As an accommodation industry trainer, I am of course on the road frequently and when in the office I’m often online planning travel to my future engagements.
Fortunately, my hotel reservations arrangements are usually taken care of by the client. This leaves me “only” with having to book my airline and rental car arrangements. Each time a client says ‘okay, I would like to schedule you for a training’, results in what has become an arduous task for me to book my travel.
It is during these times that I find myself missing the good old days, when I first started my career as a hotel trainer I had a wonderful travel agent named Michelle. Since my daughter had not yet been born and my mom had long since passed away, at that point in my life Michelle was the third most important woman to me, after my wife and of course my sister! All I had to do back then was to place one call to Michelle. It usually went like this: “Hi Michelle! How are you! How’s your daughter, good? That’s good. Well listen I need to go to NYC on these dates.”
Michelle knew me as a client; she knew what flight times; my preference of airlines, that I always would prefer an aisle seat even if the last row by the bathrooms, and that I went Avis first but Hertz as a back-up if needed. She knew for example, that if I was flying to New York I would prefer LGA [La Guardia Airport] but would take JFK [J F Kennedy Airport] if necessary but almost never EWR [Newark]. All it took was a 90-second call to Michelle and she would take care of the rest. Unfortunately, Michelle’s corporate travel agency went out of business during the years that airlines were undercutting their GDS fares with online specials.
Now I find myself surfing online for hours. Let’s say I have a “simple” trip from Ft Lauderdale to NYC. I check times first, then fares, which tend to be the same these days. Then all the questions flash through my mind. Do I want to fly JetBlue and be able to watch TV? What sports are on TV that night? Do I want to take Delta and possibly get my free upgrade as a frequent flyer? Or how about Spirit non-stop, if it’s just a day trip with no luggage to pay for? Next thing I know I have wasted 30 or 45 minutes looking at options, not to mention the data entry time to book.
Although my hotel clients usually provide the room, when I’m training call centres or travelling personally I also have to make hotel reservations. Like many guests today I usually start out by looking online but increasingly I’m finding it to take a lot more time than to simply call.
For example, I recently had to make a trip to a small town in Kentucky to train a call centre there, so I needed to book my own room at the hotel they recommended. First, I searched online with the hotel name, city and state. Yet when the list came back from Google and I clicked on the top links, I did not end up at the hotel website but instead at a various landing pages created by OTAs, showing a phone number that rang to an agency and not the hotel. It was even confusing for me as a hotelier to make sure I was on the right website.
Having found and verified that I was at the real website, I figured I would just book the room online as it was only a one night stay. But when I tried to enter my guest contact and payment info, I kept getting various error messages. Finally, I was one click away from confirming. Fortunately I double-checked the information because somehow I had accidentally selected an advance purchase, non-refundable rate. Fortunately I caught this, especially since I ended up cancelling due to a late flight but it cost even more of my work day. I didn’t have a timer on but I’m sure this whole experience took up at least 10-12 minutes to make a one night reservation online. Now I’m thinking that the next time I need to go there I’m going to call the 800 number and get it done in about two minutes.
Based on what I’m hearing from hotel reservations and front desk agents these days, I am apparently not alone as many of today’s guests are growing weary of the time and challenges of booking online and just want to do it the old fashioned way. Here are some training tips to help prepare your team for these callers:
– Train your staff to recognise that when callers mention they are online while on the phone, we should always encourage them to book directly right now by voice. Not only will this help reduce OTA commission and third party booking fees but it will also ensure that the caller does not go back online and select another hotel.
– Update your training to use a new question in their sales process: “As I’m checking those rates, are there any questions I can answer for you about the hotel or our location?” This will allow those who are “pre-sold” and who just want to call in their booking to “opt out” of hearing hotel descriptions and information. Alternatively, if the callers do have questions, we can address those first before offering rates, making it
an easier transition right into asking for the sale.
– Display your phone number prominently on your website. Don’t join the trend to hide the phone number, thinking you will encourage online bookings.
– Have a designated 0800 number for your website so that agents can identify when callers have previously visited the website.
Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, and has been a fixture on the hospitality and tourism industry conference circuit since 1989, having presented over 1000 conference keynote sessions, educational break-out seminars, or customised, on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry.