Hotelchamp has analysed 500 million data points from the booking process of 1500 hotels from around the world. From chains to independents and from resorts to hostels, regardless of whether guests are looking for luxury or simplicity, family or flexibility, the behaviour is the same – there is a definitive guest journey on every hotel’s website. Defined by 5 key phases, this guest journey is based on universal objectives, opportunities and obstacles that are present in the decision-making process of every potential booker.
Phase in Focus Part 2 – The Exploration Phase
What is it
The role of a website has always been to present information about a topic, business, person or location. For businesses in particular, the website is often the first introduction to your prospective customer. This opportunity is crucial in giving not only the right first impression, but then delivering on the needs of the customer to keep them on your page.
Depending on the research, you have anywhere between 2 tenths of a second and 20 seconds to make a good first impression online. Regardless of the exact figures, once your website has run the gauntlet of capturing the interest of a website visitor, it’s now your job to maintain that interest and deliver on their objectives: a fact-finding, tyre-kicking, cursory evaluation of whether your hotel meets the basic requirements for their stay. But The Exploration Phase is not just about the information a guest is looking for – it’s about the information the hotelier chooses to draw their attention to.
For first time visitors who are acquainting themselves with your hotel – your photos, amenities, location and brand are key to orienting them to your business. Where are you located? What are your facilities? Does your hotel at first glance, appear to be for them.
The Exploration Phase is a crucial point – the turning point in the road. It is the point where a guest will either continue browsing your website and gathering information, or they will decide they have enough reason to leave, or not enough reason to stay.
Any hotel website has a big job to do. Walking the line between an attractive advertisement for your property and a highly functional e-commerce engine, there can often be an overwhelming smorgasboard of information to serve up to guests. Unfortunately for many hotels, this is a smorgasbord in every sense of the word – a seemingly unorganised spread of all types of information, offered up for guests to navigate at their own peril. Confronted by this variety and volume of information means that many visitors struggle to find what they’re looking for, or miss out on the information that is most relevant to them. According to a study of 2,5000 guests, 45% say they would book direct if the hotel showed the right perks.
Instead of taking the smorgasbord approach, hoteliers can dictate the type of information that is presented to guests in the Exploration Phase – a curated menu of USPs and hotel features that can be dynamically presented to guests depending on their exploration path or point of origin.
By highlighting and prioritising the most relevant information on different pages of your website, you can start to build a compelling proposition to guests who have not yet entered a more commercial mindset.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity that can be leveraged in the Exploration Phase though, is to hijack the interest of guests that have come to your website via an OTA. The well-publicised Billboard Effect is the result of independent studies from Google, Cornell University and Expedia, and states that between 50% and 75% of potential guests browsing Online Travel Agencies will visit the website of a hotel before booking it. Unfortunately for many hotels, typically 99% of this traffic will leave the hotel website without booking. By harnessing the Exploration Phase, hotels can hijack this traffic from returning to the OTA and convince them instead to book direct via the hotel website.
Part of this strategy involves pushing more of your direct booking Unique Selling Propositions earlier so that the guests sees them before they enter the Consideration Phase. Whilst a website visitor is likely conscious of your price bracket, they probably aren’t yet in a commercial way of thinking about your hotel, which is the step following the Exploration Phase. By highlighting your direct attributes like free breakfast or late checkout when guests are still investigating your basic facilities and amenities, you are anchoring these offerings as part of your hotel’s overall appeal. By the time it comes to booking, these features that they can only get from your direct channel are already embedded in the value proposition - providing a compelling reason to stay on your website and book direct.