5 Ways to Optimize Online Experiences to Reach a New Generation of Hotel Guests

April 28, 2023

Strategies and technology can help hotels recover a lost bookings, enhance guest relationships, and generate more direct revenue

For those of us who grew up wrestling with the novel dysfunction of dial-up internet (or even just prior to the introduction of the computer), the digital conveniences enjoyed today often feel like they belong in a different world. In fact, they do. The early-internet age is, at this point, a bygone era reserved for nostalgic references. On the other hand, the modern world is rife with innovations that are so seamless and intuitive many of us take the convenience they offer for granted. With countless tech-driven tools and powerful search engines at our fingertips, we have grown accustomed to fast and personalized service. At what seems to be a blistering pace, technology is becoming faster, smarter, and more agile in its ability to adapt to consumer preferences and get ahead of them.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that businesses are expected to consider the quality of the online and offline experience they offer customers in equal measure. The hospitality industry, as you might have guessed, is no exception. Today’s guest is exceedingly digitally savvy and well-versed in the criteria informing a great online experience. This also means that today’s guest comes with high expectations – and those hospitality brands which fail to align the quality of their digital experience with that of their on-property experience will be fighting an impossibly uphill battle.

Simply stated, hotels today must prioritize optimizing their online experiences for this new generation of guests – starting with the booking journey – or they will risk being left behind.

1. Get to Know the Modern Guest

Of course, we can’t talk about the wants and needs of the modern guest without first defining who they are. Looking beyond the well-known and often better-understood Boomer and Gen X generational groups, we set our sights on Millennials and Gen Z. Millennials were born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, while Gen Z was born between 1997 and 2012. Millennials, with some approaching 40, are a considerable force within the hospitality industry; research indicates they travel significantly more than other generations. Specifically, American millennials are reported to travel an average of 35 days per year, followed closely by 29 days for Gen Z, compared to 26 days for Gen X and 27 days for baby boomers. 

“When it comes to nearly all travel behaviors, millennials are the generation most likely to engage — and they do so often,” explains Lindsey Roeschke in a recent CNBC Travel news update. “For example, 18% of millennials have taken three or more domestic flights in the past year, compared to 10% of Gen Xers and 6% of baby boomers.” To this effect, millennials value “the idea of vacationing over adding a few more dollars to their savings,” according to a report from GWI Travel. According to its research, they are “way out in front of other generations” in deeming vacations to be very or extremely important to them.

As you might have guessed, Millennials and Gen Z have a lot in common – especially concerning their expectations for brand interactions across digital mediums. These travelers are, after all, digital natives – they grew up in the digital age and are entirely comfortable (if not reliant on) using digital tools to manage their travel booking experience. They are not only comfortable with technology – they actively champion it and expect a seamless, user-friendly experience that mirrors the speed of digital service they’ve grown up enjoying. If there are kinks or delays in the booking process, it’s likely that prospective guests will take their business elsewhere.

2. If it’s not Seamless, it’s not Effective

In this digital age, the end-user experience is the ultimate litmus test for the quality of an online experience. The e-commerce environment can hang its popularity on the fact that it’s easy, quick, and convenient – and the online booking journey is expected to adhere to this formula.

Similar to an online retail shopping experience, if a traveler’s attempt to book is sidetracked by friction points such as website errors, slow load times, surprise fees, inconvenient payment options (or, in general, a complicated booking process), that traveler is likely to abandon their prospective booking altogether. In 2023, if your online experience isn’t seamless – it isn’t effective.

3. The Mobile Experience Should not be an Afterthought

With reports indicating that 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load and a 2-second delay in load time results in abandonment rates of up to 87%, we realize that user patience is dwindling. Hotels must come to the table with a quick and seamless mobile experience. With this in mind, hotels must consider the mobile booking experience they offer travelers under the same critical lens as their website experience. A great website isn’t enough if the mobile experience is lacking.

Instead, hotels must consider the possibility that millennial and gen z travelers might discover/research hotels and book and pay for upcoming trips via smartphones. With this in mind, hotels must ensure the user experience is optimized across all platforms and services – not just some.

4. Don’t Just Inform – Engage with Data-Backed Personalization

Modern travelers arrive at a hotel’s website wanting more information – but their expectations don’t end there. They want to be engaged and get the sense that their values and preferences are reflected back at them by the hospitality brand they are considering. After all, websites and apps aren’t meant to function in the same way as a billboard advertisement – engagement is a two-way street, and customer personalization is now the norm across all industries.

More than ever, hotels are expected to leverage technologies such as machine learning and AI, chatbots, data analytics, and more to personalize the guest experience and curate tailored communications, offers, and recommendations. With the help of technology, hotels can finally get to know their guests in a quicker and more scalable manner that was never before possible – and today, guests outright expect it.

This becomes especially paramount when prospective travelers begin – and then abandon – the booking process. Travel is, after all, a big-ticket purchase, and guests often require more time to contemplate their booking decision. Leading hospitality brands now leverage advanced technology to send personalized booking abandonment emails and SMS messages with data-informed details and offers. 

By re-engaging these guests through customized communication, hotels can recover a significant number of lost bookings, enhance guest relationships, and generate additional revenue.

5. Give Them a Reason to Book Direct

There are very few, if any, travelers who don’t love a deal, and there are very few travelers who won’t think twice about leaving your website behind if they are presented with an exit intent offer. With this in mind, hotel brands can leverage booking abandonment technology to quickly display a targeted message to a prospective traveler perusing the site. Whether the intent offer creates a sense of FOMO or simply offers up a great deal (i.e., “Book now to save 10%”), exit intent offers help drive on-page conversion up while decreasing booking abandonment rates in a meaningful way.

By targeting and re-engaging potential guests who have shown interest in booking but still need to complete the process, hotels can increase conversion rates. This means more direct bookings for hotels and reduced revenue lost to abandoned reservations – minimizing the reliance on third-party booking platforms and commissions,  leading to significant cost savings for hotels in the long run.

In today’s world, the hospitality industry must embrace the digital revolution and prioritize optimizing online experiences to meet the expectations of the modern guest. By understanding their target audience, ensuring a seamless booking process, prioritizing mobile experiences, personalizing interactions, and providing remarketing incentives, hotels and venues can effectively reach and cater to this new generation of guests.