Americans are increasingly researching and booking travel reservations online with airlines, hotels and car rental companies, making the travel-agent industry increasingly obsolete.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project's December 2006 survey, 63 percent of the more than 140 million Americans who are online have used the Internet to book travel reservations. In its 2002 survey, the project found that the travel sector was the fastest-growing online destination, up 87 percent from 2000.
Where do Reservation Confirmations Come From?
The hospitality industry relies heavily on reservations and is likely the greatest producer of reservation confirmations. The following are some examples of businesses in the hospitality sector:
- Hair/Nail Salons
- Vacation Property Rentals
- Car Rental
For these businesses to handle hundreds or thousands of reservations daily, they rely on business-management software that tracks individual reservations and stores all the information in a continuously updated database.
If a hotel or restaurant wants to take online reservations, it needs to have a Web site equipped with a booking engine. The booking engine is a specialized search engine connected directly to the company's reservation database via the Internet. Using the booking engine, a visitor to the company's Web site can search for open reservations, and the information on the database updates in real time.
Besides a company's own Web site, many third-party Web sites allow users to search through thousands of different hotels, restaurants, spas and resorts to book a reservation.
OpenTable.com, for example, is a free tool that allows users to make reservations at more than 7,000 restaurants around the world. OpenTable also sells its reservation software directly to restaurants to help manage bookings made online or by phone. Like any other booking engine, OpenTable.com is connected directly to the restaurant's reservation database for the most accurate and up-to-date information. After making your reservation, you immediately receive a detailed confirmation e-mail. Within that e-mail, other options may be available -- sending e-mail invitations to your guests, flower delivery to the restaurant or downloadable maps to the restaurant.
Travel Web sites work in much the same way restaurant-reservation sites do. For example, at Expeida.com, you can book airline, hotel and rental car reservations. Once your reservation is made, you'll receive a confirmation e-mail with your trip details and a confirmation number.
Most business-management or reservation-management software includes the ability to send automated confirmations and reminders. E-mail confirmations are the most common, but with 35 percent of U.S. cell phone owners actively using text messaging, more and more reservation applications offer an SMS confirmation option as well.
Through the online registration process required for most reservations, a business can collect important customer data to improve products and services. This information is also incredibly useful for creating marketing campaigns tailored to the preferences of existing customers.
This brings us to the next section, the power of reservation confirmations as marketing tools.
Reservation Confirmations as Marketing Tools
When you register with a Web site for an online reservation, it will ask for your e-mail address and a phone number. Then, it will ask if you want to receive periodic e-mails with news, updates and special offers from the company. Many people respond "no" to this question to avoid receiving tons of unwanted messages.
Businesses and their marketing departments know this, but they also know the reservation confirmation e-mail can be used to sell new products, services and special promotions. As a user, you're obligated to receive this e-mail, because it often contains a confirmation number or billing information. You don't have to read it, of course, but it's the job of the marketing copywriter to convince you that it's worth your time.
It's become popular for confirmation e-mails to be rich, colorful, HTML documents that resemble Web pages. These ads and links are meant to draw the attention of the reader away from just the details of the reservation. For marketers, this is a golden opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell related services, perhaps at a discounted price.
Another marketing technique that employs reservation confirmations and other automated reminders is the idea of a loyalty program or a frequent customer program. In this type of program, a customer will sign up or opt-in to receive periodic e-mails or text messages from a company containing information on new products, last-minute discounts and special deals available to "members only."
Loyalty programs can benefit both consumers and businesses. Consumers can choose to receive information only about certain products and services, helping marketers target their campaigns more directly. The consumers then get special access to discounts on products they actually like, and the business can build brand loyalty. For some hospitality businesses, it's also a great way to book reservations for less-popular dates and times.
A spa, for example, could send daily e-mails to clients who have signed up for its loyalty program. The e-mails may feature last-minute specials for a massage or pedicure in the morning or early afternoon, when business is typically slower. A hotel or airline can send weekend specials to off-season destinations (like London in January) for dramatically reduced rates. A restaurant could advertise daily, "Early Bird" dinner menus to lure in hungry office workers.
The future of reservation confirmations appears to be moving toward text messages. As more and more cell phones include the ability to browse the Web and receive rich text messages with HTML, images, audio and video, marketers can offer even more features in their reservation confirmations.
Digital Alchemy recently introduced a software product called Claire that allows hotels and resorts to send timely, personalized information to guests' cell phone or BlackBerry Web browsers before, during and after their stay.
In addition to the basic reservation confirmation, a guest could receive airport shuttle and taxi information several days before his trip. After check-in, he could receive daily e-mails about upcoming activities, spa and restaurant specials, links to sign up for tee times on the golf course, and "phone-only" discounts. After check out, the guests could be sent a link to a quick survey to improve customer service.
For lots information about reservation confirmations and related topics, check out the links on the next page.