How to win the direct booking battle by speaking your customers’ language

When you booked your last trip, did you book directly with the hotel or airline, with an online travel agency (OTA), such as Expedia, or with a traditional travel agent?

OTAs and traditional travel agents have proved important over the years, but major hotels and airlines are acting strategically to increase the number of direct bookings: There’s no commission, and it’s easier to manage the brand experience, build loyalty and drive ancillary revenue.

In fact, according to Atmosphere Research Group Direct, booking directly on hotel chain websites and mobile devices accounted for 25 percent of total bookings in 2015, surpassing bookings via online travel agencies (20 percent).

This is good news for consumers, who can take advantage of incentives and loyalty program perks, like complimentary room upgrades, and access to exclusive loyalty technology, like opening the room with your Apple Watch.

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Their investment in this strategy is evident from the perspective of the consumer. Every weekend, Hilton takes out advertising space in The New York Times’ travel section, and TV ads are frequent.

Strain of it all

What may be unclear to the consumer, however, is the enormous pressure this has on travel and hospitality brands to create more content. Think about the consumer journey and all of the touchpoints that are filled with content. InterContinental Hotels Group thinks about the consumer journey in five steps: Dream, Plan, Book, Travel and Share. For these steps, IHG has to maintain a website, mobile app, e-mail communications, on-site hospitality content, kiosks for rapid check-in and so on.

Each of these touchpoints has to support more than 10 or 15 local languages to remain competitive. This, too, is widely accepted as a great challenge in the industry. It’s time consuming and expensive, but surveys (and common sense) prove time and again just how critical it is to deliver local language content to consumers. Consider a 2014 survey of 3,000 online shoppers by Common Sense Advisory Group; it found that 75 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from sites that are in their own language.

Out with the old, in with the new

Most global travel and hospitality brands have incorporated translation in some way by now, but the majority are still using a decades-old manual-translation process. With increasing amounts of content being produced across more platforms and complex systems than ever, this approach is no longer scalable or cost-effective. The traditional process relies heavily on pre-web technologies, such as e-mail and spreadsheets, which drive up cost and cause translation projects to take months to complete. This low-tech state of affairs stands in stark contrast to the significant investment travel brands make in technology generally.

Good software is transformative, and translation-management technology automates workflow and localization processes, helping savvy brands manage content in existing markets, or enter new markets faster, at a fraction of the cost. This innovation has been adopted by several hotel and airline brands with great success. IHG, for example, was able to add Arabic in a month using Smartling’s Enterprise Translation Management software. They said it would have taken over six months to do this had they continued to use a traditional process.

Brands invest to create a competitive advantage. In travel, competition is more fierce than ever before, and translation management has a critical impact on customer loyalty and direct bookings.

Kevin Cohn is VP of Operations at Smartling, a global content platform that enables brands to translate content as it's created. He oversees global professional services, technical support, customer success, and business operations teams.

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.

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