The world of travel shopping is changing in ways that reflect overall trends in Internet commerce. Online hotel shoppers – like all online shoppers – value rich visual content that informs and supports their buying decisions. As their expectations grow, they are gravitating to hotels that most effectively present themselves online.
Recognizing these trends, hotel marketers are now moving aggressively to visually merchandising their properties and convey the unique value they offer their prospective guests. Like the online retailers that have pioneered visual merchandising, hoteliers are leveraging the growing capabilities of online media to make their offerings more clear, vivid and compelling.
Whether they are targeting business travelers, leisure travelers or meeting planners, hotel marketers are discovering that visually rich content – photos, video, virtual tours – can drive bookings and average daily rates to new levels.
What This Means for Hoteliers
What are essential takeaways that should guide hotel marketer’s plans? Consider these:
1- Travel shoppers have an enormous number of online options when researching travel opportunities and rely on an array of channels to compare and shop. Online hotel booking is a $28 billion dollar business in the U.S. alone.
But research suggests that shoppers are visiting an array of online travel agencies (OTAs), trip research sites, and site aggregators to support their travel decisions. They are not merely relying on branded hotel sites – even when they engage in a final purchase transaction on a hotel’s own site or through offline channels.
2- Competitive differentiation in this challenging marketplace will increasingly hinge on a hotel’s ability to effectively communicate its value and benefits online. As hospitality marketing expert Tom O’Rourke puts it, travel shoppers “want to visualize their destination… [They want to] understand what ‘the real deal’ is.” By communicating online with prospective customers in ways that respect their time, clarify value and build trust, hotel marketers enhance their ability to get results.
3- “Content-sensitive” bookers are an increasingly important market and hotels must merchandise their properties online to address their expectations. According to Forrester Research, 84% of content-sensitive travelers book online, compared with 73% of content-indifferent travelers. Hotels must provide engaging visual content – photos, video, 360 degree walkthroughs – if they are to convert these demanding, yet highly profitable prospects.
4- Success depends on having both a rich, branded web site and distribution through many channels. Clearly, today’s Internet savvy and content sensitive travelers are expecting more and more from hotel web sites. But these demanding shoppers tend to rely on many sites to support their decisions. Indeed, it’s a fallacy to believe that research sites (like TripAdvisor), OTAs (like Expedia and Travelocity) and site aggregators (like Kayak) don’t influence decisions in cases where they are not the point of final purchase. Recent research from Cornell on “the Billboard Effect” found that OTAs increase hotel site reservations in the range of 7.5 to 26 percent.
Ready to learn more about how to give online travel shoppers what they want? Check out our free eBook: Anatomy of a Visual-First Website: Best Practices for Hotel Marketers