REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Just how do guests dwindle down their hotel selections during the online booking process?
Two hospitality professors aimed to find out, looking beyond clickstream analysis by using eye tracking to discover why consumers choose a specific hotel.
Eye tracking is capturing eye movements and converting this information into some form of analyzable data, explained Stephani K.A. Robson, senior lecturer at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Robson was one half of the duo who presented research during a webinar titled “Consumer eye-tracking and revenue management,” which was presented jointly by Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, Hotel News Now and HNN’s parent company, STR.
Robson and her research partner Breffni Noone, associate professor at Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management, analyzed 32 people’s eye tracking patterns, all of whom had one thing in common: They were leisure travelers who had booked a hotel online in the last six months, Robson said.
The research team then sat down with participants to ask them questions about why they clicked on certain hotels and what played into their decisions. Robson and Noone broke down their study into two phases of the online booking process: the browsing phase and the deliberation phase.
Following are five key takeaways from their research.
1. People have high and low price thresholds
During the browsing process, these consumers had a price they didn’t want to go over and a price they didn’t want to go under, Noone said.
And they fixated on brand name the most.
“This idea of minimizing risk and if I have a bad experience, I know they’ll take care of me,” Noone said.
For example, one participant said: “(Brand name), I mean I feel like they’re kind of the McDonald’s. You always know what you’re going to get there. It’s pretty standard no matter what (brand name) you go into.”
Of note, Noone said there was little brand loyalty among these 32 participants, but brand name was important to them in terms of the consistency and types of experiences that they were going to get in the hotel.
“Sometimes brand name was enough of an impetus to have someone pay more. But not always,” Noone said.
2. Images can change a prospective guest’s mind
When moving to the deliberation phase of the online booking process, consumers fixated on images.
“For some people, they look at every picture in a very systematic way. Even for things they might not be interested in,” Robson explained. “They even clicked through meeting spaces shots (even though they were leisure travelers).”
An image can sometimes change a prospective guest’s mind regarding a property that might be lower priced, Noone said.
For example, a baby boomer male participant happened upon a hotel with arches in front of its entrance. He said: “The arches are elegant. They made me think that the hotel was going to be a little better maintained and would be a bit higher quality.”
Additionally, participants were turned off by old-looking images. “Modern associated with clean. Old associated with dirty,” Robson said.
Whether a hotel was atypical and if it had lush greenery also played a role during the deliberation process, the professors explained.
“People don’t want a run-of-the-mill looking property,” Noone said.
3. People don’t look at properties with less than a 3-star rating
During the browsing phase, participants also had a ratings threshold.
“People were really not looking at properties with less than 3 stars,” Noone said.
They also looked at volume of reviews.
“(The) greatest number of reviews signaled they could trust it,” Noone said.
One participant said: “Obviously, if it’s got a fantastic rating, but it’s only two reviews, well then gee it’s probably the owner and his brother. Not exactly reliable information.”
4. Amenity descriptions can make a difference
During the deliberation phase of the online booking process, participants found property descriptions to be the second most important thing after images.
Wi-Fi and breakfast were the two most prominent amenities participants were looking for, Noone said.
“Anything providing value to the customer has to be very salient and up front,” she added.
Both professors stressed the importance of firm-generated content. “The FGC is really important. Don’t feel like you’re flays to what users are saying about you online. You can take a little bit more control,” Robson said.
5. Reviews matter at lower end of consumers’ price threshold
Participants on average looked at four reviews during the deliberation phase of the online booking process.
“Just enough to gauge what the property is like,” Noone said.
But when taking price into consideration, reviews played a larger role.
“At that lower end of their price threshold, they really needed reviews to make sure it wasn’t too much of a risk. Bad image despite a good review can change a person’s mind during deliberation,” Noone said.
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