Travel and hospitality is one of the most fiercely competitive spaces in the e-commerce world, with one of its notable characteristics being the number and variety of parties that sell exactly the same product for the same price. In this environment, advantages other than price point can make a significant difference to performance, and this post aims to explain how high-quality localization can provide one such effective advantage for B2C sales channel in this industry — and in many others too.
Goal #1: Attracting Consumers to Your Site
Selling hotels and travel has always been one of the most cross-border, cross-language businesses in the retail space. Travelers come from anywhere and can go anywhere. And to reach those travelers, travel and hospitality brands need to make effective use of search engines internationally and not just locally.
A website with relevant, original content in one local language should lead to a healthy search ranking — and therefore deliver traffic and bookings — in the domestic market. But it will not help get business from other territories. This is where high-quality localization steps in to optimize organic search for those other target markets by giving content the credibility and authority that search engines demand in their complex ranking algorithms.
It’s also worth noting that global search engine optimization is not based around languages. Google’s search offering, in particular, is too local these days for that sort of broad-brush approach. Instead, localization should be thought of in country — and even regional — terms; a site’s search ranking in South American countries will not be helped much by European Spanish content, for example. The deep understanding of language variations required to optimize effectively at a country level can only be attained through the use of professional localization services.
Using analytics software such as Google Analytics to check traffic (both unique visitors and sessions) divided by target market is a good place to start when assessing a site’s localization performance. But site owners should also consider analyzing their ranking for key search terms in foreign target markets.
For instance, let’s look at how Expedia, Kayak and Skyscanner battle it out in the German market, on Google.de, for some of the most competitive organic keywords:
This shows some good correlation between the position in search results and the volume of organic traffic individual sites generate in a month for the given keywords.
Goal #2: Converting Consumers on Your Site
Buying a holiday or hotel stay is many consumer’s biggest one-off leisure expenditure of the year. It’s what they dream of and save for. At the same time, travel products are almost uniquely difficult to sample in advance: consumers can’t visit a shop or showroom to feel what’s on offer, nor see them on the street. These factors combine to put a huge onus on content to ensure that consumers know and feel comfortable in what they’re buying.
Localization plays an important role in building this consumer trust. Good-quality localized content lends authority to the site and the travel products it sells. Errors or poorly presented content introduce doubt in the consumer mind: if this isn’t right what else about this service is poorly designed? Can I trust the facts contained in this description?
Familiarity of language is equally important. Consumers want to be reassured that they understand exactly what they’re spending their hard-earned money on, and that can only come reliably through speaking their language. One interesting illustration of this point is the fact that Booking.com invest in localizing their website into Catalan as well as Spanish, in spite of the fact that almost every Catalan speaks native-level Spanish. The additional familiarity amongst Catalan speakers with their own language promotes enough additional bookings to make that localization investment worthwhile.
Booking.com provides a fully-fledged version of their site in Catalan
Building as much trust and comfort as possible into booking paths is especially important in today’s hospitality industry due to the frenzied competition between different channels selling the same product, usually — due to rate parity structures — at the same price. In these circumstances content and localization can be a big distinguishing factor between channels.
All of these considerations point to the fact that quality localization has a positive effect on conversion beyond a site’s home market. This too can be monitored on analytics packages, and when doing so it is worth bearing in mind that the most reasonable way to measure conversion in travel is by using unique visitors as opposed to sessions. This is because a natural purchase process often requires more than one visit by the same user, and so should be viewed as part of a single booking experience.
Goal #3: Getting More Valuable Consumers
In general terms, the further a visitor travels to reach a destination the longer they will stay. Guests from overseas stayed an average of 9.7 nights at U.S. hotels in 2013, compared to an overall average close to 2 nights. Attracting more foreign travelers can therefore become a key strategy aimed at increasing average length of stay (ALOS), and in turn improving average booking values (ABV) and margin (ProfPAR). And one of the most fundamental means to reach consumers from further afield is through the use of localization on digital sales channels.
As well as staying for longer, foreign travelers are also more likely to add extra services to their booking: anything from car hire and airport shuttles to meals in the hotel restaurant and in-destination activities. As many hoteliers are finding, these ancillary revenues can be the difference between making a profit or a loss, such is the fragility in certain segments of the market. Changing the profile of booker to one more likely to spend extra through the intelligent implementation of professional localization is sure to have a positive impact on any travel provider’s bottom line (notably the TRevPAR metric for hotels).
Goal #4: Continuing the Conversation after Your Consumers Have Left
Once the consumer has booked, travelled and returned home there is one huge challenge remaining to e-commerce channels: keeping the consumer engaged with the brand. It’s no surprise that engagement with travel and hospitality brands drops off significantly when the consumer checks out — travel simply isn’t a frequent activity for most, no matter how much the consumer enjoys it.
These days the task of keeping a brand experience fresh in the consumer’s mind, so that they might choose that brand again in six months or a year’s time, falls increasingly to social media. It is here that the conversation can continue. And conversation is just that — it needs to take place in the familiar, colloquial, friendly language of the social network to have any impact at all. Intelligent localization is the means to making that conversation meaningful across borders, and can be measured by the traffic directed to the booking channels from social media users in different territories.