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Increase Bookings by Making the Online Reservation Experience Pleasurable
By Cihan Cobanoglu, Ph.D., CHTP
Since hotels started to use the Internet as a distribution channel, researchers have been investigating how consumers behave in a digital world. Understanding how reserving a hotel is different from other distribution channels such as walk-in, direct call, or travel agency is imperative to capture the greatest number of online bookings. A researcher from Ohio State University, Professor Anil Bilgihan, has conducted a study on the importance of “flow” in hotel reservations. Flow is defined as the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement.
His findings indicate that pleasurable features online are more important to create flow experience. Hedonic traits are related to the fun, playfulness, and pleasure that users experience or anticipate from an online forum. A website performs well when users perceive the site to be enjoyable in its own right, apart from any performance consequences that may be anticipated. While hedonic characteristics are important in creating flow, utilitarian elements are
The traditional approaches to attract customers in brick-and-mortar commerce are not applicable in cyber contexts. Therefore, interaction, participation, immersion, engagement and emotional hooks are important in online booking. Accordingly, hoteliers are advised to think of consumers as actors in a play and not mere observers. Nowadays, marketers and website developers are encouraged to take cues from movies and video games to bring more seductive attributes to website design. It is the “sexy” elements that create first impressions; therefore, grabbing the consumer with visuals is important in e-commerce as it results in a desire to explore further.
Hotel booking websites could create positive shopping experiences if they focus on add-ons including virtual tours and unique, innovative designs. A lodging company’s website should provide a pleasant and visually attractive online environment that gives customers the impression that the website is effective and reliable. Those characteristics have a positive influence on the flow experience. Similar to the way a hotel’s employees can provide a good impression to guests, a well-designed website can impart positive perceptions about the property to potential customers before they actually experience or stay at the property.
Consumers may visit a hotel booking with a speciﬁc purchase goal in mind (booking a room for specific dates), but may be attracted by an online shopping recommendation for a “golf package” (an unplanned purchase). This suggests that the online shopping experience reﬂected multiple shopping orientations, combining the pursuit of utilitarian and hedonic outcomes simultaneously.
Affinia Hotels (www.affinia.com) is trying to create flow experience during an online booking by allowing users to customize the color of the booking website and attempting to encourage unplanned purchases such as fitness kits, in-room mini golf kits, and universal chargers. Flow experience builds both brand equity and trust for the e-tailer.
As e-commerce matures, key aspects of online shopping shift from static to more interactive components. Previously it was difficult to find websites that would facilitate the flow experience. The advent of Web 2.0, Flash, Ajax, Silverlight, and online widgets help websites to enhance customers’
From a managerial perspective, the results of this study show that hotel booking websites need to be concerned with customers’ flow experience if they wish to develop and increase brand equity and trust towards the website. Based on the findings, managers are advised to invest in the booking websites to enrich and enhance customer experience via interactive and hands-on activities. While enhancing brand equity and trust is important to increase loyalty, flow experience does not directly influence loyalty. However, the report reveals that ultimately, users who are able to achieve a state of flow while shopping online, will perceive higher brand equity and trust. These consumers are more likely to stay loyal to the website.
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