An impressive 44% of business travelers visiting hotel brand websites are “bookers” and actually make or change a reservation, according to a new joint study from the HSMAI Foundation and iPerceptions that measured business travelers in the mid-scale hotel segment. Furthermore, 4 in 10 of website visitors are first timers, and only 22.1% mid-scale business travelers abandon their plan to make an online transaction versus 31% for leisure travelers.

Those are just a few highlights from the first-ever edition of a unique, quarterly web metrics report of experience and satisfaction benchmarks, “The Voice of the Hotel Customer,” which focused specifically on the business traveler in the mid-scale hotel sector. The research addresses issues of website satisfaction, such as ease of use, convenience, depth of information, relevant content, if the website encourages return and responsiveness to customer needs.

“What’s so groundbreaking about the study is that the results can be used to develop viable benchmarking within the hotel industry, and to illustrate trends and insights into the attitudes of hotel website visitors regarding their online experiences,” states Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHA, president and CEO of HSMAI. “These reports are a starting point for the industry as they form a baseline against which a company can compare itself after it implements changes.”

“This first quarterly report represents a significant advancement in measuring and benchmarking the impact of customer word of mouth and feedback in the hospitality sector,” explains Daniel Taras, vice president, business development at iPerceptions. “Capturing the voice of your customer is critically important for companies that want to build their businesses in the always-on and always-connected online environment,” he adds.

“Web marketers at individual companies can benchmark their own customer’s experience to the overall mid-scale sector within the report to determine where the weaknesses and strengths are in their website,” notes Cindy Estis Green, managing partner of The Estis Group and author of the report. “As the scores are filtered by meaningful customer segments, web marketers can easily make changes directed to specific market segments and then go back to see if they were able to move the needle on the scores.”

The first HSMAI/iPerceptions Quarterly Report was released today at HSMAI’s 7th Travel Internet Strategy Conference in Sunny Isles, FL. Highlights of the report findings will be published in the HSMAI Marketing Review magazine and the HSMAI Foundations’s eConnect member information portal.

One of the study’s more important revelations is that it shows where there is the most difference between a booking that happens and one that does not. “The biggest difference by those who complete their booking, and those who do not, revolves around whether they feel the website enables them to find what they are looking for and secondarily, whether they can find a full enough range of the information they seek,” according to the report.

This analysis centered on the business traveler sub-set of the moderate hotel brands database. The database included lookers (those who went to the website to get hotel information, research/compare rates or other) and bookers (those who went to the website to book/change a reservation).

The summary states: “There is no doubt that a higher level of engagement yields higher satisfaction levels with a website. The most frequent website users who come to book/change a reservation scored websites consistently higher than others and suggests that higher satisfaction produces greater usage.”

The lookers tended to evaluate the attributes in similar rank order as the bookers, however, the overall scores for lookers’ evaluations were lower, according to the report.

Bookers were much more engaged and rated the sites higher, except those first time bookers, who, like first time lookers had many issues that implied they would not be using the website in the future, didn’t think they were saving money with it and were not likely to use it for general trip planning.

The iPerceptions research is based on data from 29 major hotel brands; 17 of which fall into this report’s realm of mid-scale hotels.

Other critical data generated from the survey:

- 56% of mid-scale business travelers have membership in rewards programs versus 52% industry-wide among business travelers;

- Four in ten (41%) mid-scale business travelers are first timers to a hotel website versus 44% industry-wide; and only 25% are frequent users versus 35% frequent users industry-wide;

- Site visitors who changed/booked a reservation rated the mid-scale hotel websites highest of any other customer group, scoring a rating 7.17 (out of 10) versus the overall business traveler group which was 6.95. Frequent site visitors (6+ visits in last six months) rated the websites overall at a high 7.75.

- When comparing individual attributes against the overall mid-scale business traveler benchmarks, there are significant differences between website usage levels. First timers are considerably more likely than more frequent users to say that mid-scale hotel websites are not the place they would likely start their trip planning or that mid-scale websites encourage them to return. They are much less likely than frequent users to think that the website can enable them to find what they are looking for.

- The more committed and engaged in using the site, the more likely a business traveler said the site was their primary trip planner and that it saved money in hotel rates;

- While first timers in every category gave all aspects of the website the lowest ratings, their best scores were for navigation and content related attributes.