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Hotel search 2.0: How is guest behavior changing?

Women picture traveling
Hotel-Tech | 5 Dec 2023

How has technological innovation changed travelers' search and booking behaviors? And how can you adapt your sales to these changes? We discussed these questions with Roland Schegg, Professor at HES-SO.

New technological advancements are emerging almost every month. Examples include generative artificial intelligence (AI), voice-activated searches and the ever-evolving functions on our smartphones.  

 

It is clear that these many innovations also influence travelers' search and booking behaviors. In this live stream, Marco Baurdoux and Elisha Schoppig from Hotel-Spider discuss important trends in guest behavior.  

 

Roland Schegg, Professor at HES-SO and an expert in hotel sales and digitalization in the hotel industry, also joined them as a guest. He shared expert insights and valuable data on the topic.  

This blog article summarizes how to capitalize on the current situation and explores the three most important trends. 

 

Technology and travel planning: The current situation 

Technology now plays a dominant role in travel planning and hotel sales. This has resulted in the following four aspects which define today's online sales landscape:  

 

1. Travel planning is becoming increasingly digital 

In the past, a significant portion of travel inspiration came from analog sources such as travel agents, tour guides, friends and family. While these sources all still play a role, the internet now surpasses them all.  

 

It is interesting to see where different age groups get information and inspiration for their travels. Millennials and Gen Z are heavily engaged in social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Older guests like to receive personal advice, even if they do their own research online. They also use analog sources such as brochures, catalogs and travel guides.  

 

“This data shows how important it is to choose the right channels for specific customer segments. This will of course evolve over the years. Bear this in mind when developing your marketing campaigns and consider which guests you want to attract in the long term.”, advises Roland.  

 

 

 

2. Reservations made through mobile devices are continuing to increase 

Regardless of whether guests book through online travel agencies (OTAs) or your hotel website, they are increasingly using their smartphones to do so. According to data from Phocuswright, 50% of all OTA reservations will be made on mobile devices by 2024.  

 

This trend is likely to be similar for direct bookings. This makes it all the more important to ensure that your website and web-booking engine are optimized for mobile devices. Adopting this approach is essential for generating a solid proportion of your reservations through your website without commission in the future.  

 

Marco emphasizes the following: “The younger generation in particular view their smartphone almost as an extension of themselves. Mobile optimization is essential if you want to attract these guests. The same applies to source markets like Asia. Smartphone use is particularly high in these markets, even among older generations.” 

 

 

 

3. The eternal battle for direct bookings continues 

The majority of guests now handle their bookings themselves, either through OTAs (44%) or directly with the hotel (34%).  

 

“What’s interesting here is that the further guests travel, the more likely they are to book through a portal. This is because they prefer to book through an OTA they are familiar with rather than directly with an unknown hotel in the host country,” explains Roland.  

 

When it comes to direct bookings, hotels have made progress in recent years. Although there is still room for improvement, many hotels are now less dependent on OTAs than they were a few years ago. As an example, reservations made on websites more than doubled in Switzerland between 2015 and 2022.   

 

 

 

 

4. Fewer regular guests 

In the past, it was common practice to spend your summer and/or winter vacations in the same region or even at the same hotel.  

 

“Things are now different for many destinations. Easier access to a wide range of options and more affordable transportation, such as low-cost airlines, now make it possible to travel to more distant destinations or simply choose to go somewhere completely different. Which means many hotels are no longer able to rely on regular customers”, Roland continues.  

 

After this summary of the current situation, we continued our live stream by discussing some important new trends in guest behavior when they are searching for hotels.  

 

Innovative technology: How this influences booking behavior 

 

Guests will of course continue to research and book online in the future. But what new technology will be available to them? How will these innovations impact research? And how can you ensure that your hotel benefits from all of this? Discover the key trends and tips with our experts here.  

 

Trend #1: Guests expect hyper-personalization 

Travelers want ever-increasing levels of personalization. This extends from the initial offer to the service provided on-site, posing new challenges for hoteliers. How can you fully customize the guest experience without overwhelming your team? 

 

Various hotel technology providers have already developed solutions to address this issue. Automatisation plays a role here, easing the workload of employees and creating more time for personal interactions. Rule-based algorithms can also analyze a guests' search history and booking behavior to recommend relevant packages and extras for guests. However, this is not the final generation of artificial intelligence (AI), although it is sometimes promoted as such. 

 

Far greater capabilities are achievable with the latest generative AI technology. This not only allows you to tailor offers perfectly to each guest, but also to automate the majority of your communication. AI-controlled chatbots automatically answer many inquiries in real time and guide visitors through the reservation process on your website. They can then share further relevant offers with guests and transfer the corresponding reservations to the PMS. This leaves your team with more time to deal with more complex issues. 

 

“A hybrid solution combining AI tools with direct human interactions often proves to be optimal. Modern customer relationship management programs are increasingly adopting this approach. For this to work, your CRM and PMS need to be integrated with each other. This integration allows both systems to access guest data as needed in order to optimize communication,” explains Roland. 

 

Trend #2: More willingness to exchange data for real personalization 

The heightened demand for greater data protection stems partly from the fact that many companies bombard potential customers with advertising using automated email campaigns. Of course, this has little to do with personalization or good customer experience.  

 

With generative AI now enabling targeted and personalized assistance for guests planning their trips, this trend can be effectively reversed. When travelers recognize that they are actually receiving relevant suggestions for their next vacation in return for their data, they are more willing to share their information. Not only do they save time researching, but they can also be sure that the trip will meet their expectations.  

 

Elisha adds an important point here: "There continues to be issues of data protection surrounding automated personalization. However, people are often happy to provide their data if it means that they will receive a better, more customized service. Still, it’s important to follow the rules and obtain their consent.” 

 

Trend #3: Voice-activated searches are increasing rapidly 

According to Statista, over 3.25 billion voice assistants were already in use worldwide in 2019. By 2024, this number is expected to rise to 8.4 billion. These voice assistants include well-known solutions such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and the Google Voice Assistant. However, this also includes the voice-controlled operation capabilities of various websites, platforms, apps and bots. Google and YouTube are two examples of platforms that support verbal instructions and input.  

 

 

In the past, users needed to learn to work with a limited set of voice commands to achieve the desired result. If an instruction did not fit into the schema, the interaction would fail. Anyone who attempted to communicate with the first website chatbots is familiar with this frustrating situation. This is now changing rapidly due to the new Large Language Models and generative AI.  

 

Many devices and platforms are getting better at dealing with natural language and complex questions. Users can therefore speak to their voice assistants in a normal way. Consequently, these voice-controlled features are now taking on a more significant role in hotel searches and trip planning,” says Marco.  

 

As a hotel, optimizing your website content for voice search can yield significant benefits. Naturally, you first need to find out which spoken searches are relevant to your hotel.  

 

Elisha suggests a clever trick: “Look at Google Analytics to see which above-average length search queries are directing guests to your website. These are predominantly spoken searches.”  

 

Include common search queries in your FAQ section. By taking this approach, you can generate more page views while at the same time make important information easily accessible to your website visitors.  

 

Your next steps

 

The world of technology is ever-evolving, continually introducing innovations and sparking new trends.  

 

To help you thrive in this dynamic environment, Elisha advises the following: “Stay informed and observe the innovations being implemented by OTAs and other competitors to discover how you can also capitalize on these advancements. You can also talk to your technology partners and let them know what new features you would like to see.” 

 

Marco agrees: “Your choice of technology partners is extremely important. They must be a good fit and the provider should consistently monitor trends to swiftly adapt and update their system as quickly as possible.” 

 

But that doesn't mean you have to follow every new trend. “Instead, engage with your guests to understand how their needs and expectations are evolving. Adapt your offer accordingly to stay relevant and appeal to your target group”, Roland concludes.  

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