world.

via Travel Companies Ranked on Best Social Media Practices | TravelPulse.

Tourism Marketing: E-travel giants get more individual – fvw

Leading travel e-retailers are using technology to speed up and individualise their offers, according to top executives at a recent fvw event.

Expedia-Europa-Chef Andreas Nau

Online travel giant Expedia cannot afford to carefully plan a medium-term strategy, Andreas Nau, head of Expedia Europe, told the fvw Online Marketing Day in Frankfurt. “We have to be fast, test and be allowed to make mistakes,” he declared.

For example, Expedia is currently testing a new form of hotel evaluation in 60,000 properties via a new app. “Customers can quickly give their views on the reception, service and overall impressions via smileys,” he explained to some 270 participants. Hoteliers “are already addicted to it” and respond quickly, he said.

Outlining some new products, Nau said that Expedia has developed a tool enabling hoteliers to change their prices via a mobile device, and is working on a method of presenting room prices like on a stock exchange.

Tom Breckwoldt, TripAdvisor’s Germany chief

Meanwhile, TripAdvisor is rapidly embarking on a new ‘customer journey’ and adapting itself to changing user habits, and the rapid advance of mobile devices, above all. “More than 50% of all content is consumed by mobile today,” said Tom Breckwoldt, Germany chief of the evaluation portal.

TripAdvisor no longer just wants to display hotel rankings ahead of a trip but also offer additional services at the destination, such as restaurant visits or excursions. The company has already bought content providers such as restaurant finder La Fourchette and activity finder Viator. Such activities will then be bookable on the company’s mobile portal.

Breckwoldt stressed: “Our core business remains the rankings, the evaluation of hotels and other services.” But he also predicted rapid growth of destination-based mobile bookings due to the spread of mobile devices and free wi-fi.

Facebook is also a good source of information for online tourism marketing, especially because companies can form clusters of users to target, Benjamin Schroeter, managing director of Facelift Brand Building Technologies, told the event. Tour operators, for example, could target specific groups for last-minute sales, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, this year’s fvw Online Marketing Award was won by the Hamburg tourist board for their mobile app, which acts as a city guide with detailed additional information as well as user evaluation options. The app has been downloaded more than 65,000 times since its launch in mid-2014.

via Tourism Marketing: E-travel giants get more individual.

How Google Now is Improving Travel. – 4Hoteliers

google nowIt seems that with every new release, smartphones are changing everything, they have had a significant impact on the travel industry over the last few years, and this trend doesn’t  seem to be stopping.

A lot of the larger hotel chains have developed stand alone apps to try and gain better control over the guest experience.

These apps are typically targeted to members of their loyalty programs or frequent travelers, but Google has a new product that might make them obsolete and level the playing field for independent hotels.

Google Now

Available with the latest versions of Google’s Android OS and through the Google Search app for the iPhone, Google Now is changing the way users are interacting with their smartphones. Using what they call Google Cards, Google Now displays a custom feed of information tailored specifically to the user. Day to day use provides local weather reports, traffic conditions, where you parked your car and new stories relevant to your interests. It pulls this data from the usage of your phone, GPS data and emails.

Specifically when traveling, Google Now can be incredibly useful. By scanning your emails, Google Now will automate a travel itinerary and update it on the fly. It knows what time your flights leave and will alert you when it’s time to check in, leave for the airport and even if there are any delays.

Google Now even generates your Boarding Passes as a scannable QR code. Once you arrive and check in, Google Now can display local attractions, nearby restaurants and other areas of interest. Now has become not only your itinerary, but your travel guide as well.

So how can hoteliers use these services to their advantage? Every hotel should make sure their emails are coded to trigger Google Now Cards. Contact your booking engine provider to see if their coding is compatible. If you’re doing your own coding, Google has provided a basic tutorial to help get started.

Encoding your outgoing emails to be captured by Google Now will only impact those currently using the service, others will see your emails normally. Once set up the Card can display a photo of your hotel, a Click to Call button, Reservation number, and Check In/Out times.

As mobile Check In features become more robust they will be integrated into Now as well. Most of the larger OTAs are already coding their emails to work with Now, so it’s important for hoteliers to match and exceed that experience as services grow.

Joshua Meehan is a Marketing Specialist at E-Marketing Associates, where he assists independent hotels with marketing strategies, social media, and contributes regularly to the E-Marketing Associates Blog. E-Marketing Associates works exclusively with independent hotels and builds innovative online marketing products that increase direct bookings and drive top-line revenue.

E-Marketing Associates helps independent hotels increase direct bookings and reduce reliance on OTAs. We build innovative online marketing products that deliver the best ROI for independent hotels. Our products aim to ultimately drive top-line revenue.

via How Google Now is Improving Travel. – Friday, 16th January 2015 at 4Hoteliers.

17 European Countries Band Together to Create Meetings-Themed Marketing Organization – Skift

This fall, 17 European convention bureaus across the continent announced the formation of a new alliance, designed to pool resources and share best practices to protect market share in the global meetings and convention arena.

This initiative—presently positioned as the European National Convention Bureaux—parallels the leisure consumer-facing Visit Europe consortia of 33 tourism bureaus, operated by the European Travel Commission. The launch date for an official website has not yet been announced.

U.S. bookings for meetings, conventions and incentive travel are coming back strong throughout Europe, as they are in many other long-haul destinations that were also deemed prohibitively expensive during the recession.

“We’re increasing our group sales staff 20% in Europe for 2015,” says Christopher Koleros, area director of sales/marketing, Europe, InterContinental Hotels. “There’s a lot of pent up demand for Europe right now, including secondary markets like Prague and Budapest, because so many groups curtailed their European programs after 2009.”

Therefore, the motivation behind the launch of the new European meetings destination marketing organization (DMO) is two-fold. One is to maintain top-of-mind positioning for Europe as a primary meetings location. With so many emerging destinations from Brazil to New Zealand rising on planners’ radars, it’s paramount for European countries to proactively ensure they remain competitive.

via 17 European Countries Band Together to Create Meetings-Themed Marketing Organization – Skift.

Expedia: Key Partnerships and Acquisitions in 2014 – Trefis

Expedia logoExpedia has experienced a healthy 2014.  The world’s second largest online travel services provider (in terms of gross booking volume of $39.2 billion) displayed a 22% year-on-year increase in revenues for the first nine months of 2014, to $4.4 billion. The key factors propelling this growth were the healthy performance of the hotel room nights and air tickets segments. The top line growth, combined with the disciplined investments in selling and marketing, led to a solid bottom line. Net Income for the first nine months of 2014 increased by 141% year-on-year to $332 million.

In this article, Trefis discuss the major acquisitions and partnerships undertaken by Expedia in 2014. They describe the strategic significance of the deals, and how these will lead to further growth in the future.

Extended Partnership With HomeAway: Expedia Forays Further Into The Vacation Rental Space

In September 2014, Expedia declared that it will continue its partnership (initiated in October 2013) with HomeAway, the world’s largest vacation rental website. HomeAway services account for approximately 15% of the U.S. and European vacation rental bookings market. [1] HomeAway’s website has more than one million live listings in 190 countries. [2]

Expedia would now be able to list 115,000 HomeAway vacation rental properties on its U.S. website. Vacation rentals are privately owned residential properties that property owners and managers rent to travelers on a nightly, weekly, or monthly basis. According to a study by PhoCusWright, the market for vacation rentals in the U.S. stood at $23 billion in 2012, lower than its levels prior to the recession. However, the share of online sales in vacation rentals doubled from 12% in 2007 to 24% in 2012, and this is expected to increase to 30% by 2014. [3]

Expedia believes that the vacation rentals listing will complement its existing business and will not undermine its hotel bookings, which currently accounts for more than 70% of its revenue. While the partnership will give HomeAway vacation rental owners and property managers exposure to more than 13.4 million monthly visitors on Expedia, Expedia users will get the benefit of being able to bundle home rentals with flights, cars and other travel bookings offered through the website.

Expedia’s Wotif Acquisition: Ensuring Market Dominance In Australia And New Zealand

In November 2014, Expedia completed its acquisition of Australia-based Wotif Group for $612 million. Wotif Group is a prominent player in the Asia Pacific market with a host of travel brands under its umbrella, including Wotif.com, lastminute.com.au, travel.com.au, Asia Web Direct, LateStays.com, GoDo.com.au and Arnold Travel Technology. Wotif’s portfolio focuses on hotel and air, offering consumers more than 29,000 bookable properties across the globe. The group currently operates from Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, UK and Vietnam. [4]

Wotif was Expedia’s major rival in Australia and New Zealand. With 1.3 million hotel reviews on its platform, Wotif had a market leadership in hotel reviews in the Australia New Zealand (ANZ) market. According to September 2013 data from Experian Hitwise, among top travel websites in Australia, Wotif held the second position and Expedia, the third position. Also, among top New Zealand travel websites, Expedia enjoyed the first position and Wotif, the second. [5]

According to a report by PhoCusWright, the Asia Pacific (APAC) market overtook Europe to become the global leader in regional travel in 2012. The Australia-New Zealand market accounted for 17% of APAC’s online travel market and earned $13.7 billion in online gross bookings. For 2015, the market size is estimated to be around $126.6 billion. [6]

Hence, both now and in the future, Asia Pacific will be a strategically important sector for online travel companies. The ANZ market is the third largest market in the APAC region, and Wotif is a prominent player in the ANZ market. Hence, we expect the acquisition to propel Expedia’s growth in the ANZ market and this in turn would be a contributing factor in establishing Expedia’s dominance in the APAC market.

Expedia’s Auto Escape Acquisition: Boosting The Car Rental Service Segment

Expedia acquired French car rental company, Auto Escape, in June 2014. The acquisition increased its exposure to the $36.9 billion global car rental industry, which is expected to grow at a compounded rate of 13.6% to reach $79.5 billion by 2019, according to Transparency Market Research. [7]

Auto Escape offers car rental services from over 300 car rental suppliers in 125 countries, and has a fleet of over 800,000 vehicles. It is estimated that Auto Escape’s revenues increased fivefold in the last five years to €120 million ($160 million). [8] Auto Escape became a part of the CarRentals.com brand, a business unit managed by Expedia’s Hotwire Group.

Although the contribution of car rentals and cruises to the valuation of Expedia is in low single-digits, we believe that the Auto Escape acquisition will help it sell more vacation packages and destination services since car rental is an integral part of such offerings.

via Expedia: Key Partnerships and Acquisitions in 2014 — Trefis.

Press Release: Over 30 travel marketing experts to provide insights at The Travel Marketing Forum, Dubai 24th Sept

PRESS RELEASE 

Middle East’s Premier Travel Marketing Event to convene in Dubai on 24th September

Insights from over 30 leading travel marketing experts

Dubai Tourism, Expedia, Yahoo, SkyTech and IBEX Global added to the conference content

Travel Marketing leaders to gather in Dubai to discuss a diverse yet interrelated set of topics

 

Press Release: Dubai – 18th September 2014 

In just under a week the Middle East’s premier Travel Marketing event will take place in Dubai.

Some of the world’s leading travel brands and marketing services providers will gather for a day of knowledge sharing and business development.

 

Amadeus, a leading travel technology company, will present a report on Middle East booking trends, internet penetration, smart phone usage, booking and  payment patterns, booking channels and social media trends in the travel sector.

Illusions Online, a Dubai based travel business technology provider for the leisure sector, will talk to their new generation cloud based leisure packaging capability and their strategy to create a global online travel exchange.    

 

Other speakers come from leading brands such as Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor, Jumeirah and Emirates.

The programme also includes interviews with the Head of Strategy for dnata travel and the CEO of The Entertainer.  Technology companies such as SkyTECH Solutions and Comarch will share their views on Big Data and Customer Relationship Management in the travel sector.

In a key panel on destination marketing, Dubai Tourism will highlight the power of local advocacy.

Yahoo will present a case study on how they have assisted travel companies with their online exposure and IBEX Global will highlight their recent regional launch of their Customer Experience Management Technology.

Mohamed Al Rais, Deputy CEO of Al Rais Travel, will be joined by representatives from Expedia, destinia.com and e-Tourism Frontiers on a panel debate on the development of the online travel market.

Porton Group will reveal a revolutionary technology that can be used by the travel sector to screen travellers for potentially contagious diseases without significant disruption to the airline check-in process.

Duncan Alexander, Director at The Travel Marketing Store stated “We have been delighted by the response that we have received from the travel marketing community to the concept of our event. The content is truly exceptional and we look forward to what will be an enlightening day”.

Over 40 companies will be represented at this year’s event which will also hold “The Global Travel Marketing Awards” and “The Market Place for Travel Marketing Services” where buyers and suppliers meet to discuss new services.

via Press Release: Over 30 travel marketing experts to provide insights at The Travel Marketing Forum, Dubai 24th Sept.

Airbnb roll out a new brand identity centered on “belonging anywhere in the sharing economy”

Airbnb have recently announced and launched a complete overhaul of its brand identity. 

Airbnb is a community marketplace for people to list, discover and book unique spaces around the world through mobile phones or the internet. Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences at any price point, with over 800,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries.  It has found accommodation solutions for over 15 million customers.

airbnb old logo

Old Logo

airbnb_logo_detail

New logo

The launch is not without controversy with a number of industry commentators poking fun at the suggestive nature of the logo in addition to claims of plagiarism.

We like it….and have taken an extract from their blog written by Brian Chesky one of the co-founders that provides insights to the thinking behind the new brand identity.

“In the end, nothing can express our identity more profoundly than the stories of people who make up this community. When we started Airbnb, I had no idea about the people we would meet, or the friendships I would make. Then I met Amol, one of the first guests, who later invited me to his wedding in India. I met Sebastian, who was trapped in his house in the middle of the London Riots in 2011. Before his own mother had a chance to check that he was okay, seven of his former guests did. And I met Shell, who saw the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, and listed her home for free to those who were displaced. 100415a-HQ28-007 NATO Headquarters Brussels. These people, along with millions of others, have their own unique backgrounds and life experiences. We all come from vastly different cultures and places. And yet, no matter how many miles may separate us, we are united by the universal, powerful, human desire to connect, to understand, and to belong. So together, with this new identity, I look forward to starting the next chapter of this improbable journey with the idea that first set it in motion—the belief that belonging can take us anywhere”. — Brian Chesky airbnb_logo_4things

Read more on the drivers behind the new brand positioning at:

http://blog.airbnb.com/belong-anywhere/

Metasearch | L2: Business Intelligence for Digital

hotel searchWhile travellers are increasingly dependent on metasearch to inform their hotel booking decisions, hotels are losing out to OTAs on top booking positions and traffic to brand sites. The L2 Prestige Hotels 2014 Metasearch Insight Report reveals the performance gap and shows how hotel brands can leverage metasearch to fight back against OTAs to drive consumers to their sites for direct bookings and higher margins.

via Metasearch | L2: Business Intelligence for Digital.

With Licensing Deal Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Looks to Dominate the Online Travel Market | Benchmark Monitor

by Daniel Stone — April 9, 2014

English: The Google logo, the word "Googl...

The Google logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York – On Tuesday, Bloomberg released a report that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has reached an agreement with Room 77 to license that company’s hotel booking software.  Room 77 is a start-up that has been funded by Expedia (Nasdaq:EXPE).  The licensing deal marks Google’s intention to re-enter the online travel market after a stop-start attempts in the past, including the introduction of Hotel Price Ads (HPA) in 2010, the acquisition of ITA Software in 2011, and the launch of Hotel Finder the same year.

Along with Expedia, the online travel market is currently dominated by Priceline (NASDAQ:PCLN), Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE:WWW), and TripAdvisor (NASDAQ:TRIP).  According to the ITB World Travel Trends report published last December, online travel booking now accounts for almost 70 percent of all booking and mobile bookings is one to the fastest growing segments overall.  In the United States alone, the industry is worth more than $ 300 billion and given the recent performance of many of the companies in the sector there is still room for growth.

According to analysts the licensing deal by Google is most likely an attempt to upgrade their HPA, which essentially operates as the equivalent of ITA, a proprietary airline booking software.  Whilst HPA is aimed at hotel marketers, the software would essentially allow Google to complete the loop, by facilitating the customer booking.  If this is the case, Google would be positioning itself to cut the middlemen, such as Priceline and Expedia, while providing hotels with a better return on investment when compared to typical paid search campaigns.

Furthermore, industry analysts believe the move was driven by the Department of Justice’s ruling that allowed Google to acquire ITA Software on several conditions, including Google must allow licensed competitors to continue using the software, Google must take measures to prevent snooping, and the company must continue to maintain the software for licensees.

Through the licensing deal, it could be expected that Google might make more forays into the industry as their ‘competitors’ have little if any choice but to continue advertising through Google. While there is little direct evidence to suggest that such a move would hurt Priceline, Expedia, and TripAdvisor, almost 90 percent of what they spend on marketing goes to Google.  As such, the increased emphasis on travel could dramatically alter the online travel market in the long-run.  Shares in Google were up $ 4.10 in pre-market trading on Wednesday morning.

via With Licensing Deal Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Looks to Dominate the Online Travel Market | Benchmark Monitor.

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