The digital age has brought hoteliers many new challenges. Not only are travellers increasingly turning to online platforms to book their stays, but hotels also find themselves competing head-to-head with powerful online travel agents (OTAs). Direct bookings have become a desirable objective and for a good reason. With OTAs taking between 10-30% of the booking value in commissions, it’s clear that the stakes are high.
With eCommerce platforms being the experts in making sales online, hoteliers have plenty to learn about the best practices to increase conversion. Hotel websites and eCommerce platforms aren't all that different. At their core, they both aim to sell a product or service online. By understanding and adopting strategies that have propelled eCommerce platforms to success, hotels can significantly enhance their online presence.
In this blog, we're diving deep into three transformative eCommerce strategies that are making waves in the online sales world. We'll demystify how these trends, often seen in popular online stores, can be seamlessly integrated into the hotel industry. More importantly, we'll guide you on leveraging them to not only boost direct bookings but also to craft an unparalleled guest experience. Ready to redefine your hotel's online journey?
1. Conversational Commerce and Chatbots
Conversational commerce is essentially the fusion of messaging apps and shopping, enabling real-time interaction between customers and businesses. This can be through chatbots, messaging apps, or live chat. While chatbots have been around for a while, conversational commerce is rapidly becoming a staple in online interactions. Today's customers expect immediate responses, personalised touchpoints, and the convenience of real-time chats, mirroring in-store experiences. Interestingly, 41% of consumers prefer live chat support over other service channels like calls or email. And luckily for busy hoteliers, 40% of consumers don't mind whether they talk to a person or a bot, as long as they get the information they're looking for.
This 24/7 support isn't just a boon for consumers; it's a game-changer for businesses. Much like shoppers, hotel guests have immediate questions and needs. Whether it's about room amenities, check-in procedures, or local attractions, timely responses are crucial. By using conversational commerce on their hotel website, hoteliers can ensure that guests receive prompt, tailored answers, enhancing their experience and making direct bookings more likely. For example, a family travelling with a pet will want to know everything about the hotel’s pet-friendly policies. And rather than searching throughout the whole website for every bit of information related to their furry friend, a chatbot can quickly and easily relate the information, and offer pet-friendly room options.
Implementing chatbots to your hotel website
So how can you incorporate conversational commerce into your hotel website? Start by selecting a chatbot platform that integrates seamlessly with your booking system. Start with common questions to train your bot. It might have a learning curve, but with AI's help, it'll get better over time. It's also essential to provide an option for guests to connect with your front desk for more complex questions. And think outside the box: your chatbot can suggest special offers or packages, nudging potential guests towards a booking. Reducing doubts and hesitation, you’re likely to increase the number of direct bookings on your website and give the guests’ satisfaction a boost. Plus, with a chatbot handling routine queries, your team can focus on elevating the on-site guest experience.
2. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Virtual Tours
Think of Augmented Reality (AR) as a way to see digital things in your real surroundings, like seeing how a new sofa looks in your living room through your phone. On the other hand, Virtual Reality (VR) is like stepping into a whole new world, where everything you see and hear is digital and immersive, like being inside a video game. The eCommerce world is quickly adopting AR/VR to enhance the online shopping experience. In just five years, the uptake of AR has increased by 15%, and it's expected to grow even more in the coming years.
Why are online stores so keen on AR/VR? It's simple: they allow customers to have a more interactive and immersive shopping experience. For example, AR allows online shoppers to virtually try on products, such as clothing or makeup, or visualise how furniture would look in their living space. This virtual interaction bridges the gap between online and in-store shopping—it's like blending the best parts of in-store shopping with the convenience of online browsing. It’s no wonder that studies show that 48% of respondents are interested in using "metaverse" technology (i.e., AR and VR) for shopping in the coming years.
Now, let's talk hotels. Just as AR/VR is revolutionising the eCommerce space, it holds immense potential for the hotel industry. Before booking, many travellers want a sneak peek of the hotel. Virtual tours powered by AR/VR can offer potential guests a walk-through of hotel rooms, amenities, and even local attractions. This immersive experience can reduce uncertainty and instil confidence in guests, ultimately increasing direct bookings.
Implementing AR/VR to your hotel website
Considering AR/VR for your hotel? Partner with experts to craft a virtual tour of your property, then showcase it on your site. This gives you a competitive edge over other hotels in your area, and can even appeal to tech-savvy travellers. And don't stop at room tours. Use AR to offer interactive maps or guides, making guests' stays even more memorable.
3. Diverse Payment Methods
In today's digital age, a seamless payment experience isn't just a luxury—it's a necessity, especially for hotels. Giants like Booking.com and Airbnb have set the bar high, offering flexible payment options such as "book now, pay later”. To stay in the game, hotels must diversify their payment methods.
But it's not just about keeping up with the OTAs—it’s also about catering to a wider range of guests. Specifically, catering to international guests means understanding their preferred payment methods. For instance, while credit cards might be popular globally, specific payment systems like iDeal are incredibly popular in the Netherlands. This is crucial, as one of the main reasons for cart abandonment in online shopping is the lack of suitable payment methods. By broadening payment methods, hotels can reduce drop-offs, ensuring guests see their bookings through to the end. Plus, a smooth payment process can elevate the overall guest experience, paving the way for glowing reviews and repeat stays—and, of course, increase direct bookings.
Implementing diverse payment methods to your hotel website
The benefits are clear: from boosting bookings to outshining competitors and delighting guests. Start by collaborating with payment gateway providers that offer a wide range of options. Prioritise security and user-friendliness, and stay attuned to guest feedback and market trends to keep your payment methods fresh and relevant.
Next Steps: Embracing the Digital Future
The world of eCommerce is ever-evolving, with new trends and technologies emerging at a rapid pace. As hoteliers, it's essential to keep a keen eye on these developments. After all, many of the strategies that propel eCommerce platforms to success can be adapted and applied to the hotel industry, offering fresh avenues to attract and delight guests.
Embrace the digital landscape with an open mind and a creative spirit. Experiment with new tools and techniques, always keeping your guests' needs at the forefront. Whether it's integrating a new payment method, offering virtual tours, or enhancing guest interactions with chatbots, there's a world of possibilities out there.
Remember, every hotel is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. So, tailor these eCommerce strategies to fit your hotel's brand, audience, and budget. Stay curious, stay creative, and most importantly, don't be afraid to take calculated risks in the digital realm.