In our latest post we presented the increasing threat that OTAs pose for hotels. We argued that hotels that prioritise the use of standardised digital guest communication tools successfully manage to curb the growing OTA booking trend. However, as efficient your email collection processes are, they can only be put into practise once the guest has decided to book a stay with you (never mind if it was through an OTA or not). Therefore, in order to catch those guests that visit your website but are still susceptible to booking through an OTA, a great but relatively ignored solution that contributes to your efforts for direct bookings is enabling a live chat on your hotel’s homepage. It helps you start the conversation with guests in advance and see an increase in the percentage of direct bookings.
The Billboard Effect is a phenomenon in which the potential guest gains information about the hotel from its OTA listing but then books the room through a channel controlled by the hotel. There has been a lot of buzz around this effect, as well as differing opinions. While a study in 2015 claimed the effect was dead, a more recent one shows that it is “still alive and well”. The study points that even if the magnitude of the effect has seen a decrease of 10% since 2011, it has not disappeared entirely: “OTAs are visited by almost two-thirds of all online hotel direct consumers”. Interestingly enough, the ability of an OTA to influence an eventual direct booking at a hotel is rather low (between 5.5 and 35 percent). According to research, potential guests will visit an average of 26 travel related websites encompassed by a mix of hotel websites and non-direct channels. The study suggests it is actually the amount of sites visited beforehand which has a greater effect on the guest making the move to book on a website. Therefore, while the potential customer tries to evaluate the different choices available, it is only in your hands to make sure it is your website and hotel she ends up choosing.
Leaving the Billboard Effect aside, there is a crucial factor hotels have to deal with: traveler’s booking habits and the fact that we are hooked to taking the same “short-cut” time after time. Once potential customers have been convinced because of an appealing and inviting website, some will definitely decide to book directly, but a surprising big number will go back to their preferred booking site. According to the same study, while almost 39 percent of direct bookers start their travel research at a hotel site, 31 percent of consumers who start their search at a hotel site end up booking at an OTA. According to Travel Tripper the biggest reasons for this are that OTAs offer easier booking experiences (47%), that guests are used to booking the same way over and over again (37%), or simply that they trust the brand (34%). A live chat can be great way of changing booking habits for good by making guests aware of the easiness of booking direct.
Thirdly, modern consumers are multitaskers that crave instant gratification. A study shows that 79% of respondents said they used a live chat on a homepage because they get their questions answered quickly, 51% did so because they could multi-task, and 46% agreed it was the most efficient communication method. When it comes to the reasons for consumers abandoning the booking process in travel sites, 13% stated that the booking process is too long. Furthermore, a study from Forrester Research found that “many online consumers want help from a live person while they are shopping online; in fact, 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a Web site can offer”.
Whether guests decide to book with an OTA or via your website still lies in your own control. Guests may pop by your website on their booking decision journey and only you can make a difference to convert them into “your customers”. While other techniques are useful, enabling a chat in your homepage will help you go that one step further towards more direct bookings. A perfect example of a smooth chat experience for hotels can be seen here.