If I were the king of the world – or just Travelocity.
There's plenty of room for improvement in the online hotel-booking industry. There’s no question that consumer purchasing behaviour for many categories has moved online. This is especially true in the hotel industry, where now more room bookings than ever before at least begin with an online search, even if they end in a purchase through other means.
A shift in the purchase behaviour is a big deal in any sector, and a change of this magnitude can lead to new winners carving out a dominant brand position. In the hotel industry, while many brands have tried, I’m not seeing a clear winner, either with individual hotel brands or aggregator sites that purport to help you decide between hotels in a given location. Is that the sound of a branding opportunity calling? I think so.
I spent most of the day recently trying to plan a summer trip to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest – and I’m ready to scream. There is a serious opportunity for someone to reinvent the online hotel booking industry, and I hope they get on it with all due haste.
Sites like Travelocity and Trip Advisor are fine, but they often offer contradictory reviews and varying room rates for the same hotel (and is just it me, or are there way more Brits writing hotel reviews than travellers of any other nationality?).
Photos on the hotel websites themselves are out of date or crazily distorted, and the sites are so laden with buttons as to be anxiety-inducing. Then there’s the matter of non-standardized categorization. How am I supposed to know if an executive room is better than a superior room or a deluxe room – or if a superior queen junior suite at one hotel bears any resemblance to a deluxe king standard at another?
When I am considering a hotel, I want recent, easy-to-find photos of the rooms, unbiased information on location relative to the local attractions, and consistent details on rates and amenities. I don't need Flash movies or montages of misleading imagery set to a corporate soundtrack, or seven layers of sub-pages and pull-down menus sprouting from every corner of the page.
I could also do without the endless complaints from disgruntled travellers clogging up the "reviews" section of the aggregator sites. I know you really wanted a soft-boiled egg for your room service breakfast, and that the hotel delivered yours hard-boiled, but is that any reason to go on for five paragraphs and give the hotel one star out of five? Please.
Tell me if the bed was comfortable. If the room was clean. If the location made sense. And if the staff was friendly and helpful. I want to know if the gym is decent, and if the wireless works. Your egg? Not so much of a deal breaker for me.
This branding opportunity could be seized by an aggregator site called, say, “Travel Truth,” which would be perfectly on trend. Or a chain of hotels could be the first to declare their websites as “spin free” information zones; I’d be loyal to that group. Consumers today, myself very much included, don’t want to be sold. We want the facts, and we want to be left to make up our own mind.
This holds true for all industries, although the promise of fantasy fulfillment in the travel industry has proven to be a particularly fertile breeding ground for the best examples of hyperbole run amok. Our collective desire for fact and truth in commercial communication is a direct result of the bombastic advertising style of the recently deceased boom years. Hype-and-jive advertising is being viewed with the same amount of disdain and painted with the same brush-dipped-in-guilt as Wall Street investment bankers.
That some copywriter who is paid to tell me a hotel is “an adventure of a lifetime” or “the ultimate in luxury” is only making it difficult for me to assign any level of credibility to the truths that are to be found in your promotional efforts. If your truths are drowning in fluff, you’d do well to rescue them, towel them off, and present them fresh-faced to the world.
I'm sure the hotels I've settled on for my summer trip will be great. But after wasting a day trying to find reliable information, I'm ready for a vacation right now.