Travelers now have the option of booking a hotel room directly through Google, Google+, and Google Maps. While the “Book on Google” feature is currently in the beta phase, it speaks to the ever-increasing competition for market share. While there are benefits to this facilitated booking arrangement, when it comes to direct bookings — and what hotel doesn’t want more of them — there’s another pylon added to the reservations obstacle course.
This new Google feature provides travelers with reviews, rankings, and rates from a variety of sources; however, for participating hotels what was once a direct booking will actually be facilitated through Google rather than the hotel website. Hotels will pay a commission for the reservation, and Google will accept payment information, which can be stored for use on future Google facilitated reservations. A tremor more than an earthquake, the launch of facilitated bookings by major players, such as Google and TripAdvisor, has multiple implications for hotels. In theory, hotels benefit from a decrease in abandonment rates when travelers can book in fewer clicks. There’s also the chance that travelers are more likely to make a snap booking decision through Google, because their payment data is stored for one-click booking.
However, as Tnooz notes, there is very little hotel branding in Google’s facilitated bookings and this has long-term ramifications for brand awareness, especially for independent hotels. What this trend also means for hotels is that direct channel bookings have become even more valuable. With potentially more commissions to budget for, every web or voice booking must be maximized in order to offset the increasing cost of capturing reservations.
To make direct bookings count for more, hotels can set up agent evaluation programs to ensure that they not only fully understand the property and packages but also to instill basic skills that substantially increase the rate of agent conversion. For instance, many agents don’t ask for the reservation; however, closure rates increase when this simple step is incorporated into the conversation.
Utilizing technology to facilitate the capture of guest data for future use in outbounding is also key to increasing revenue (as much as $4000 per room per year). Tools such as NAVIS Narrowcast automatically retain caller name, phone numbers, and geographic location and also allow for savvy agents to add details such as date range, interests, and so forth in order to follow up if the reservation goes unbooked.
We also know that agents have a much greater potential to increase revenue, because they are able to get to know the guest and tailor the conversation to the guest’s interests and needs. This means not only potential upgrades but also ancillary revenue; therefore, incorporating strategies to drive more agent inquiries is another key to increasing direct channel revenue.
The current climate is such that hotels must look further than simply generating more direct bookings. The focus must shift to reservation optimizations, one of the few ways hotels stand a chance at increasing revenue as reservations costs steadily continue rising. Google’s facilitated bookings may or may not catch on with travelers, but as an industry, we are never short on competition for market share. Another will come along.