It’s a trend you see all too frequently in today’s global travel industry: a traveler lands at an online travel agency’s website with the intent to complete a booking, but then leaves the site empty-handed. This can happen for any number of reasons, but the result is the same regardless: the traveler is unfulfilled by their digital interaction with the OTA, and the OTA misses an opportunity to forge a potentially long-term relationship with the customer.
It’s a problem many OTAs face in today’s travel industry, especially as online and mobile capabilities become cheaper to source and easier to deploy. The expectation that an OTA will operate a robust online travel booking platform is also putting pressure on OTAs to leverage fast, powerful web-based resources travelers can access 24/7 across any number of applications or contexts, be it laptops, smartphones, mobile devices, and more.
All this begs the question: What can OTAs do to increase travel bookings in a competitive space where agencies are seeking the best competitive advantages to attract and retain customers? What strategies can OTAs deploy in operating their online booking systems to increase conversation and reduce instances of abandoned bookings? These are questions OTAs must address in order to effectively serve their consumer-based, and with that in mind, let’s examine 5 ways online travel agencies can increase bookings for enhance growth and profitability.
Utilize smart search functions
There are few other industries where smart or intuitive search capabilities are a critical value proposition in attracting and retaining customers. Because OTAs may work multiple suppliers serving a variety of regions or destinations, reliable search engines are crucial for customers to find the right booking in the right destination at the right time. These smart search engines should include functions like auto-fill in, previous search history, and the ability to sort potential bookings by a number of factors such as location, star rating, price, or popularity. It may sound fairly basic, but OTAs that incorporate these baseline features will already find themselves leveraging important advantages over competitors with less sophisticated or user-friendly search platforms.
Push for personalization
We’ve discussed in previous entries the desire of today’s modern traveler for personalization and individualization even when working with an online travel agency. Travelers want a personal or human connection in curating their bookings, even if that means interacting with chatbots, communicating on messaging platforms, or receiving offers or promotions specifically tailored to their likes and needs. This is achieved through leveraging a customer’s browsing or purchasing history, but also by generating potential destinations or accommodations based on the bookings the user is browsing at any given time. Engaging with travelers in this way — and administering a website or booking engine that allows for this level of engagement — provides customers with a unique, personal touch in an efficient digital setting.
Leave room for last-minute travelers
The travel industry can be unpredictable. Flights are delayed. Accommodations can be overbooked. And customers can be forced to find and complete bookings at the last minute for any number of reasons. For OTAs, the ability to effectively serve last-minute travelers is an important value proposition in creating a positive customer relations and engagement platform. Whether it’s through special offers or promotions designed to capitalize on the last-minute bookings or the ease and user-friendly manner last-minute travelers can successfully navigate an OTAs website and booking engine, OTAs must leave room for this often under-realized segment of the travel industry, especially as consumers incorporate faster, powerful, and more mobile technology into their daily lives.
Highlight user reviews and social media
So much of today’s travel industry is based on connection: connection between travelers and connection between travel companies and customers. A majority of this connection comes from travel review websites and social media where pictures and posts can be shared and seen by large numbers of users with the click of a button. OTAs who embrace this and incorporate user reviews and social media elements on their websites create greater levels of visibility and transparency between themselves and their customers. This not only provides travelers with a greater peace of mind when it comes to bookings, but it also positions OTAs to engagement and directly communicate with travelers to help share the OTA’s story, vision, brand, and overall mission.
Optimize your site across all platforms
Mobile technology is no longer a trend - it’s a way of life and a key driver in doing business. It’s simply not enough for OTAs to deploy a clean, easy to use website via a desktop or laptop. Rather, OTAs must ensure their digital components are optimized across a number of platforms to successfully reach as many customers as possible. Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices are now important tools for customers in researching, completing, and reviewing bookings, and OTAs must ensure their websites, search capabilities, and other digital elements function at a high-level in a number of contexts. Text, scrolling, searching, image displays and sizing, shopping cart functionality, and a host of other aspects of web design must be uniform across all platforms for OTAs to truly take advantage of mobile capability.