The online travel landscape is changing.
Online travel brands, particularly online hotel agents such as Booking.com and Hotels.com, are coming under increasing scrutiny for so-called ‘high-pressure’ selling tactics.
Come September, messages designed to accelerate hotel bookings – such as number of users viewing a property or room availability – will be banned under new Competition and Market Authority (CMA) regulations.
Instead, travel brands will need to rely much more heavily on other digital experience elements – such as reviews, photos, information and offers.
The importance of travel reviews in vacation decision-making
Maru/Matchbox insight revealed that, even when they include high-pressure sales messages, users put their trust in reviews.
Despite 4 out of 5 (81%) of online travel bookers recalling they’d seen high-pressure messaging when booking travel in the past 12 months, just 54% said they felt influenced to book earlier than planned.
In comparison, over two thirds (68%) of users said they use reviews when booking their holidays online, significantly more than those who state they’re influenced by price and promotion. It signals that even the best prices and offers cannot overcome poor reviews
Three factors for effective reviews
Ensuring customer reviews are effective in influencing booking decisions is key to driving digital conversion rates.
However, Matchbox analysis shows that there are three fundamental factors travel brands must address if reviews are to help, not hinder, online booking rates.
1. Make it real
If a review is not perceived as genuine, then customers will ignore it.
Matchbox insight uncovered that the drivers of review authenticity are: volume, independent verification, and age – users often examine when a review was posted and how relevant the rating and content are to their upcoming potential stay. It suggests that a recent 4-star review could have a far greater impact than a 5-star rating posted over 12 months ago.
2. Make it easy
Reviews must be accessible to all users.
Yet, users quickly become suspicious of content if they’re unable to sort reviews based on key criteria – such as date, score, and profile (such as location or nationality). An effective filter feature is a must.
3. Make it seen
Insight has proven that reviews are fundamental to the online booking process and therefore must be located on key pages of the customer journey.
Ratings and reviews are the biggest influence of booking decisions and therefore need to be available at the right moments to ensure the customer has all the information they need to buy off the page.
Differentiate with reviews
Despite the importance of reviews for the travel industry, travel sites scored just an average of 56% for customer ratings in the latest Travel Digital Customer Experience Benchmark from Maru/Matchbox.
Customer reviews will become increasingly important to digital travel customer journeys with the impending end to high-pressure selling tactics by hotel booking sites.
It indicates a clear opportunity to differentiate in a crowded marketplace with a compelling and seamless customer experience. Making reviews accessible, relevant and easy-to-access is a clear way to drive on-the-day conversion and long-term loyalty from digital customers during an increasingly uncertain time for the travel industry.