Ai Editorial: More clicks = more confusion = no confidence in a travel booking!

First Published on 8th January, 2017

Ai Editorial: Returning to a booking path only to face more friction or being exposed to irrelevant ads/ emails post booking cart abandonment are areas that travel e-commerce players need to look into, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Checking OTA sites, brand.com, review sites and repeating the process to verify the authenticity of whatever is being offered is quite common among travellers.

But when the intent is clear, let’s say dates, property chosen, social context, type of travel… even then making a potential booker work for more is unimaginable. There are certain inconsistencies in the travel booking path that both OTAs as well as hotels need to take care off. A summary of experiences resulting from two finished bookings done in last few days:

·          Inconsistent chatbot: It isn’t uncommon to receive an email for completing an unfinished booking. Returning to where you left off and completing a booking in a couple of clicks or even clearing any doubt via a chatbot is fine, but what if the chatbot fails? In case of booking.com, one click facilitated by an email takes to Booking.com Facebook chatbot. But the chatbot failed on two occasions for two different bookings. Even if the user provides the same information (for example, package for 3 nights from March 23rd, 2016 for two adults and one child 11 years, Novotel Goa Resort and Spa) for the same property that wasn’t booked, then also the chatbot returns “Oops, this invitation is invalid” message. On another occasion, it did provide with the visual of the property and key information (such as price, ratings, reviews and picture of the room). Booking can be finished in a couple of minutes. But there are times when the chatbot also showed inconsistency, returned results for a property in another country. On repeated attempts it did work but that might not be the case with every traveller.

On another note, a chatbot might be prepared for only a certain type of interaction. But that doesn’t serve the purpose; a touchpoint needs to be ready. Few limitations:

-       Don’t be surprised if the chatbot isn’t able to recognize a booking that a user has completed (whose name chatbot is aware of and the app is also installed on the same device). 

-       All talk around targeting the “second wallet” needs introspection. Even if the user checks the possibility of an in-trip excursion post a booking, the chatbot is clueless.

-       If a search engine can understand certain keywords, why does the chatbot fail miserably on this count? This doesnt sound a customer-centric proposition especially when chabots are being prepared to deliver a personalised service. 

At a time, when travel marketers are contemplating how to be in control of every click or interaction, even that is taking place on 3rd party platforms, this state of affairs is indicates the level for scope for improvement.

·          Irrelevant messaging: A booking completed via an OTA, and still coming across sponsored links for returning to the booking path is a possibility.  When travel e-commerce players, especially OTAs, are sending emails after every abandoned session, why aren’t they ready to make the most of the interaction made for a specific booking or even based on bookings in the past?

For instance, the likes of Booking.com need to go beyond an offering like discount that can be availed by their regular buyers (“genius” bookers). A traveller, who has travelled more than 5 times in one year and booked with family members (looking at specific category of hotels/ resorts, certain type of rooms etc.), can be recommended with options rather filling same options again and again. So, for instance, once an indication about a destination is given along with the dates, then why not to come up with curated options? Every piece of communication or offer should be about making the user do less and bridging the gap between planning and booking. But, as of now, the options are too broad and leaving room for confusion or too much search on the part of the traveller.

·          Ambiguity about value: Comparison shopping is inevitable. Hotels, even the established chains, don’t give much confidence to shoppers at times.

For the same property (Novotel Goa Resorts and Spa), both on the hotel site and OTA.com, there is a category of room that apparently has a staircase (indicating separate living room and bedroom) but there is no video or virtual imagery on the hotel site that can confirm the same. Even a call to the call centre at the time of booking isn’t sufficient. Only the property can confirm the details about the room.

Similarly, in case of booking.com, if you book for 2 adults plus 1 child with breakfast included, there is no clarity whether the hotel/ chain would end up charging for the child’s breakfast or not.

The industry needs to counter certain issues that are related to content and technology that can prolong the booking procedure. Dropping off again, even when the intent is to book or complete a transaction isn’t a good sign. Also, when travellers are inclined to use a certain channel for a booking, why not make the most of this opportunity by showing content and consequently booking options that complement the other aspects of the trip. Retargeting without sharp, precise messaging or friction-filled booking needs to be taken care of.

 

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