What is the Real Impact of Online Booking Systems?
We did a study to measure the question: What is the impact of online booking system vs. taking email/phone bookings only?
We tried to keep audience targeting and number of visitors the same although due to advertising campaigns they differed slightly but probably not enough to impact results significantly. We tested the impact of online booking by having two similar pages one with enquire only, one with a direct booking option.
We saw a 400% increase in bookings just by enabling people to book direct.
More about the study
High-level results in Google (the URL has since changed)... We used a single page, where we added available dates to online booking system allowing instant bookings and then we removed available dates to test the impact of being able to take enquiries by message, email and phone only.
Test 1: Advertising an experience with no online booking system but enquiry only
Our enquiry form captures key info on number of people and dates. We used this to measure the intent of how many people want to book for specific dates, along with phone and email enquiries.
Experience being advertised:
Rock Climbing Near London (available dates were removed, allowing people to 'enquire only') Visitors sent to page: 1003 Demographics - 22 - 55 years of age, 52% female, 48% male, based within 1.5 hours radius of activity location. Price: £65
Results: Booking enquiries: £975 worth of enquiries via enquiry form, email and phone (converting eventually to just 2 bookings for 5 people in total)
Bookings: £325 (Ouch) - 30% conversion rate of enquiries to bookings.
Test 2: Advertising an experience with direct online booking showing the impact of Online Booking System
Visitors sent to page: 1030 Demographics - 22 - 55 years of age, 55% female, 45% male, based within 1.5 hours radius of activity location. Price: £65
Results Bookings: 14 bookings, for a total of 25 people, at £1625.
Booking enquiries: £715 worth of enquiries via enquiry form, email and phone
Summary results of impact of online booking:
Wow - that's significant, we saw a 400% increase in bookings made from just enabling people to book direct with us! To summarise, this experiment showed:
- Both the 'Enquiry only' and the 'Instant Booking' had a similar number of enquiries
- Enquiry received just 3 bookings (5 people) vs. online booking system of 14 bookings (25 people)
- Instant booking generated a whopping 400% increase in bookings!
- Interestingly, there was a high level of conversion from enquiries to bookings in this study. This is at odds to what we see across the rest of our enquiries where there is less than around a 20% conversion. I.e. for every 10 enquiries only 2 bookings are made. This study could have been higher due to quick response rates, lots of available dates to offer to customers and it being a relatively straightforward activity with no accommodation or travel arrangements necessary
Caveats and points to note to our experiment for impact of online booking systems:
- Our study was very limited in exposure and for statistically significant results, we would need a much larger study, across many more experiences, demographics, locations and more. That being said, across our platform of hundreds of experiences, we do see much more sales for bookable dates, but we don't have the specific data to pull although we estimate 75%+ of bookings made on Beyonk are from direct booking rather than enquires.
- The impact of using an online booking system will differ based on the type of business you are, or rather the types of experiences you're selling and who you're main customers are. For example, in general we've seen the older generation are still happy to pick up the phone or email to book a tour, activity or experience. However, the younger generation, much more rarely cannot be bothered to enquire. And if they do, it often doesn't end in a sale as they find an alternative place to book directly. If you're offering much more bespoke trips then enquiries can be suitable. If it's higher frequency trips that take less than a day, this is what really lends itself to online booking systems. Likewise, if its customers you already know, it's often easier to pick up the phone, but for those where you don't yet have the personal connection, instant booking can be a way to sign them up before building the connection afterwards
- The audience used in this study was around London. Is there perhaps a greater need for online booking systems around city-folk who are used to greater convenience based on their lives. I.e. where you can get groceries delivered within an hour from Amazon and an Uber taxi can pick you up in less than 3 minutes. Do these big tech companies set expectations higher for convenience and ease-of-use? Perhaps had we done this experiment in a more laid back region picking up the phone and having a chat could have been a more preferred option.
- We should have split this into two webpages, so we could show in Google Analytics the impact directly without having to do a manual measurement (although with phone bookings and enquiries by email, it's inevitable there would always be some manual measurement)
- Enquires and phone bookings ARE NOT DEAD. They still form a very valuable source of sales despite the significant results in this study
A word of caution...
Online booking systems are just the beginning.
Don't expect to add online booking and for your sales to rocket up. You'll need the perfect recipe to be set up for online bookings including:
- Great content - images and copy to make consumers want to book
- Flexible booking terms, the ability to cancel without getting stung with high deposits
- The more available dates the better - remember you're trying to make sure customers can find a suitable date for both of you and confirm it right there and then. It could be quite rare to put a single date up each month and for that to match your customers available dates. The more available dates you have, the more direct bookings you'll receive. We'll do a study on this soon to prove the effects
- Reduce the barriers to your activity - if equipment is needed, offer to provide it. If it's for a very small portion of the population, can you make it accessible to more? If it's in the middle of nowhere, it's going to limit the potential customer base who are willing to travel further. Research by VisitBritian has suggested you reduce your booking potential by 50% if consumers have to travel over 2 hours to get to your activity.
- Guided walking is a niche in itself. So is paddleboarding and other recreational or leisure activities. The minute you add another theme over the top e.g. mountain walking for city-dwellers that enjoy their toast buttered - that's again, then making the activity even more niche. Niche isn't bad, if you know where to find and target your potential customers. Instead, try making the activity open to a broader audience than a narrower one.
- Drive sufficient relevant traffic going to your website (industry standard conversion rates sit around 1% (this is highly contextual and contentious). So if you can drive 100 prospective customers to your website, you should be aiming for at least one booking, at least in theory.
- Where you position your online booking system on your website will have a massive impact to your sales. It needs to be front and centre so your prospective customers have a clear call to action to really make an impact to bookings
- Measure the data, test, test and test some more. Make sure you keep an eye on all of your stats to constantly improve and fix any issues. The last thing you want is to be advertising a website that's so slow consumers are not waiting for your webpages to load. Keep checking Google Analytics and make sure your website is set up in the best way.
The purpose of this study was to help us understand how important it is to have direct booking on the Beyonk marketplace versus the ability to enquire. By understanding the impact of online booking with the caveats mentioned above, it's a good reference point. Should we all be taking online booking? Maybe. It depends on you, your business, types of customers, where you currently get your sales and your growth ambitions. If you're already sharing live dates on third-parties like Beyonk, then it's easy enough to just share these on your own website for any visitors to also book direct with you. That's why we built Beyonk connect - our online booking system that helps you share your live availability on your own website and across our distribution network of tourist boards, parks and accommodation providers.
I hope this study has been somewhat useful. If you want to talk about online booking systems, how to make them work for you and your website then we'd love to talk, get in touch.