A leaf out of Accor’s book: how to drive direct bookings to €2 billion
French hotel group Accor is aggressively aiming to increase its digital turnover by 45% within the next three years. It is also pushing for two-thirds of sales to come from the direct channel. That seems a big ask so EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta talks to Rémy Merckx, VP e-commerce sales and distribution, Accor about what’s in store
Accor, had a vision to make its online reservation website, Accorhotels.com, the most significant contributor to its digital turnover. It seems that vision is being realised. Last year digital turnover from the group’s direct channels was €2 billion. According to the group, the booking website’s traffic has risen noticeably rising from 80 million to 100 million visitors between 2010 and 2012. Today there are 200 visits and 10 bookings made every minute in the world on Accorhotels.com.
Rémy Merckx, VP e-commerce sales and distribution, Accor, says the performance of the group’s online distribution platform Accorhotels.com is due to several significant achievements in the last 12 months. These include:
1. A very clear and straightforward acquisition strategy to increase the overall traffic to the group’s sites with a healthy balance between paid search, SEO and affiliation programmes allowing it to reach new customers worldwide.
2. A new marketing position in the online distribution industry: “Know what you are really booking when you book”. This allowed the team to position Accorhotels.com as the best place to book one of its branded hotels, where users will get the guaranteed best rates and the very last room that could be available.
3. A strong merchandising plan putting customer needs at the centre of the strategy. “Our twice a year “Super Sales” and our Private Sales are key elements of this plan,” says Merckx.
4. The group relaunched its loyalty programme Le Club Accorhotels in March 2012 within the Accorhotels.com platform. “There’s no other place other than Accorhotels.com for our loyal Le Club members to access all the benefits of their programme,” says Merckx.
Don’t lose focus
New initiatives are constantly being introduced to improve the usability of the group’s digital tools, to generate brand preference among the loyal Le Club Accorhotels members, to acquire new online traffic and visibility for the Accorhotels.com brand and also to improve and increase the conversion ratio on sites.
“Each basis point % increase in this conversion = several € millions increase in Accorhotels.com turnover for our hotels,” says Merckx.
Some of the key initiatives are as follows:
· Increase the group’s web/data analysis capabilities to improve the usability experience on Accor’s sites
· Focus and significant increase in mobile investments through the launch of a new mobile site, new smartphone applications and very soon a new innovative iPad dedicated application
· Every year the group launches a new local AccorHotels.com site. This year it will launch a Turkish site and a long-awaited Arabic site available to all its Middle-Eastern customers,=
· The group is also working on innovation programmes as the team just launched a beta version of an ‘inspirational’ booking engine by Accorhotels.com
· Other ‘back-office’ developments are done on a regular basis in order to maintain Accorhotels.com.
Keep it local
The website is strongly adapted to meet the needs of each market. It is available in 14 languages and through 31 points of sale.
A hotel group has to be savvy enough to take the guesswork out of designing websites in order to make sure relevant content is offered at the right time, and ensuring visitors get close to taking a decision once they are on your site.
“This is indeed a key element in Accorhotels.com development,” says Merckx.
Expanding on this, Merckx says all of Accor’s 31 international point of sale are built on two pillars:
· One pillar is common to all of them with important and recurrent elements of Accor’s hotel brands, promotional activities and of course, the Le Club Accorhotels benefits
· The second pillar is localised and ‘owned’ by local e-commerce management teams. They are in charge to manage their content in order to make sure it match local customer needs.
Improvise for real life scenarios
The need to improvise emanates from having a strong conversion rate.
“Each increase in the conversion ration drives huge amounts of incremental business to our hotels. So we need to increase our capability to work in a more ‘test and learn’ environment as online pure players are doing. But you know what, we are not a pure player, we are hoteliers,” says Merckx candidly.
Generally, any e-commerce project has to make regular comparisons of different website layouts, looking for the best combination of content and graphic images to drive revenue.
The easiest answer for this would be to do regular A/B testing on websites design and content.
But as Merckx points out, “real life is different and more complex knowing that all our developments are done internally”. That said every year Accor does a significant benchmark with hotel competitors, online distributors but also other industries in the retail sector to make sure it maintain the highest level of quality. This way it can be sure it is doing as much as possible to drive incremental revenue to Accor hotels.
Merckx adds that booking funnel is the most important part of the group’s websites. “We continuously work all year long to make the booking funnel more adequate to our customer needs. Nothing fancy but what is the most important is to make it as short as possible, efficient and easy to book. Immediacy is a key aspect of the online experience,” he says.
Areas like abandonment, maximisation of customer service calls and so on as part of overall website designing are expected to gain more prominence.
Merckx believes that the digitilisation of the entire customer experience is only going to become more relevant. Understanding why a customer is leaving before buying is key, but supporting the online customers with a strong customer care service and a great call centre should be fully part of the digital experience of customers. This is something Accor is working to improve on.