What will make travelers convert to guests? This is the prevailing question our User Experience (UX) team, architects, and developers are frequently asked by hoteliers. As a hotelier, you’ve probably thought about this question, too. Since travelers have moved online to find hotels, bringing all their consumer expectations and experiences with them, many hotels are seeking guidance and answers in order to stay competitive and garner a greater number of direct bookings.
This is the first in a series of blogs that will cover a number of learnings our team has gathered over the years that are proven to positively impact a hotel’s booking performance – almost all have to do with enhancing the user experience. As the series progresses, we’ll explore each of the topics mentioned below in greater detail. But first, here’s some information about how we gained this insight.
You’re never done testing
The team at Sabre Hospitality Solutions is constantly looking at new industry innovations, including aggregate sites, OTAs and other hotel shopping experiences. Our team of designers understand the latest design patterns and e-commerce developments that go beyond mobile-optimization. We regularly have users test new features both on desktop and mobile, which utilize responsive design reformats and restructures websites for any device – regardless of screen size in order to ensure great usability on all devices for users. In addition, every feature is submitted to a rigorous design process that includes twice-weekly design reviews with a panel of experts from our technology, accessibility and professional services team for the SynXis® Booking Engine (BE).
Below are some UX insights based on a year and a half of user testing on our SynXis BE. This information was gathered from our usability findings and by using public crowdsourcing.
Top 9 Ways to Enhance Your Hotel’s Booking Engine UX
Direct bookings are vital to ensure a hotel remains profitable. Here are some things users not only expect but demand, from your booking engine. The best part? These are all are things you can control.
Showcase all products in high-quality photos that will also look inviting in full-width desktop view, not just on mobile. Remember, travelers are highly visual in nature. So more photos the better. Include imagery that frames your hotel in the best possible light. Using professional photos can draw more travelers in, making them want to stay at your hotel. In other words, inspiration drives conversion.
2/ Room names and descriptions without fluff
Keep in mind that you want your booking engine to drive conversion. So, leave the inspirational content for your overall brand site. Simply tell shoppers in plain terms what their money is buying. Rather than a paragraph of text, use two to four bullets that allow users to easily scan.
3/ Amenities and rate policies
Again, it’s important to clearly communicate exactly what’s included and what’s not. If you offer a time frame for free cancelation, tell them straight away. Also, more and more travelers today want to bring their pets. For example, if you have a pet policy, let them know. Typical amenities users look for are free Wi-Fi, breakfast included, non-smoking, hairdryer, bath or shower, room view, seating area with sofa or chair, among others. Users are also looking for transparency of pricing, which includes taxes and any extra fees like parking. Travelers want to know the total cost as early as possible.
4/ Urgency messages
They are an effective way for you to drive conversion. Messages that provide real-time stats on how many people are looking at this hotel or number of rooms left can help persuade travelers to book rather than wait. However, you need to define when the guest should see these messages, particularly at the room level. We recommend adding the urgency trigger message when only five rooms are left.
5/ Styling that reinforces your brand image
When it comes to your brand identity, make everything match. Each element of your visual brand should be cohesive and tie together effortlessly and immediately tell online visitors they arrived at the right hotel. Keep in mind that most people hate clutter (this is especially true for mobile). Your booking engine needs to be very clean and well-organized. The colors, fonts, and styling should be designed to showcase your products, reflecting quality and sophistication. The use of white space – meaning extra space on the page – is your friend.
6/ The right layout provides relevance
Our team has observed that, although visitors easily browse content however it is presented, guests actively assess the page for relevant content. This is why the layout you use should fit your hotel’s inventory. For some it makes sense to base it on rates, others by room. We’ve found that the modified category view showcasing multiple room types in one product card performs well on mobile. Whereas list/grid views work best for bargain hotels that have few or one rate and mostly standard room types.
7/ Sort and filter options boost relevance
Always utilize filters. Users appreciate having ways to find relevant results. Set the default sort order to “Recommended” if your products are targeting a more sophisticated audience. If your products are targeting a cost-conscious audience, designate your default sort order as “Lowest Price.”
8/ Custom content areas
Custom content areas near the header and the footer provide additional ways to promote your hotel brand, special offers, and loyalty benefits. Using the footer from the brand site is also a great way to establish visual continuity and keep visitors within the same experience.
9/ Dynamic packages or add-ons
We’ve observed from our mobile user testing that users like seeing what else your hotel offers before they get to the check-in desk. However, they first want to see their room secured in their shopping cart before reviewing any extras. Users are more likely to browse special package options when it’s a leisure trip if they know a hotel has a lot to do or if they never stayed at your hotel before. Think of it as the last opportunity to enhance their stay. Keep in mind that if users don’t see something that is immediately inspiring or relevant to their interest, having the option to skip it is ideal.
It’s always good to remember to create a smart and intuitive booking process.
Giving your guests accurate and helpful information will go a long way to smoothing out their booking process. Remove sources of customer friction. This means you shouldn’t place too many barriers between them and their ability to navigate to the final price (i.e. the use of pop-ups can be disruption to the booking flow). This way, guests are constantly guided through the booking journey, increasing conversions.
While a direct booking is one of the most valuable reservations to your hotel, understanding your booking engine’s UX is key to knowing what it takes to win more of them. Look for additional blogs in this series where we take a deeper dive into each of these areas.