3 Keys To Increasing Direct Bookings

Travel companies can cut out the middleman

In a travel market worth billions, having travelers book direct is an obvious preference for hotels, airlines, and rental car companies. Cutting out the intermediary not only saves on commissions, but also puts the travel companies in direct contact with their guests. This allows the companies to build profiles of preferences and spending habits to help better attract travelers on future trips.   Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Priceline are here to stay and remain powerful forces in the market.  As we move to a mobile-first world dominated by social media, there are opportunities for travel companies to change traveler preferences and capture lost commission revenue.

So what to do?  Start by understanding the behavior. Google/Ipsos Media reports that travel shoppers who are ready to book, to put their dollars behind their decisions, often switch between devices as they plan or book a trip.  Google also reports that the travel shopper who is ready to book may have already decided on location and brand and half these searches are done on a smartphone.  Google found 31% of leisure travelers and 53% of business travelers say they have booked travel on a smart phone.  Yet in the same study, 46% of travelers with smart phones say they make their decision on mobile and book with another device.  A study by comScore/Expedia found digital users are actively seeking travel-related content and are receptive to new information; nearly one third or more of online travel bookers across the U.S. and Canada were influenced by advertising.  The research discovered consumption of digital travel content is soaring at a growth rate of 41% in the U.S. and 18% in Canada.

Recapture trust.  Before you can permanently change that behavior, you need to get people to move to your online experience and booking engine. Not only do you face travelers switching devices, you also risk losing customers to competitors. Google/Ipsos reported 88% of travelers with smartphones would switch to another site or app if yours doesn't satisfy their needs.   

Get the word out. Examine and weigh more data points than ever before. It's no longer good enough to rely on historical data combined with what the perceived competition is charging on any given evening. Design a program for this purpose of preference creation. Match or beat traditional rewards and incentives, decide your time horizon to deploy incentives, add a social encouragement factor. Get them to an online destination ready for more personalization.

Leverage what you control to overcome 3rd-party preference where possible.  Promote flexibility in the case of reservation changes, delays or cancellations.  Think hard about eliminating any additional booking, change or cancellation fees.  Make this communication simple and effective on a mobile device.  Have it rated by travelers.  Improve the elite benefits and earned loyalty currency.  Tell this story in a compelling, first-person fashion.  Save customer preferences for room, seat, and car type. Make all this easy for a traveler.  Based on the existing profile or the one being created, provide the traveler with special offers or amenities throughout the experience.  Understand the context of offer deployment.  Depending on your organization’s partnerships, consider capitalizing on co-branded credit card bonuses or other offers. You’re usually guaranteed to offer the lowest price available.  Consider building in a price comparison tool of your own to prove it.  Help the traveler fill in forms.  Provide alternatives for finishing the transaction (like click-to-call buttons).

In doing all of this, you keep the traveler’s perspective in mind, allowing you to understand the full picture – their entire journey – and enable them to optimize each part of a mobile-first direct booking experience.

Google/Ipsos MediaCT, “The 2015 Traveler's Road to Decision,” Aug. 2015.