We sat down with Senior Director of Product at Booking.com Serdar Akin to talk about how to use Booking.com’s new tools to meet the concerns guests now have around health and safety.
Click.: How have health and safety changed in the mind of the traveller since the pandemic?
Akin: Before the pandemic, few people gave a second thought to touching door handles, faucets and television remotes. But now hygiene, cleanliness, health and safety have assumed a very high importance in the mind of guests. They are hyper-conscious about every surface in a room that could potentially be a host for the virus.
We can see this concern on our platform. We’ve found customer mentions of the words “clean” and “safety” in queries to partners have both increased by 61% since the beginning of the pandemic. This really illustrates how top of mind this issue is for guests.
Click.: How are we seeing health and safety considerations impact booking decisions?
Akin: We’re listening very, very closely to partners and guests and running qualitative and quantitative monitoring studies. Two things are very important for guests right now: flexibility of their bookings and health and safety. To help address the first one, we introduced more flexible booking options and made those easier for guests to find and book.
For health and safety concerns, we began by asking customers a few key questions. When we ask customers before they book, ‘Which types of information are important for you when booking accommodation to ensure you are making a safe choice in the context of the pandemic?' cleanliness of the accommodation is the most important information for travellers. This is followed by the level of privacy of the accommodation and social distancing rules. This is notable because last year concerns about cleanliness were less prominent in survey data.
When we ask guests after they book but before they travel, ‘What is your main concern about your upcoming trip?’ their worries revolve around having to cancel because of COVID-19, as well as having to pay top dollar for their return. So there is a lot of understandable uncertainty out there coming from guests that partners need to take into account.
Click.: How are we seeing properties respond to consumer concerns around hygiene?
Akin: Enhanced cleaning and disinfection are essential measures for hotels right now. Most brands have looked to the WHO, the CDC and various governmental guidelines to help them develop their cleaning protocols. Some have partnered with private companies who provide cleaning certification programmes and some have even begun to create their own branded hygiene programmes.
But it is quite challenging for some of them because there are so many variables to consider, particularly for chains that have large operations who may have to tailor their cleaning programmes based on worldwide, regional, national and local guidelines. The standards are evolving and changing as the world learns more about the virus, which means these brands may need to quickly revise specific details of their cleaning programmes.
Click.: What is Booking.com doing to help partners highlight their initiatives in this area?
Akin: We always strive to help partners present the best version of themselves and compete effectively, and we knew right away that marketing their response efforts around cleanliness was one of their top concerns. At the beginning of the pandemic, in early March, 87% of properties surveyed told us they had already taken action or were about to take action, and they expressed a strong desire to be able to display those efforts prominently. So we leapt into action to provide the tools to help them easily do this.
The new feature allows partners to select the protocols they’re following from a list in the extranet. Their selections show up on the front end on their property pages in a specially designed box. It’s all meant to help give guests more confidence when making a booking decision and alleviate their doubts.
Click.: What areas does this new feature allow partners to highlight?
Akin: There are three categories in the extranet where partners can indicate what they’re doing. The first concerns cleanliness and sanitisation. Partners can let guests know if they provide things like hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes. They can also indicate here if they are following specific local regulations.
The second category is about physical distancing. We ask partners to indicate whether they offer contactless check-in and check-out, cashless payment or other ways to help guests maintain distance.
The third category deals with food safety and which operational practices they’ve instituted around in-room and public dining.
Click.: What is the value of this new feature for partners?
Akin: In addition to giving partners a more targeted way to market their efforts to customers, it’s especially valuable for partners when you consider how much visibility and control it gives them. We’ve been optimising the front-end experience so it is highly visible. We want to make it easy for consumers to access this information in the best possible way.
People are going to be more mindful of their entire travel experience going forward and are going to be a lot more demanding. They want to be certain that where they go and where they stay is safe and that they ensure their family’s safety. I think the properties that adapt and cater to this new normal could see strong business.
- Nearly every aspect of traveller trips have been affected by concerns over cleanliness
- Customer mentions of “clean” and “safety” in questions to partners have increased by 61%.
- Setting up new cleaning programs can be challenging for large hotel brands, who may have to address worldwide, regional, national, and local guidelines
- Partners are aggressively adopting new features to help them indicate protocols they’re following, which show up on the front end on their property pages in a prominent area