Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What is an Instant Hold Reservation?

Motels in New Zealand make it real easy for customers to make a reservation with them. To book a room, customers can choose to use snail mail (some still do!), engage in email ping-pong, book online direct from the property's own website or a utilise a vast array of online travel agencies. Motel inventory is now available on several smart phone apps and a few moteliers are investing in separate mobile websites that have access to online reservation services.

Let's not forget the old-school telephone, where customers ringing a motel can still get to talk to a real person and make a reservation in minutes. And with 0800 numbers, the call is "free".

So how can accommodation providers possibly make it even easier for their customers to connect and make a reservation?

I was interested to read about Dallas-based, limited-service hotel chain, La Quinta that have developed a very slick mobile site that shares the distinctive and easily remembered domain of their main site, lq.com. Mobile device users that enter this web address are seamlessly transported to La Quinta's mobile site that is customised to look and navigate app-like on a small screen.

A radical innovation included on La Quinta's mobile website, allows customers to reserve a room for the same night by only entering their telephone number. In online commerce, simplicity, intuitiveness and speed are of the essence as customers can get easily distracted.

When La Quinta did some research they figured out that a customer making a reservation is able to recall and tap-in their own telephone number a lot easier than reaching for a credit card and laboriously entering-in a string of unfamiliar digits. Er...no surprises there. They also discovered that 77% of customers using their mobile site were making same-day reservations or checking for availability before just showing up.

So customers on-the-go that use La Quinta's (extremely cool) mobile website on their Android or iPhone can make a same-day "Instant Hold" reservation that will hold a room for up to four hours by only providing their telephone number. The thinking behind the idea was that more customers will be likely to book by making the booking process easier and customers may also have some comfort in not having to share their credit card details.

Customers that are unable to front up to the hotel before the 4-hour expiration have the option of later adding their credit card details to guarantee the reservation. Customers that don't supply their credit card details, find a better offer elsewhere and "No Show" don't seem to be under any obligation.

Is La Quinta crazy? How can a major accommodation chain allow their customers to randomly book rooms without the guarantee of a credit card?

A quick browse of the inventory available on La Quinta's mobile site, reveals that hotels that are part of the 800 location network seem to have the option of only allocating certain rooms for "Instant Hold"- when it suits. So hotels that offer "Instant Hold" rooms will do so as part of their day-to-day yield management process that involves manipulating different sales channels to their advantage according to demand. During high demand a hotel would be unlikely to offer many "Instant Hold" room options, but will be able to generate sales during low demand periods by exposing rooms to a four-hour booking window.

I reckon that La Quinta is an innovative hotel chain worth following. They are the first to offer "Instant Hold" and this is part of their mobile strategy that also includes being the first to add independent TripAdvisor reviews.

I wonder how soon it will take for others to follow?

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