Online Travel Agencies are clocking massive bookings, with online travel sales expected to generate over 800 billion US dollars by 2020. Still, you should continue focusing on direct bookings because it offers certain ignorable advantages over third-party bookings. With new marketing technology redefining the website booking, marketing and sales experience, there is no better time than the present to update how your luxury travel website engages travelers.
Direct versus third-party booking
No doubt third-party websites offer benefits that travelers appreciate: the ease of comparing multiple hotels, competitive nightly rates, and attractive tariffs on suites and rooms in high-end hotels that may have a tough time getting filled. On the other hand, bookings are non-refundable, changing reservations is quite painful, and guests cannot hope for perks.
Direct booking, where your company is perhaps more scrutinized than if it were one among the many other hotels on a third-party website, offers the opportunity to impress travelers with great service. But if service is not up to the mark, then you will be quickly out of travelers’ consideration.
Still, travelers have other incentives to book through your company website and build a relationship with you: you offer loyalty programs and have a flexible reservation policy. As far as the website booking experience is concerned, travelers can easily save their preferences and make the most of better nightly rates. This article explains why direct booking hasn’t lost steam despite competition from OTAs.
High-touch versus low-touch travelers
High-touch travelers want to be guided through the purchasing process to find the best options for their requirements. They balance digital immersion with personal service and don’t have a problem being contacted throughout their journey, as long as you have a legitimate reason to get in touch. In the luxury travel stakes, the quality of high-touch service is a key differentiator. A growing trend for transformative travel also emphasizes the need to be more high-touch.
In contrast, low-touch travelers require minimal interaction when making a purchase, prefer self-service technology and don’t wish to be contacted during their journey. The challenge then is to cater to both types of travelers, and their shifting behaviors throughout their journey cycle.
How can you reimagine the online booking experience to further capitalize on its inherent benefits, and manage the expectations of high-touch and low-touch travelers?
It’s time to making online sales conversational
OTAs and niche travel agents will continue attracting travelers; that doesn’t necessarily mean that luxury travel companies may never see the large lift in direct bookings they seek. The right digital transformation solutions can motivate bookings by travelers who arrive on the business website from search engines or from an OTA website.
Consider these possibilities:
– Correctly estimating website visitors’ intent and engaging them in relevant conversations: This will help build instant personal connections online, encouraging travelers to ‘hear you out’ as you explain your premium packages, value-added services, latest offers, and more.
– Conveying service information in a way that feels natural, friendly, seamless and convenient: Luxury travel has five engagement drivers – culture, cuisine, community, customization, and content. Travelers want good prices, but they also seek out factual, interesting, bespoke content on their travel interests. Digital tools such as live chat, VoIP calls and live broadcasting from resort premises can deliver the content in a format convenient to travelers. Travelers want to talk directly to a company representative who can engage them on a personal level.
– Building credibility among informed and educated HENRYs: High-earners-not-rich-yet are the single most important target group for luxury brands. Educated, informed and trend-setting, HENRYs are technology-empowered, savvy shoppers who prefer lower-priced yet premium options. You can create great website experiences that build credibility with this group, who by virtue of their influence and active social media presence, can potentially drive referrals your way.
– Tracking the performance of online marketing campaigns: Digital tools that include analytics and reporting components help assess and improve your online engagement efforts. Insights into where customers are arriving from, and quantifying leads, sales and conversion rate, enables you to proactively mold efforts to the desired ROI.
The Conversational Sales impact on luxury travel brands
A Conversational Sales platform ensures that every direct booking intention reaches its logical conclusion. It brings enhanced capabilities to all stages of the buyer journey, making every effort from contact center agents count, and creating the right perceptions about your brand. The features of a Conversational Sales platform are purpose-designed to meet the direct booking goals of luxury travel brands:
Connects online visitors to agents in real-time: potential travelers are catered to the moment they land on your website: luxury resort and hotel chain Bahia Principe connects every web visitor with one of their agents in as less as six seconds, which has led to a 35% increase in conversion rate.
Facilitates face-to-face interactions: Prospective travelers are guided by agents online, assuring smooth, flowing conversations that are meaningful for travelers and empowering for agents as they engage with qualified leads with high purchase intent. Importantly, the opportunity to speak directly to a knowledgeable representative builds trust, letting travelers know that the company cares about their needs. Have a look at how Conversational Sales helped Meliá Hotels International bring the agency experience online here.
Tailors engagement to travelers’ preferred style: Individuals or brands tend to be likable and perceived as credible if they can engage prospects on their own terms, saving them time, meeting their exact requirements, and helping them make the best choices. Agents on a Conversational Sales platform can share information on packages in ways leads prefer. They can co-browse offers, offering travelers a well-rounded understanding of hotel amenities or trip itineraries. They can share relevant videos showing the hotel premises or explaining their value proposition. Or they can transfer files in real-time with travelers who want to go through this information before making a decision.
Includes vital customer service elements: A Conversational Sales software integrates customer service elements in the form of joint order-filling with the customer and automatic callback option at a time and date decided by the customer. These time-saving, convenience-enhancing options are much appreciated by all customers no matter what their needs or the generation they belong to.
Provides useful analytics: Graphical representations of key performance metrics and agent behavior analytics provide insights into how display, SEM, SEO, and retargeting campaigns are faring, and offers business intelligence necessary to improvements and continuous learning.
Enhance the website booking experience
Digital transformation is a priority for luxury travel brands seeking to outdo OTAs, build loyalty among multi-generational travelers, and adapt to changing behaviors. Conversational Sales is making the website engagement and booking experience more human, convenient and enjoyable for consumers. It is the way forward for luxury brands aiming to rejuvenate their digital experience and increase bookings.