I had just landed in Cork. The first text I received was from my wife. About liquitabs. In fact, the lack thereof.
This was swiftly followed by a list of ramifications and the impact that this posed to her plans for the day. The ‘dash’ button that re-orders the liquitabs from Amazon was on the blink. Sure, we could order through the app – but this was less about the tabs, and more to do with the delay in the product. Granted, it probably tops the list of first world, middle class, entitled problems.
As I waited to disembark the plane, I began wondering why booking hotel rooms isn’t as easy as re-ordering liquitabs. Not everyone's first association, sure – but I get paid to think about this type of thing on a daily basis. Not exactly that particular question either – but more around how we decrease the astonishingly high cart abandonment rates in the online travel sector.
Over 79% of all enquiries do not end in a booking. This affects everyone: from small hoteliers to large OTAs. As an industry, we've come up with all kinds of sticking plaster solutions. None have solved the problem, and many are just annoying (why are you still being hounded online about that B&B in Bury St Edmunds?)
Selling hotel rooms online is hard. Selling liquitabs is easier.
The argument is that they're not the same thing. That’s true. But one still sells online, and one doesn’t. Pushing a button is an easy concept for a customer to understand. Their product is shipped for free, it's more convenient than going to a store, and there's no conversation about money.
But that’s not the magic sauce.
The true genius? When you click to buy, you aren’t asked any questions. Nothing about type, size, delivery, credit card details (usually more than 15 questions to complete that specific transaction).
We live in a world of questions. The companies that are winning sales online, are asking less questions.
In the hotel industry it takes several questions to sell a room. What room type? What rate type? Pricing all depends on when you want to stay. And that’s all before you ask for customer details and payment specifics.
I booked a hotel room recently. And I had 178 different combinations to choose from. That’s 177 choices I had to think about and discard. All of this on a mobile phone screen. It was confusing and deeply frustrating.
Ironically, the budget airline I was travelling with has the same set of issues. But the way they approach it is very different. They put the decision to fly at the forefront of the transaction. You already know you're going away. The add-ons don’t affect the purchase. In fact, I chose the lowest fare on the day I was booking, later to be sold a specific seat and luggage.
There are lessons to be learnt.
Have we truly re-imagined the travel industry? Can we honestly say that we've looked at things from the guest's perspective?
We have to start by capturing the decision as quickly as possible if we want to sell more rooms online.
So, if we have to ask for a date, serve one price. Make sure that it's the lowest, non-refundable, room only price.
Let’s fill our hotels with confirmed bookings that are paid for upfront (this is the only reason that budget airlines are able to survive).
A bigger room, a better view, breakfast, and late check-out are all extras. Extras that should come after we sell the room. Extras demonstrating what makes every hotel special. Extras that shouldn’t just be given away to OTAs.
Sell a product rather than a service. Because products sell better online.
Imagine the possibilities. A simple purchase process. Less questions for guests. A calendar full of confirmed bookings.
Follow up dialogue means more sales opportunities. Social media posts become sales platforms. Voice recognition and messaging become viable sales options. Convenience trumps. Who knows – it may even offer a fighting chance against the stranglehold of the large OTAs.
And yes – admittedly it's not as easy as selling a liquitab. But it's a far cry from where we are today.