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The hotel booking baseline: Minimum expectations for today's traveler

Aug 7, 2017

Exciting times lie ahead at the bleeding edge of booking tech. Chatbots and AI, voice booking and hyper-personalized offers are set to make waves in coming years. But what about the other end of the spectrum? Developments at the top end of the consumer experience tend to also raise minimum expectations, and that's exactly what's happening in the travel industry. Here's our take on the bare minimum customers expect from travel businesses when booking hotels right now.

Changing brains, changing expectations

The background to this is a ‘rising tide of consumer expectations across the whole travel life-cycle[1], as highlighted by the London School of Economics (LSE), along with wholesale changes in the way consumers make decisions, brought about by the online experience. LSE's research in late 2016 highlighted consumers' greater demand for a frictionless booking experience, more tailored travel products, less search time and the ability to book more experiences in-destination as 'always on' now applies on vacation. This is pertinent for both online businesses and modern retail agencies, who have had to adapt to the market changes created by technology.


The traveler is in the driving seat

Central reservation systems (CRSs) and global distribution systems (GDSs) once meant that a travel agent sitting behind an enormous computer monitor held the keys to booking. The internet reversed this model and put the power in the hands of the traveler. This has led to a huge diversification of channels, thanks to differing habits by region, age group and travel purpose. Take mobile as just one example; while figures put the worldwide share of online travel bookings through mobile at 27%, that proportion varies widely by territory, with China already at 60%[2].

Whatever the channel, travelers need to be in control and able to easily access the information they need to make their purchase decision. This presents challenges for travel businesses – but it also brings opportunities.


Diversity rules

Simply put, availability is a bare necessity; when rooms are sold out on other channels, consumers try direct booking, which can then encourage repeat behavior, losing you more than one sale. But product diversity is just as effective at showing your worth as a booking channel. Direct booking most often happens through large sites, so travel businesses can still win by making sure they offer a diverse range of products that a brand can't offer, giving access to a greater range of hotels, and properties whose value proposition is in experience or location. So product diversity, too, is a minimum requirement.


The power of content

Content is a key driver in conveying that value. And traveler expectations for content are higher than ever. Customer reviews are essential by now and can affect booking rates, as 77% of travelers usually or always check reviews before choosing a hotel[3]. Far from a booking portal, modern travelers expect an online travel business to be a content publisher, product database and retailer covering the entire booking journey. Comprehensive content is a base expectation, and when it comes to hotels, images, in particular, are a powerful way to boost conversions on all platforms.


Maximum speed, minimum friction

Most modern consumers expect booking to be as easy as possible. This can be an advantage for travel businesses – particularly online – in several ways. It taps into a basic facet of human psychology and digital user experience (UX): when people can process a stimulus quickly and with little effort they experience a positive feeling[4]. We all know this intuitively; it's the foundation of Uber's success, among others. But frictionless booking with a speedy transaction is more expected than ever, as experiences like booking a cab with a few taps trickle down to all areas of consumption.


Customer support – when it counts

The same goes for support when that experience isn't so frictionless. The ability to cancel and rebook, or get human support when something goes wrong, along with clear and informative communications (such as confirmation emails) are equally vital. For more in-depth insights to boost your customer service, check out our webinar, available to watch now.



Travel Distribution: The End of the World as We Know It?, LSE, 2016


[1] Travel Distribution: The End of the World as We Know It?, LSE, 2016