It seems that, for the average consumer, one hotel room is just like any other. And as belts tighten, and internet access increases, this attitude is likely to grow.
It may be sad but it's true: price is the main driver when guests book hotel rooms online. This is confirmed by the results of a survey that Online hotel reservation network, WorldRes.com, conducted through PlacesToStay.com, its consumer travel internet service.
Because hotel selection is usually a highly subjective process - they vary from standardised chains to charming bed and breakfasts full of character - WorldRes had expected to find that charm, amenities and location would be paramount when making online reservations. This wasn't the case. Instead, price proved to be the primary factor influencing choice: more than four out of five respondents considered price extremely or very important when booking online.
What is cause for concern is that once brand-loyal, less price-sensitive customers are being increasingly driven towards becoming value-driven deal hunters. Four in five respondents said that the most effective inducement to book a room would be a lowest price guarantee - in fact, non-bookers said that they would have booked if they had been offered such a guarantee.
Not only hotels
Of course all of this is just another indication of how easy the internet makes it to compare prices and to easily examine multiple options. It's something that almost all businesses - not just hotels - will have to learn to live with, and it makes it clear that when a customer walks in through the door, businesses will have to work exceptionally hard to win them over, so that next time they may not shop around but simply come straight back.
According to Greg Jones, WorldRes.com's CEO, "What we are seeing is the effect of increased price transparency on the internet, compounded by a slow economy and the after-effects of September 11th. Leisure travellers are no longer satisfied until they know they have got the best price for a hotel room online."
Restrictions also influenced booking decisions. If the rest of the deal was exceptional, consumers were willing to pre-pay and would accept a 72-hour cancellation clause. However, they were less willing to pay booking or cancellation fees.
Some 1,200 middle to high income consumers were surveyed online in the first two weeks of December 2001.