“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”
Web traffic reports are the bread and butter of today’s hospitality sales and marketing departments. Daily, weekly, and monthly someone (or several someones) reviews the stats looking for trends in visits/sessions, time on site, engagement, and so forth. How does it look compared to last month, last year, last season? While these are valuable questions, it’s the ones that aren’t being asked that may be the most illuminating (and, ultimately, profitable).
Where are all those visitors who left the site disappearing?
Why don’t we know anything about them?
The hospitality industry has readily accepted this as the nature of digital bookings, embracing the value in websites as the largest volume of eyeballs, not so much the ability to generate actionable data or achieving a healthy rate of conversion.
As a result, nearly 90% of your website visitors vanish. Out of 1000 visits, 896 will disappear leaving only 104 to actually become sales leads. Of those 104 leads, just 17 will book on your website. This gives websites a startlingly low 1.7% conversion rate, according to the 2016 Adobe Digital Index.
The problem is that you paid for each and every one of these lookers to find your property (SEO, PPC, digital and print ads, tourism organizations). However, you’re only recouping dollars from a handful on your website with most likely no means of following up on the ones who disappear, and in some cases, not even gathering useful data. They remain anonymous. If even a portion of these invisible visitors calls, agents can collect information about rate resistance, location, the length of stay, and more. These bits of information can not only inform revenue strategies but also how you sell the property and how you choose to market it, digitally and otherwise. Additionally, agents can ask for the opportunity to follow up, a behavior that over the course of a year can double bookings.
Of course, property websites have their place, but they haven’t entirely lived up to the hype. They aren’t the digital panacea that was once anticipated. For every theoretical reduction in staff costs attributed to the property website, there is a host of digital maintenance costs as well as an ever expanded selection of “opportunities” that require design, implementation, and integration. For instance, the Boston Hospitality Review notes website redesign alone, “is a never-ending challenge, and one that is easily lost or mismanaged when a short-cut route is taken” (Boston University, Aug 2015). Not to mention the wildly different conversion rates between websites and agents, as well as the ability to generate more revenue per booking through an agent, both of which we’ll explore more in our next piece.
The bottom line is that websites aren’t a reservations shortcut. The website as a reservations solution arose out of an old understanding of agents as order takers. This old paradigm said you could simply give guests information about a property, write down their dates, dust your hands off, and walk away. Perhaps this still works for some brands, but for independent hotels and vacation rentals, there’s far more to the process. The travel path to purchase is increasingly complex, involving online and offline experiences and hundreds of what Google has termed micro-moments. Rather than evolving to exclude the voice channel, it now includes a web of information gathering that crosses devices, channels, and websites.
So, the question is not how websites can replace traditional reservations, but instead, how can online and offline channels work synergistically to generate more visibility from existing demand, making properties either smarter by gathering data or more profitable by increasing confirmed reservations? How can we become more effective at making those anonymous visitors visible, recouping some of those valuable marketing dollars and become more effective at conversions?
The answers are there, but the first step is in asking the right questions.