Industry responds to ‘integrated approach’ for increasing online bookings

Every accommodation provider needs to increase online bookings if it ever intends to boost profits.

The latest trend on that frontier is combining online guest reviews with official classifications. The World Tourism Organisation recently published a report on the matter that has everyone talking with its proposal of an “integrated approach” to online guest reviews and hotel classification systems.

At the heart of understanding online bookings, is understanding the sheer number of people looking to travel in the twenty-first century. According to UNWTO, 25 million people travelled the world in 1950 compared to 1087 million in 2013. Emerging economies and more advanced communication technology means the world now has a global outlook and more people than ever want to explore.

Co-founder and director of SiteMinder, Mike Ford noted, “What the UNWTO report shows is proof that people have greater aspirations today to travel – for both leisure and business – and we are seeing shifts in the types of destinations they are travelling to. Be it domestic or international, the barriers are lowering for people to travel and so it is important for hotels to focus on a wide range of potential guests outside of the traditional, dominant market segments.

“Where travel was something that only the elite could experience through a travel agent, we now see offerings that accommodate all types of travellers and budgets, and technology has been a big driver behind that.”

Another thing to consider when marketing your hotel online, is what consumers are looking for when they pick a place to stay. According to the report, shareability has a lot to do with it – if your property looks attractive, visitors will flaunt it for you. Mr Ford said, “People want to book locations and hotels that they can share with the friends and family. They also want to share their experiences with other travellers and it’s for this reason that TripAdvisor dominates the market with reviews from real-life people.

“The challenge for hotels is how they can maintain live inventory and room rates across all their selected booking sites online, and also how they provide rich content that travellers can explore, share and book through. Hotel websites are still often filled with clunky content, poor layouts and booking engines and these can easily turn a traveller away from becoming a paying customer.”

Because the Internet is such a vast and confusing place, consumers use techniques to narrow down their search. They will cull unhelpful websites and use official hotel classifications to filter out hotels before choosing their favourite by reading online guest reviews. “More and more hotels are becoming educated about these behavioural changes and so we are now seeing hotels of all sizes demand faster, more reliable and more diverse connectivity options to increase their online bookings,” Mr Ford added. “Hotels are looking for opportunities to integrate their disparate systems so they can attract, reach and convert travellers across the globe.”

SiteMinder offers itself as a technological partner to accommodate the growing needs of potential guests. The firm also offers a way to “manage and control the information that they are displaying to the world” to prevent hotels from falling behind the competition, he said.

“Undeniably, there is a continuing shift towards a mobile world, and it’s about making the booking journey for travellers as exciting and as accessible as the destination. That’s what SiteMinder and other technology providers are ultimately challenged with, to continue to enhance their offering to keep up with the ever-changing travel landscape.”

Part of this ever-changing travel landscape, according to UNWTO, is learning to merge the two major selling points of accommodation – reviews and classifications – in a way that is palatable for consumers. Online guest reviews and hotel classification systems are certainly a “gateway to decision-making”, said Star Ratings general manager Damien Hanger.

He argued that Star Ratings are still a very important tool because research has proven consumers use them to narrow down their travel searches. He also claimed they are recognised by travellers as a reliable, independent rating.

The company recently launched its new strategy, resetting as a standalone ratings system. Mr Hanger continued, “The core of this strategy is incorporating a partnership between star ratings and guest reviews.” As such, the firm has now joined forces with ReviewPro to create an independent standard.

Josiah Mackenzie, vice president at ReviewPro, added that the partnership “represents an exciting, unprecedented blueprint for comprehensive hotel quality measurement and improvement”.

The ReviewPro system takes online guest reviews and correlates them into a rating for each hotel. The partnership has been struck just as the star ratings reputation management dashboard is set to go live at the end of January. ReviewPro data takes a number of different factors into account, Mr Hanger said, including service, hotel location, value-for-money, room quality and cleanliness.

Resort managers will be able to see how the score progresses in real-time, how individual measures are doing on a digital, contemporary platform. “The reaction to the overhaul of star ratings has been very positive from consumers.”

Tony Sheer, the general manager at ARRA Accommodation Group, also seemed to agree with the proposals put forward by UNWTO. He claimed that while star ratings were traditionally about “grading the amenities provided, not service or the guest experience” and modern guest reviews were all about “providing feedback”, modern travellers use methods to decide where to stay.

Mr Sheer said, “There are clearly demonstrated financial benefits to improving both your classification and your online review score but an increase in both can lead to an even higher RevPAR.”

He added, “Arra has already recognised this change in customer booking habits and hence has changed its quality assessment program from one of box-ticking and ensuring amenities are provided, to an integrated, guest-centric approach whereby online guest feedback is taken into account and addressed.”

ARRA Accommodation Group also has a Quality Marketing Assistance Program that aims to help accommodation managers integrate these aspects of online booking. “The QMAP program assesses real-time guest feedback as well as the property’s amenity and then works with each of Arra’s members to both build on strengths and address guest concerns as well as maintaining the amenities and services provided,” Mr Sheer said. “Our group uses the technique in the report to monitor the performance of our properties. The system was developed last year and is presently being tested and rolling out to our members.”

All in all, the UNWTO report has tapped into a trend that seems to have been growing in the industry for some time. Combining online guest reviews with official classifications is something that will likely benefit all accommodation providers, the question is simply how soon this practice will become second-nature in an ever more complex digital world.

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