Customer search behavior: How breadth can benefit hotels
Looking for a phone number in the old days usually meant grappling with a massive telephone directory, which was usually the biggest book in the house. At the very least, you needed to know the name of the person. Commonly used numbers were jotted down in a private telephone book, which represented more information that helped you narrow down the search. Even if you didn't know the whole name, remembering what letter of the alphabet it started with would be greatly helpful. In other words, already possessing some information about what you are looking for in an indexed database will improve the likelihood of an effective search.
That rule applies to Google and other search engines as well. They can't read your mind (yet) so you need to be able to tell them something about what you are looking for. A limited amount of information to help narrow down the scope of the search and locate what you need. But this carries a great meaning for businesses, because any aspect of the transaction on which the customer is yet to make up his/her mind presents an opportunity to make that decision for them – through information or incentives.
Think of it in connection with a traveler. How does a traveler arrive at the hotel room which he/she ultimately ends up staying in? Industry resource Markhat.com reports an upward trend in organic searches (19.49%) and direct traffic (15.15%) when it comes to hotel websites in 2015-16. Even in 2017, as much as 32% of traffic is direct and 36% is through organic searches among the top 100 travel websites. An interesting subset of this (around 5%) comes from vague or open ended searches which do not mention specific brands; instead they mention specific attractions at the respective destination. These may originate from conversations and social media exchanges between recent travelers and potential travelers, typically along a predictable pattern. Interest peaks, but information remains incomplete, which is when the customer does a search with the available information.
Similar is the approach to brands for a traveler. To simplify the model, we may say that travelers who know which brand of hotel they wish to stay in might prefer directly going to the hotel/chain's website while those who are not sure of the brand – or those who don't know which hotels are available at a location – may opt for searching on a broader channel such as an OTA using the information already at their disposal such as location, budget, appetite for quality, etc. and then choose the appropriate brand.
A hotel that lands on a customer's radar in this manner has two advantages. One, the obvious, it stands to gain the customer's business by virtue of this USP. Two, it gains valuable information regarding what the customer's priority is, and on what grounds it can eliminate competition for the transaction. For instance, a business traveller who travels to New York and searches for "hotels near Time Square" is effectively revealing his priority to be location. This means, the immediate competition for the customer's business is narrowed down to the basis of that specific parameter. In other words, the hotel is able to identify and/or develop its own USP in this manner!