Market research company eMarketer predicts that this year more than half (51.8%) of travelers who book accommodations and airfare online will do so using a mobile device. That’s up from 43.8% last year.
Improved technology and user experience as well as increasingly tech-dependant consumer behavior (think Millennials) contribute to the growing trust in mobile commerce. It’s pretty plain to see that mobile travel bookings are going mainstream. Properties that want to maximize room sales and remain competitive must offer customers the ability to book direct online — via desktop and mobile devices.
What Makes a Mobile-Friendly Online Booking Engine?
Just because you can see the booking widget on your property’s website when you look at it on your smartphone doesn’t mean it is mobile friendly. A long-winded booking process with hard-to-read font and hard-to-tap menus and fields is going to send all but the most determined customers packing (for your competition or an OTA).
When it comes to mobile bookings, user experience is key. From a simple step-by-step process to secure payment, a mobile-friendly booking engine should provide users with convenience and confidence.
How can you tell if your online booking engine is mobile friendly? The easiest way is to grab your smartphone and test it out yourself. An online booking engine that is optimized for mobile devices will offer:
- A user-friendly experience – The quicker and easier it is to make a booking, the better. A mobile-optimized booking process is a simple one; it does not overwhelm customers with too many options and is ideally limited to two or three steps or pages. It should be easy to read and navigate with tap-friendly (not too small) drop-down menus, text-entry fields and buttons. It should also able to display rates in different currencies, and should load fast too.
- Secure bookings – A secure online booking process will use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption to keep personal and payment data safe. Pages using SSL encryption will display HTTPS:// in the URL, rather than HTTP:// (missing the “S”), which tells users that the page is secure. Make sure the URL for the booking page that askes for personal and payment information begins with HTTPS. If a user clicks on the little padlock icon that appears alongside the URL, they can view the page’s security certificate and whether it is valid. Displaying a secure payment badge when asking for credit card information also reassures customers that the booking process is secure.
- Compatibility with various operating systems – iPhone or Android? Everyone seems to have their favorite so it’s important for an online booking engine to work well across various mobile devices and operating systems, from Apple iOS to Google Android to Windows Phone (and there are others!). Online booking engines that use responsive design automatically detect and adapt to the user’s device for an optimal user experience whatever the screen size or operating system.
- Automatic booking confirmation – Upon submitting their reservation request, the user should immediately see an on-screen booking confirmation that affirms their booking was successful. The customer should also receive an automatic confirmation email.
- PMS integration – When integrated with a property management system (PMS), a mobile-optimized online booking engine automatically offers customers real-time rates and availability, maximizing inventory and avoiding overbooking. Mobile bookings are automatically entered into the PMS and availability adjusted accordingly.
- Prominent placement on your site – The booking widget should be prominently displayed on a property’s website with a strong call-to-action (“book now” button), whether viewed on a desktop computer or smartphone. If the online booking form is not easy to find, you risk losing customers who are ready to book.
- The look and feel of your brand – A booking widget that reflects the branding on your website and includes the property’s logo and contact details on all pages of the booking process helps to inspire trust.
With more and more consumers turning to their mobile devices to research and book travel, it’s fast becoming essential for hotels and other lodgings to offer mobile bookings.
If your direct online booking engine does not play nicely with mobile devices, you are probably already losing customers. Feel free to ask us about our mobile-optimized, commission-free online booking engine, included with WebRezPro PMS, to capture more bookings on any device.