Hotel bookings in the age of Airbnb — I look into how the Marriott Bonvoy consolidates nearly 30 brands of hotels under one site and what the user experience of the booking process is like. With UX research, I find discover insights into the booking process as well as recommendations for Marriott to improve its overall digital strategy.
As part of a user research study for graduate school, I investigated the Marriott Bonvoy’s booking process and overall customer experience with the web-based booking process and Bonvoy rewards program.
Driving the user research was clearly identified business goals
- Increase hotel bookings via digital properties by 10%
- Increase reservations for their Luxury and Lifestyle Collection hotel categories
- Gain 10,000 incremental members of the Marriott Rewards loyalty program in the first quarter after the redesign
- Decrease by 20% the number of people starting and then abandoning a reservation
- Increase by 5% the number of people choosing a hotel and flight package (vs. just booking their hotel alone)
Our research goals were broad and designed within the context of the Marriott redesign project. Not only were we curious about how users interact with Marriott services, but we were also interested in more about how the public travels, uses travel sites, and rewards programs.
- Understand user patterns, processes, and challenges in booking a hotel room through a digital service
- Discover customer satisfaction and opinions of hotel loyalty programs
- Understand user usage patterns of desktop/mobile sites vs. smartphone apps for travel related services and information
- Learn about customer attitudes and behaviors toward booking more than just a hotel room (airfare, etc.)
We conducted user interviews with target users. In each interview, we asked a series of questions relating to booking travel, rewards programs, device usage, and vacation packages.
About the participants
- Our three participants ranged from late 20s to early 60s
- All participants travel and stay in a hotel at least 3-4 times a year
- Only one participant regularly books travel through Marriott.com; same participant has Marriott’s app
- All participants have some sort of travel app on their phones, and use their phones regularly to manage travel bookings
The recordings and notes from the three user interviews were analyzed using summarization and deconstruction methods. Summarization involves collecting similar observations from the interviews. Generalization involves taking specific insights from the interviews and applying them as larger statement to form a research finding.
In total, 13 major themes emerged as well as subsequent recommendations. Our initial research provided useful insights into user behaviors, attitudes, and goals.
- Location of hotel in relation to city attractions is often an important factor when picking a particular hotel. Other items users mentioned: free wi-fi, breakfast options, on-site restaurant or coffee shop
- Users who may appear to “abandon” their hotel bookings are most often conducting research for their trip and not yet ready to reserve a room.
- Third-party travel sites like Expedia are often used and trusted for booking travel arrangements. Better deals and clear methods for customer service were noted as reasons users prefer these sites.
- Hotels generally don’t do a great job at being transparent about room type; photo displays of hotels are often more focused on the business traveler and not the leisure traveler
Vacation packages and deals
- Vacation packages and deals are not widely used; many feel they are not great value or find it too difficult to determine if they actually save you money
Hotel rewards programs
- A loyal Marriott rewards member feels as though Marriott keeps “upping the ante,” making it more difficult to redeem points and free night offers
- “[Marriott is] making you jump through hoops to redeem a free night for the credit card offering”
- The Marriott Bonvoy app can be helpful for rewards members to quickly check point values and look back at old trip itineraries
Mobile apps and usage
- While mobile usage is increasing, users noted that for complex trip planning and comparisons they prefer to use a laptop with a larger screen
- Mobile check-in is not a commonly used feature; most prefer to check in at a counter with a person
Hotel rewards programs
- Simple perks like free water at check-in for Marriott rewards members can go a long way to demonstrate customer appreciation
- Loyalty reward programs are widely used but many feel as though they never reap benefits from them; often don’t travel enough to get any perks
- Infrequent travelers feel as though the rewards programs aren’t designed for them; although still would be willing to sign up for one that gave them benefits
Hotels vs. Airbnb rentals
- Hotel rooms often don’t feel as good value as larger accomodations found on Airbnb. Group travel or families looking for a hotel suite often feel priced out of a hotel and will instead look at renting an apartment or house. Hotels don’t do a great job catering toward this market.
Further research may be required, but there are some key recommendations that could be addressed now. These are not in any particular order and some may be more complex than others.
- Explore the concept of better advertising cost of vacation packages so that users can quickly identify its “value” in comparison to traditional booking costs
- Identify non-frequent traveler rewards perks and better communicate them to travelers. This may help increase sign-ups and usage of these reward programs.
- Add option to filter by price when users are browsing for hotels
- Conduct a content audit of imagery used throughout hotel brands; ensure image selections are designed for the average traveler (more photos of room types, less of conference rooms spaces)
Consider integrating the map view of hotel listing more prominently to support users trying to select a hotel in a particular area of a city. Support users picking a hotel near local attractions.
Additional research activities
In addition to the exploratory research and related findings, I recommended further research studies.
- Conduct a comparative analysis of competing hotel brands’ apps and services to better understand their offerings and features.
- Perform more extensive usability testing with users that are familiar with the Marriott brand to discover current customer behaviors, opinions, and attitudes.
- Perform a card sort or tree test to see how well the current site structure and app structures match how users think about the information.
- Remote interviewing can be prone to technical difficulties that can affect the quality of information you collect
- Having a script and moderation guide can greatly assist in conducting user interviews and helps you stay consistent with the information and questions asked of participants
- Developing pre-research assumptions (or hypotheses) is a method of guiding your research to either validate/in-validate an assumption. Collecting these from stakeholders can make the process participatory.