Online travel agencies (OTAs) are a necessity for hotels of any size. They are a window to shop and most people in the market for a hotel stay will use them as an inspiration to choose a destination and a property. However, while they certainly help to drive occupancy, the commissions are a burden to profitability. For independent hotels these can be as high as 30% if they want to have the appropriate visibility. To reduce their dependency and lower the commissions amount paid each month, hoteliers should aim at shifting bookings coming from OTAs to their website which is their most profitable channel. On average the cost of sale will be between 2 to 5%.
Having guests and potential guests visit and make bookings on your website gives you also the opportunity to build your brand while having a more direct impact on customer experiences. Direct bookings create a communication channel through which you can engage your guests from the moment of booking through their stay and afterwards. This helps develop a long-term relationship, which can lead to returning customers, referrals and ensure long term profitability for your property.
To help you encourage more traffic to your website or portal and increase direct bookings, here is a checklist of items for you to consider for your digital marketing practices. It should help you assess your current presence and help you develop a more successful online strategy.
1. Optimize your website & all 3rd party channels
First, start with your digital content. Not only should you have enchanting images from your rooms, restaurants & spa, but you should make sure that you showcase facilities and amenities exhaustively. Your website should be a delightful showcase of your property unique selling points for which pictures will be an essentials tool to catch potential guests. It is paramount for hoteliers to invest in good product and lifestyle photography. These may also include food shots, spa treatments and other activities available at your hotels. To have numerous photos will also help you to achieve the highest possible content score on OTAs increasing your organic visibility.
FAQs are also a good way to engage with visitors to your site. This could include policies about children, pets, check in/out time, airport transfer, etc. If you have specific regional targets, you may want to have your site translated into different languages and ensure your rates are displayed in the corresponding currencies as well.
Last but not least, make sure your content is up to date on reviews & business listings websites such as TripAdvisor, Trivago, Google My Business & Holiday Check. Some of your audience will be visiting those before making a booking.
2. Keep social
Just like the traditional travel & reviews business listings, social media accounts should leverage your best product pictures and videos. The importance of social media is paramount nowadays and hoteliers need to actively use these channels to nurture the dream of the destination and a hotel stay. Implement a proper social media strategy with distinctive content pillars and don’t forget to include links and contact details of your reservations teams as often as possible – all this can help direct traffic to your website and leads to your central reservation office for direct bookings. You could also consider integrating bookings straight from the various social media platforms if your booking engine supplier provides that functionality.
User Generated Content on social media can also be a huge advocate for your hotels and property. This could be a good alternative to lifestyle photography which is often costly. Not only that, UGC has been proven to improve conversion rate.
3. Offer “Book Direct” benefits
In the travel and hospitality industry, “Price is King”. So, you should make sure that your website offers the best deals compared to third party options. This can be tricky in relation to OTAs as they would not hesitate to drop your hotel in the ranking if you offer public lower rates. You can work around this by offering a discount to a closed user group such as your member for instance or value-adds like free breakfasts, airport transfers, room upgrades, or special experiences.
If you do have a loyalty program, you may also offer with bonus points which can be redeemed later at your hotels. This strategy can also help you to reach your enrolment targets.
Last but not least, offer a best rate guaranteed policy to your web visitors. In case they find a cheaper rate online just match it and give them an extra 10%. This message gave them the assurance that the best rates are available on your website.
4. Can customers get more than just rooms on your site?
Third-party sites like OTAs often limit what they include in a booking. Through your website, you can offer packages such as staycations with accommodations, meals, and spa treatments. Or you can also take restaurants and spa treatment bookings. Similarly to what Airbnb does, by allowing people to book one of a kind experiences directly on your website, it will make it a much more engaging portal for your destination and brand. To enable this, you may consider integration with 3rd party vendors such as Viator or Klook.
5. Work on your user experience
Providing a user-friendly and fast booking experience is paramount to convert efficiently on your website. That’s what the OTAs are so good at. All your SEO and paid media strategy can drive traffic to your website, but if people find it difficult to navigate and book, they will go elsewhere. That’s why it is important to regularly audit your website to make sure their are not issue hindering the experience on both desktop and mobile devices. Likewise, your booking journey should be as easy and simple as possible.
Try clicking through your hotel’s website and making a booking for yourself. Or ask friends and family to do the same. If it is not a smooth process, then you need to address that as soon as possible. Leverage online free tools such as Google Mobile Friendly Test and GTmetrix to uncover issues and receive recommendations to fix these.
6. Watch your reviews and reputation
By actively seeking reviews and comments from guests after their stay, you continue your relationship with them, providing direct attention that fosters goodwill. Just make sure you respond appropriately to show care and appreciation. Positive reviews can be a testament of your guest positive experiences which can advocate for your hotels if displayed on your website.
Keep in mind that on most of the review sites and OTAs, the more frequently you receive positive review the higher your organic ranking will be on these site. That’s the case for TripAdvisor for instance.
Nevertheless, bad reviews are inevitable. When answering these, make sure to praise your guest for the feedback and display consideration for the issue. By proactively seeking to make amend for any problems your guest have encountered, you will demonstrate how much you thrive to make each stay a successful one and reassure potential future guest that your hotel is a good choice.
The feedback you receive is also excellent for refining your operations although you may want to invest in a proper Hotel Reputation Management solution such as ReviewPro, TrustYou or Revinate to send Guest Satisfaction Surveys (GSS)
7. Keep CTAs active
You should ensure your “BOOK NOW” calls to action (CTAs) are eye-catching and easily accessible on every page. And remember, you can have more than one “book now” button! You may also want to explore using pop-ups to draw attention to special deals available only through your web portal. If your booking engine suppliers provides the widget for it, you could embed your rates and book now buttons on every room pages so that visitors can jump start the booking process.
8. Check out the competition
Some simple competitive intelligence can go a long way for your hotel or resort. Having a relevant competitor set is paramount to your sales and marketing strategy. Investing in rate shopping and rate intelligence tools will allow you to understand if your pricing is right at different strategic dates, how much business you pick up compare to your competitors. Once you check out their website offers as well, you can make the necessary adjustments to not only keep your customer base, but maybe also expand it for more bookings. Likewise, you may want to subscribe to market data reports from a reputable source such as STR.
9. Respond quickly
Today, customers might contact you from different channels and they expect fast answers. If you are not quick enough you might lose the opportunity to get a new confirmed reservation on your books. Live Chat solutions are pretty much expected on your website but using chatbots would allows you to provide meaningful information and answers 24/7. Investing in a solution that allow to handle chats from multi-channels in one place will ensure you are always able to jump on any requests.
Furthermore, if your online portal captures abandoned and cancelled bookings, you should consider setting up a retargeting process to recover these. At times, once you address any concern users may have you can flip their decision.
10. Upsell and follow-up with emails
There is so much you can do with strategic emailing, especially with confirmation emails. People will open confirmation emails to ensure their bookings are correct. You can take this opportunity to offer add-ons like restaurant reservations, special activities, or upgrades. This can continue as they check-in with a welcome email, perhaps with personalized suggestions for things to do in and around your property. Once you’ve established this connection, don’t forget to keep it going with a follow-up email. After their stay, you may want to ask for feedback or a review, as well as offer incentives for future bookings this can be set up via your GSS and link with TripAdvisor collection product.