The market research and consultancy firm Chadwick Martin Bailey (CMB) has recently released an important report related to hotel booking. The report surveyed a raft of travel consumers aged over eighteen, with the data being collected over three months between February and April of this year. Over 2,000 US consumers participated in the survey, all of whom had purchased or booked a hotel for travel within the ninety days that led up to the survey.
The hotel path to purchase
The full report released by CMB is entitled “The New Hotel Booking Path to Purchase: The Mobile, Social, and Online Journey”, which indicates the social and mobile focus of this particular study. The report particularly examined the ‘path to purchase’, and examined the contemporary marketplace, in which an exponential growth in digital and mobile platforms has greatly complicated this process.
The report argues that marketers are obligated to deliver content which truly reflects consumer behaviour and needs in the contemporary marketplace. Thus, the document examines the path to purchase in more detail, in order to enable CMB to better understand the factors and motivations that contribute to hotel booking.
CMB’s report effectively recognises five separate stages in the path to purchasing a hotel room. These are, in chronological order, the purchase trigger, the awareness phase, the research and evaluation phase, the final purchase decision, and finally the booking stage. To briefly deal with the purchase trigger, the study found that roughly two-thirds of those surveyed had booked a hotel with a holiday or weekend break in mind. So the first conclusion that can be drawn is that the report is dealing primarily with leisure travellers.
With regard to the awareness phase, there were some interesting and revealing statistics to take away for travel-related businesses. Firstly, over half of those surveyed stated that online sites were a key source of information; by far the largest category of those listed. This shows that there is a huge potential marketplace for travel marketing online, and yet other statistics related to the awareness phases suggest that this market is not being fully utilised.
Brand awareness gap
Of those surveyed, only 18% of learnt about a new brand during their purchase journey. This indicates that consumers were generally happy to connect with brands that they knew and trusted, while lacking awareness of potential competitors. Yet 11% of consumers actually made a booking with a brand that they learned about during the booking journey, which equates to nearly two-thirds of those who actually encountered the new brand.
This would suggest that travel companies can do more to reach consumers with online marketing. The report indicates that not only is this currently happening on an insufficient basis, but also that when brand awareness is created online it is statistically very effective in luring travellers.
The research and evaluation phase clearly indicated that online reviews are the most influential resource for consumers. Additionally, this section underlined the importance of mobile devices, with 49% of consumers actually utilising a mobile device for this phase of the hotel booking process. However, apps are yet to really catch on with regard to hotel booking, as only one in twelve of those using a mobile device actually utilised and attendant application. The majority of mobile web traffic emanates from mobile web browsers. Thus, the importance of providing mobile-optimised platforms and websites cannot be overemphasised.
When making a final purchasing decision, the CMB report indicates that online reviews are also particularly important. Having said that, nearly one-quarter of customers went straight to a hotel website in order to gather information with which to make a decision, so this should be factored into hotels’ strategy and emphasis going forward. Although social media is utilised in the booking process, the report found that consumer reviews trump all other influences in the evaluation of a hotel.
Finally, the booking stage is still completed primarily via traditional computing platforms; 68% of consumers surveyed made a booking on a desktop computer or laptop. But that still leaves nearly one-third of hotel users utilising mobile devices, so such a significant portion should certainly remain part of hotels’ central marketing considerations.
Hotel's own websites critically important
Despite the popularity of services such as Expedia, the majority of bookings are in fact made directly on hotel websites; over half of bookings with regard to this survey were made via this medium. This drives home the point that having quality website content and smooth booking features, which are compatible with multiple platforms, is absolutely essential for a hotel to be successful. Having said that, nearly half of consumers used a price comparison website during the booking process, so competitiveness with other hotels within such platforms remains extremely important.
A final key message to take out of this report is that consumers wish to closely view the way a hotel appears, presents itself, what facilities it offers, and what its overarching philosophy is. While online reviews play an extremely important part in the hotel booking experience, ultimately travellers want to connect with a distinctive brand, and hotels' own websites provide the ideal opportunity to do this, as well as informing the hotel consumer in some detail the sort of experience that they can expect.
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