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Article by Matt Tutt

The State of SEO in 2018: What Hotels Need to Know

Travel Tripper ·21 May 2018
This post highlights the state of organic search for 2018, looking at some of the impacts of the biggest recent changes by Google, both algorithmic and feature specific. We'll also try to estimate what's in store for hotel SEO throughout the rest of the year and beyond.The current organic search environment for hotelsIt's probably easiest to summarize the state of organic search for hotels in one short GIF. See this screen recording below of a typical hotel search made from a mobile device, and note the amount of scrolling required to reach the first organic result (and this is with just one PPC search ad visible!).Note how many swipes are needed to bypass the Google sponsored ads from a mobile device. On top of this, adverts have become far less obvious within search results, both for desktop and mobile users.Contrast this to a typical search results page from just a few years ago:Ads were previously highlighted yellow and demarcated from the organic results. The design meant that users could easily ignore the ads, but nowadays we're not so sure if people can distinguish the ads from organic results.This brings us on to Google's Hotel Ads--how many people would realize these are also a paid-for feature? These work in a similar fashion to the Google AdWords product whereby hotels and OTAs are bidding against each other for visibility to show their date-specific rates.Out of all industries, hotels in particular (and some travel companies) do have a bit of a rough ride. Search advertising competition is extremely fierce, and organic search results from hotels for non-branded searches are minimal. For generic hotel searches (e.g. "London hotels"), the organic search results on the first page are nearly all owned by the likes of Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Trivago, and Hotels.com.It seems that Google is forcing hotels to invest in sponsored ads of some kind if they want to have any kind of visibility in their search results, especially on mobile devices.The importance of Google Business listingsNowadays we're seeing many cases of the hotel's Google Business listing providing over 50% of the organic traffic to their website. This has been a huge shift in recent years.We've been tracking visits from our hotel's Google listings for a while now, and the trend to us is clear: more and more mobile users click the website button before proceeding to book their hotel stay.It's vital that you've taken ownership of your business listing on Google, Bing and all other search engines and that you're segmenting this channel as part of your organic search strategy.Google Business Listing management is therefore a vital part of your hotel's search marketing activities. We've seen several cases where third parties try to hijack these listings, switching out the hotel URL for their own (via an affiliate link for Booking.com, or linking to some other OTA), or even switching the phone number. Be very mindful of competitors (or unhappy guests) looking to sabotage your efforts by tactically "suggesting" updates to Google. If you're not careful you may accidentally approve these incorrect edit requests.Major Google Search updates during the past few yearsThere have been big Google search changes during the past few years, affecting both the paid search and organic search results for hotels. Here we're going to go through these and list a few of those particularly major updates. We've included those that relate to paid search (PPC) because PPC and SEO are so closely intertwined.Personalized and localized search resultsPersonalised search results within Google began over 10 years ago around March 2004, rolling out in November 2005 to users with Google accounts. This "personalisation of search" was based on your previous search history, your own interests, your location, social network info, and many more factors.When it comes to hotels and travel, one obvious way you might notice it is by searching for and clicking on a particular search result. Say you search for "hotels in downtown Miami" and you clicked on the eighth result, a listing for YVE Hotel Miami. If you repeat this search/visit a few times, you may find that the ranking for the YVE hotel increases. This is simply because Google believes it's a more relevant result for your query, because you've visited that site several times before.It's of course a bit more complex than that, but the overall impact is clear: Google was trying to provide a more personalized search experience to the user. The more impactful change here was the localization of results, which is now extremely pertinent considering the rise of mobile search.Google now serves results based on your own location. Search for "restaurants" in Google and you'll likely see a list of nearby restaurants based precisely on where you're searching from (unless you've disabled your location access in your browser or on your phone). Again, this is Google trying to understand the exact search intent and to provide a more useful search result.The above changes on Google have made it much more difficult to track the organic keyword rankings for your own website. While it's still possible (and we do still do this as part of our own Travel Tripper SEO services), we now need to do so from a specific location, normally a city where a hotel's largest market exists (such as from New York for hotels in America).Organic search rankings for specific keywords are now be a very difficult metric to measure, and so we'd instead recommend that hotels start focusing on ranking for topics instead. Don't focus all your SEO efforts for "hotel in New York" searches, but instead look at tailoring your strategy around your hotel's own unique selling points.Perhaps your hotel is located a few minutes from a popular attraction, or maybe it's one of a few pet-friendly hotels in your town. Optimizing for topics (distance from attractions, specific amenities, groups catered for) will likely bring an improved search ranking while also allowing you to more easily convert the visitor from browser into booker--note how difficult it'll be to convert a "hotels in New York" type search, vs a "pet friendly hotel near Big Ben" search.Knowledge GraphThe Knowledge Graph was introduced by Google in 2012, initially just in the English-speaking markets, before being rolled out in various other languages. This is the "sidebar column" you notice on the right side when searching within Google on a desktop device, or at the top of mobile searches.The aim of the Knowledge Graph was clear: provide users with information quickly, without having to enter other websites within Google's search results. This information is obtained from the crawling and scraping millions of websites across the internet.When you search for a hotel by its brand name and location, you'll often see the Knowledge Graph picking up the hotel's official name, logo, photos, address, reviews, amenities, and lots more. Some of this is taken from the Google business listing, while some of it is obtained from other sources across the web. It's always a good idea for hoteliers to read this info and check it for accuracy.Featured SnippetsFeatured Snippets in Search is the highlighted section at the top of all search results, where Google will again try to return info that helps to answer a user's search query. This information is again found during the crawling of a website, with those that seem to meet a particular search intent to a particular extent deemed worthy of being returned as a Featured Snippet.These snippets within the SEO industry are often coined as position 0, because technically they're not actually in competition with the other normal search results. Often you may see a site returned as a Featured Snippet, and then see it listed again as the first or second result on the search page. As you can imagine, these snippets will help to increase organic traffic to a website, but some critics argue that by Google returning this content directly within the search results they're effectively "stealing" their content and the website may lose out on the visit.Introduced in early 2014, Featured Snippets have since grown to become a big part of Google's offering. They typically answer very clear-cut questions, where there isn't often room for debate, such as "What time is It in London?" or "What currency is used in Australia?"For hotels there's not often been a clear opportunity or benefit to trying to obtain Featured Snippets, unless of course you've got some kind of information-based content that has a high search volume and is also from a relevant audience of people (who may be looking to travel).Google Hotel Ads (Metasearch)Google introduced Hotel Ads initially as Hotel Price Ads back in 2010 after the acquisition of travel data company ITA Software. Hotel Ads are a form of metasearch, whereby hotels and online travel agents and other third parties can all bid against each other in an auction to show their room rates within Google's products (Search and Maps, mainly).Placement of these Hotel Ads have varied during the years, but they've finally settled in a very prominent position within the Knowledge Graph. These ads are especially visible on mobile, and as a result they pushed the organic search results far further down the page.Nowadays if you want your hotel to remain visible throughout the booking journey, you must find a further marketing budget to participate with Hotel Ads, else you risk having the likes of Booking.com, Expedia, Agoda, Priceline and more all pinching your bookings, right towards the end of the booking funnel!The AMP ProjectThe AMP project was announced in 2015 and was an open-source initiative setup by Google in a bid to speed up the web on mobile. In a nutshell, AMP is a website publishing technology that is very fast to load (it uses AMP HTML, AMP Javascript, and Google's AMP cache) to provide ultra-fast website usage--extremely important for users on mobile devices where a fast and reliable internet connection isn't always possible.AMP was initially seen as a platform solely for news publishers and sites that generate a lot of content, but it has since been adopted by various other types of sites, including various large ecommerce sites. Although it's not been adopted yet by many independent hotels, Airbnb did invest heavily in launching on the platform.Using AMP has been a controversial topic amongst web developers, as it's seen as a way for Google to dictate and control web standards. Perhaps even more controversially, AMP sites aren't necessarily faster than other platforms; it's just that Google is saving these sites to their cache, thus enabling them to serve them at near-instant speeds to mobile users. As a response to the criticism, Google announced that in the future they'll allow the same search visibility benefits to other non-AMP sites, if they're also able to load very quickly.Mobile first indexProbably the biggest change to Google's organic search results will be the rolling out of its mobile-first index, having first been publicly announced by Google back in November 2016. Google's search results index will now be based on the performance of your hotel's mobile website version only, whereas previously the results were based on how your hotel's desktop website performed. If you have a slow mobile site, or your site is not fully responsive, then you may have big SEO issues when you do get switched over to this index.We wouldn't worry too much about this for now though. Google stated recently that they'll only switch you over if they can detect that your mobile site is indeed ready (for now, at least), and will send out notifications within Google Search Console when the switchover does take place.Again, Google is almost forcing websites to comply with their relentless urge to push everyone onto mobile devices, first with AMP, now with the mobile-first index. The likely overall reason is that it's far easier (and cheaper, fewer resources needed) for them to provide a search service with just one index based on mobile devices as opposed to constantly having to provide a separate desktop index too.Extended metasearch descriptionsAt the end of the previous year a few SEO specialists started noticing extended meta description texts showing in Google search results which appeared to be auto-generated by Google. This extended meta description was confirmed by Search Engine Land via Google, apparently in a bid to provide more descriptive and useful snippets within search. The previous meta tag description length was around 160 characters, but it now can be as long as 320 characters (although this is shorter on mobile devices, at about 280 characters).At Travel Tripper we've seen a slight CTR boost by introducing our own extended meta search description. The clear benefit of this is that you can prevent Google from automatically populating this text and fine tune your meta description to exactly what you desire.Google Travel Guides / Destinations on GoogleDestinations on Google started appearing on mobile searches in Google during 2016, and according to Google the product may never actually make it over onto desktop, simply because they feel mobile is where most travel research is happening.As is the trend so far with Google, these travel guides have been created by making use of information from other websites, as well as information from other Google Local Guides, where any Google users can contribute to Google Maps and other products in exchange for virtual points.Again, as a hotel (or an OTA), this feature would be another cause for concern. Google is clearly making big strides towards offering a more interactive, all-in-one search solution that cuts out the need to visit several sites as part of a traveller's booking journey.Google Q&AFirst appearing on the Google Maps app for Android users in August 2017, the Google Q&A feature added the ability to ask and answer questions about businesses within the Google search results. This area appeared at the bottom of the Knowledge Graph section and has since also rolled out to desktop users too.The feature went relatively under the radar within the search industry, and we're not sure whether it'll remain in its current form permanently, but it appears to be another attempt to collate FAQs (and answers) across all businesses on the web.TripAdvisor has had a similar feature in place for a while now, where users can ask and answer specific questions about a hotel. The obvious advantage of Google's feature is that it'll get a lot more visibility, and it is likely that questions will be answered much quicker too.Being proactive vs reactive when it comes to hotel SEOAlthough it's important to stay abreast of the latest search algorithm updates across the industry, it's also a good idea to refrain from being too reactive with your hotel's search strategy. It may ultimately prove to be resource intensive without providing long-term SEO benefits.When Google rolls out a new feature, it's always good to take note, then sit back and reflect. The company is well known for making seemingly game-changing announcements, only to have the feature disappear a few days later.When it comes to SEO strategy, it's important to look at the big picture--what do Google's latest changes say about where they think search is going? (The trend for the last few years has been a dramatic shift to mobile optimization.) By doing so, you can predict where the industry is moving, and what you will need to prepare for in the future.So where is search going to go from here? Advances in technology (such as voice search) suggest we're on course for an even more technical and highly personalized search landscape. Big data and AI is the order of the day, and with Google's RankBrain and machine learning algorithms being scaled up (see the news that Google is splitting off its AI division into its own business unit), it'll be interesting to find out how exactly this will impact upon hotels.

Is social media retargeting part of your hotel marketing strategy?

Travel Tripper Blog·17 May 2018
Most people don’t book a room on their first visit to a hotel website. It can take repeated visits for that to happen. Social media retargeting is about capitalizing on those encounters to drive conversions. It lets you connect with past visitors to your website by advertising to them on social channels such as Facebook and Instagram.

[SLIDESHARE] 5-step guide to building a hotel website

Travel Tripper Blog·15 May 2018
Planning to redesign or relaunch your hotel website? If not, you will be soon—with an ever-changing online travel market, hotels need to make major updates to their websites every 2-3 years. Our five-step guide will give you an overview of all the key areas you’ll need to take into consideration when redesigning your site.

Takeaways from our webinar, 'Tapping into the power of authentic travel experiences for hotel marketing'

Travel Tripper Blog·10 May 2018
Earning trust from customers happens over time and with repeat engagement. No one just wakes up one day and decides to visit Bali without ever having thought about it. People need to have had some previous awareness or engagement with a destination before they visit.

Understanding the true cost of distribution: Are you leaving money on the table by ignoring your direct channel?

Travel Tripper Blog· 8 May 2018
Hotels can make the biggest impact to their bottom line with an optimized direct channel. But a recent white paper by HEDNA found most independent properties are underinvesting and undervaluing this crucial part of their business.

Is your hotel selling rooms or experiences?

Travel Tripper Blog· 1 May 2018
Selling “experiences” is the key to influencing potential guests when they first consider taking a trip. When travelers are looking for early inspiration, they’re not focused on hotel rooms. They’re motivated by the prospect of exciting experiences that chime with their personal interests.

Takeaways from our webinar, 'Marketing Analytics 101'

Travel Tripper Blog·26 April 2018
Just recently, we hosted a webinar to help hotels master the art of marketing analytics. Our own experts from Travel Tripper discussed how analytics can be used in three vital areas of business: website engagement tracking, conversion optimization, and attribution & ROI. Topics included how to better track user interaction on your website, interpret marketing campaigns with greater accuracy, and optimizing your hotel website for mobile.

The stories that sell: How storytelling can increase hotel revenue

Travel Tripper Blog·24 April 2018
A pair of eyeglasses is just a pair of eyeglasses. That is until it’s a pair from Warby Parker. That’s because, for every pair sold, another is donated to a person in need. Suddenly, everyone who buys a pair is part of an inspiring story–one that unveils something meaningful about each person. In a world filled with an abundance of choices, an inspirational narrative is what sets brands apart. For your hotel, it’s no different. Richer stories—especially those shared by your guests–can help you break away from the competition, and increase hotel revenue while you’re at it.

The state of SEO in 2018: What hotels need to know

Travel Tripper Blog·19 April 2018
Organic search is a field that is constantly evolving—and quickly too. The speed at which Google and other search engines roll out and test new search features can make it difficult to plan your hotel’s search strategy for the next few months, let alone the entire year. This post highlights the state of organic search for 2018, looking at some of the impacts of the biggest recent changes by Google, both algorithmic and feature specific. We’ll also try to estimate what’s in store for hotel SEO throughout the rest of the year and beyond.

Behind the Screens with Travel Tripper, Ep 1 - Attribution and why it matters

Travel Tripper Blog·10 April 2018
We’ve started a vlog! In our first episode, Tris Heaword and Ben Hanley, our Directors of Digital Marketing, talk all about attribution in hotel marketing. What is it, really? Why is it important? And how are marketing agencies using attribution to pull the wool over your eyes? All this—and a special easter egg at the end!—in our very first episode. Watch the video below or listen to the SoundCloud file as a podcast.

[SLIDESHARE] 5 tips for reducing your hotel cancellation rate

Travel Tripper Blog· 5 April 2018
Cancellations on OTA channels can reach as high as 40%, making it difficult for hotel revenue managers to properly plan and fill their rooms nightly. Below are five revenue and rate strategies your hotel can employ to help counter high cancellation rates.

5 big hotel website design trends for 2018

Travel Tripper Blog· 4 April 2018
Web design trends rarely stay still for long. In 2018, we’re seeing some creative new ideas and a few reimagined versions of retro designs. In the hyper-competitive hotel industry, great design is especially crucial. Guests compare options quickly and judge hotels within seconds based on the look and feel of their website. Great design instantly tells your potential customers they’re in the right place. It lets them know your hotel offers the kind of experience they’re looking for. But more than that, it has the ability to distinguish you from the crowd, and hint at the possibility that your hotel offers something unique and special.

Inspiring travelers with Facebook's new Trip Consideration

Travel Tripper Blog·29 March 2018
Facebook has been extremely busy expanding its presence in the travel space over the past year. Last year saw the launch of City Guides, a tool that lets Facebook users discover hotels, restaurants, tours and activities based on the recommendations of their friends. The company also began letting users leave comments and traditional star reviews on the hotel page, and started providing local recommendations to its users when they visited a new destination.

How Airbnb's latest announcements may transform the online booking space

Travel Tripper Blog·22 March 2018
Airbnb is on a blitz as of late, announcing major product changes, wooing hotels, and drawing the battle lines against the OTAs all within the span of a few months. During a speech at this year’s ITB Berlin, Airbnb’s Co-Founder Nathan Blecharczyk announced new updates and initiatives both on the B2C and B2B front.

A hotel's guide to image SEO in 2018

Travel Tripper Blog·20 March 2018
Image search is an often-overlooked element of SEO, but hotels that take the time to optimize their imagery will find that it can bring significant benefits to their marketing efforts. With travel being such a visual and emotive industry, strong imagery, made easily searchable through strong optimization, can be a good way to inspire travellers to visit your destination, show off your hotel’s venue or event/function facilities, and build the overall brand of your hotel.

Common vanity metrics in hotel marketing and what to measure instead

Travel Tripper Blog·16 March 2018
When it comes to hotel marketing, vanity metrics are numbers that make you look good, but don’t really say much or contribute to your bottom line. Common examples in online marketing include things like page views and number of followers. The trouble with vanity metrics is they can be easily distorted and manipulated, making it seem like your hotel is performing better than it actually is. This can throw off your whole marketing strategy, leading you to overestimate the impact of certain strategies, and under-invest where attention is really needed.

How your OTA pricing model mix can distort important stats like RevPAR

Travel Tripper Blog·13 March 2018
The post How your OTA pricing model mix can distort important stats like RevPAR appeared first on Travel Tripper at Travel Tripper. RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) is one of your hotel's most important performance metrics. Yet while commonly used and heavily relied upon, it's a metric that isn't without its faults. In the following post, we'll show exactly how RevPAR can be distorted, highlight the potential impact this can have on your business, and offer solutions to mitigate the risk. Calculating RevPAR Hotels often use RevPAR as a way to measure... The post How your OTA pricing model mix can distort important stats like RevPAR appeared first on Travel Tripper at Travel Tripper.

How blockchain might be used in travel

Travel Tripper Blog· 7 March 2018
There’s been a lot of buzz about blockchain in recent years—a topic we summarized in our booking trends for 2018 post. Yet despite the hype, the majority of people don’t really seem to understand what blockchain is actually all about. With huge potential and growing levels of investment, it’s a topic that demands closer attention. In the travel sector, blockchain technology shows a serious amount of promise, from revolutionizing loyalty programs and increasing security, to breaking up the reliance hotels have on OTAs.

Takeaways from our webinar, 'The House Always Wins'

Travel Tripper Blog· 1 March 2018
In the casino industry, the saying goes that the house always wins. But on the highly competitive Las Vegas strip, it’s not always that clear cut. To survive and thrive, gaming properties need to find strategies to optimize revenue at every opportunity.

An introduction to the new Google Search Console - what's new?

Travel Tripper Blog·22 February 2018
The Google Search team have been busy making big changes to Google Search Console (GSC), an essential free tool for webmasters to monitor how their website is performing within Google Search. An essential part of any SEO toolkit, Google had began rolling out a brand new version of Search Console in the past few weeks. It should now be live for everyone, although it’s still very much in Beta. As part of our SEO services for hotels, we at Travel Tripper use Google Search Console extensively, so we wanted to share our findings on what has changed.

Revisiting chat apps: What messaging platforms are best for your hotel?

Travel Tripper Blog·20 February 2018
Messaging platforms are fast becoming the new way for businesses to interact with customers. When communicating with brands, 54% of US social media users say they prefer messaging platforms to email, phone, and online chat. Much of this comes down to ubiquity. Millions of people use chat apps on a daily basis to talk with friends and family. By extension, this familiarity makes them a preferred way to communicate with their favorite brands and businesses. Including hotels.

[INFOGRAPHIC] How to choose photos for your hotel website

Travel Tripper Blog·15 February 2018
The post [INFOGRAPHIC] How to choose photos for your hotel website appeared first on Travel Tripper at Travel Tripper. Hotels can dramatically improve guest engagement levels by using the right types of photos and visuals on their websites. Choices in style, composition, quality and perspective have the power to alter the way guests respond to brands. Our infographic below offers several tips for selecting photos that can help convert lookers into bookers on your site. Click to download a PDF or read our original article on 5 photo selection... The post [INFOGRAPHIC] How to choose photos for your hotel website appeared first on Travel Tripper at Travel Tripper.

Using public relations to benefit your hotel website SEO

Travel Tripper Blog·13 February 2018
The post Using public relations to benefit your hotel website SEO appeared first on Travel Tripper at Travel Tripper. The old SEO mantra 'Content is King' still rings true. But it's not enough to publish a great piece of content for your website without creating a strategic plan to share it with your audience. Whether you're announcing your latest blog post, or promoting your plush new room upgrades, promoting your message with a tailored PR strategy can increase the attention Google pays to your website, driving extra traffic to... The post Using public relations to benefit your hotel website SEO appeared first on Travel Tripper at Travel Tripper.

Travel Tripper honored as one of the 10 Best Places to Work in Hotel Tech

Travel Tripper · 7 February 2018
NEW YORK -- Hotel Tech Report, the #1 source for online ratings and reviews on hotel technology, has named Travel Tripper as one of the 10 Best Places to Work in Hotel Tech 2018 for fostering a sense of empowerment for its employees and offering great growth opportunities for their careers.The top 10 companies were selected based on a survey sent to thousands of hotel technology employees worldwide that evaluated company culture on various factors including satisfaction with management, work-life balance, career growth opportunities, and gender equality.Hotel Tech Report also praised Travel Tripper for its team collaboration across marketing, sales, tech, and product in putting out "killer content and thought leadership" that showcases the breadth and depth of employee expertise, a huge benefit and key selling point for Travel Tripper's global clientele."We are honored to be recognized in the first-ever survey of this kind for hotel technology companies," said Gautam Lulla, President of Travel Tripper. "That the honors were based solely on the feedback of actual employees is a testament to the strength of our team culture."Travel Tripper is a fast-growing hotel technology provider with 150+ employees across offices in New York, London, and Hyderabad, India. Working at Travel Tripper is an opportunity to join an exciting team of highly skilled and ambitious individuals who are passionate about developing innovative products and delivering excellent service to our hotel clients. The company offers competitive pay, flexible working hours, generous vacation days, and full benefits and is currently recruiting for positions in engineering, digital marketing, sales, and more. To see current open positions, visit Travel Tripper on LinkedIn.About Travel Tripper Travel Tripper is a full-service hospitality technology provider and strategic partner in helping hotels worldwide to generate demand, optimize conversions, and maximize revenue. Known in the industry for its constant innovation and exceptional expertise, Travel Tripper provides a comprehensive suite of solutions that empowers hotels from search to stay, including central reservation systems, hotel distribution, website and booking, and digital marketing. Learn more at www.traveltripper.com.About Hotel Tech Report HotelTechReport (www.hoteltechreport.com) is the premiere research platform for hotel technology globally. We help buyers save time identifying the best technology products to run their hotel properties by easily comparing vendors based on unbiased reviews from verified users. HotelTechReport's global community consists of hoteliers spanning 40+ countries with representation from every major hotel brand and thousands of independent hotels. The platform connects these hoteliers with hundreds of the world's top hotel technology suppliers with billions of dollars in market capitalization.

Important mobile booking stats for hotels in 2018

Travel Tripper Blog· 6 February 2018
Over one third of people now use a mobile device to book a hotel room. That’s according to the latest Travel Flash Report by Criteo. The shift to mobile continues to rise, and in 2018, hotels have an opportunity to capitalize on changing consumer habits. As it turns out, the mobile booking landscape varies considerably between regional preferences, booking platforms, and demographics. However, there are clear patterns among the stats that hotels can exploit. Here are some of the big booking stats to be aware of right now, followed by our own tips to boost your mobile conversion rates in the year ahead.

6 hotel booking trends we're watching in 2018

Travel Tripper · 6 February 2018
1. Review platforms attempting to dethrone TripAdvisorThe dominance of the world's biggest travel review site will be heavily challenged in 2018. Along with the less-than-stellar performance of its hotel booking product, TripAdvisor's reputation suffered following revelations that it censored reviews concerning rape allegations at specific hotels.Both Google and Facebook are coming up on the rails following their recent moves into the reviews game. Yelp is also making a play for the huge hotel advertising market by expanding ad offerings to hotels. And there are rumors Yelp also wants to add booking capabilities to their site.All summed up, the environment looks ripe for some seriously competitive moves next year.2. Airbnb to lead an end-to-end travel booking movementAirbnb's ambitions show no sign of abating. Along with busily expanding Experiences (part of its Trips tool), the company has made a huge investment in restaurant reservations app Resy. It's pretty clear that Airbnb intends to be a one-stop shop for booking your entire travel experience. The only thing it doesn't seem to be focusing on is transportation.The company also seems keen to redefine travel for locals, too. Regarding Airbnb Trips, CEO Brian Chesky recently said he wants to make "outsiders feel like insiders," in part by helping local people better connect to their own city. It's a smart move that could help Airbnb build up a base of regular local users. Add in talk of introducing a loyalty program, and 2018 looks set to be a big year for Airbnb.But Airbnb is far from the only platform that sees the potential in tours and experiences, something that Skift classed as a "megatrend" in 2017.TripAdvisor is betting on growth from its "non-hotel" business with the strengthening of its tours and activities segment. Expedia and Booking.com are also investing heavily in tours and excursions as well.The big question for next year will be whether the OTAs also attempt to integrate end-to-end bookings (accommodation + activities + food/restaurants) into their own platforms. This would effectively make them a one-stop shop, rather than acting as multiple sites operating under the same umbrella. Given Airbnb's ambitions, this move may come sooner rather than later.Against this changing booking landscape, hotels will also need to adapt. This could involve integrating tours and experiences within their own offerings, either publishing tours on their own website or integrating links to make booking easy.3. The great race to capture user loyaltyThere's been a lot of developments this year in the loyalty game. Biggest of all was the announcement from the world's major hotel brands that their direct booking pushes and loyalty rates have worked.OTAs, which have ordinarily played the marketing game through aggressive search marketing and competition on price, are now changing their tune. For instance, Booking.com recently announced they would invest more in TV commercials, a move intended to drive direct traffic and encourage repeat bookings. Expedia also revealed they would be getting rid of their price matching guarantee.Adding to this, there are suspicions that Booking.com is taking advantage of Google's audience targeting function to advertise Genius rates to Genius users that search for hotels on Google.All of these efforts have had some positive effects. But the loyalty environment is still ripe for innovation. As such, we may see a major shift in 2018 across the industry. For example, many independent hotels are now working on ways to develop their own loyalty programs and better integrate them into the booking experience.Once again, keeping up with Airbnb will prove the main challenge. According to a study reported by Phocuswright, of all the major accommodation booking sites (including hotel brand sites and OTAs), Airbnb is by and large the site with the most loyal--read: actual repeat--customers. Just imagine what may happen if they do end up launching a loyalty program!4. This blockchain thing everyone keeps talking aboutAside from Bitcoin, few people truly understand blockchain technology. Yet while many grapple to figure out what it's all about, excitement is growing surrounding industry startups such as Winding Tree. Using blockchain, this travel distribution platform promises to help suppliers regain control over their inventory and reduce costs to middlemen, in turn driving down costs to the consumer.There's also talk of how Bitcoin can integrate within airlines, how it can improve security, and even how it could be a boon for independent hotels. Is it the panacea for all travel industry ills? Phocuswright described it as somewhere between "revolutionary and hyped." Like most new technologies, we likely won't know blockchain's true usefulness until we see it in action more commonly--something we're expecting next year.Broadly, the whole issue of data security has been pushed to the forefront in 2017. High-profile incidents included the data breach at Sabre and hacks such as the Equifax breach. All have stoked the fires surrounding the need for better security.Add in the fact that the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect next May, and you can bet this topic will remain firmly top of mind in 2018.5. The AI race to better dynamic and personalized pricingArtificial intelligence certainly has plenty of flashy applications in travel. In recent times, chatbots, travel apps and personal assistants have all captured the imagination. But moving forward, hotels will find the real advantage of AI lies in pricing applications.Apps such as Google Flights already offer "predictive pricing," which provides consumers with suggestions on when they might find the lowest price. However, businesses can also benefit from the same technology. For instance, Starwood has spent the year testing its own AI-powered revenue strategy optimization tool, enabling better power dynamic pricing and improved demand forecasting of 20%.The introduction of more loyalty programs and "closed group" booking tools will also mean that personalized recommendations and marketing (if not pricing) will become easier to implement as well.The integration of AI tech, which may be used to help track and identify user preferences and past habits, may help to further this along.6. China is the one to watch in digital travelChina is one of the world's largest and fastest growing tourism markets, and it's poised to be the biggest by 2022. But even more amazing, China's rate of digital adoption in travel far surpasses anyone else in the region.According to Phocuswright, if you took just Chinese mobile bookings, it would be the third highest source of bookings in all of Asia (after Chinese total and Japan). You can hear more about this discussion in The State of Digital Travel video starting at 4:57.In the Washington Post, Douglas Quinby, senior vice president of research at Phocuswright, was quoted as saying, "China is far ahead of the rest of the world in mobile travel trends," further adding that their "apps, payment services and other features are more advanced and widely accepted."It's also worth mentioning that China runs on its own digital ecosystem: all of the OTAs, social media, review sites and chat apps are specifically Chinese and aren't widely used outside the country. Likewise, many well-known apps in the West aren't used in China. So while there's a lot to learn from Chinese technology in 2018, the lack of shared platforms makes this especially hard.Looking ahead to 2018The travel industry looks set to see significant change this year. The rise of blockchain will be one to watch for sure, as will the impact on TripAdvisor from emerging review sites. And the ever-expanding plans of Airbnb will continue to grab attention. For hotels, the fight for guest loyalty and the adaption of AI for pricing personalization will be key themes as technological innovation delivers new possibilities.


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