In the battle of hotel room reservations, the balance between direct and Online Travel Agents (OTAs) bookings might be an ideal sales scenario, but driving higher the direct reservations is with no doubt every hotelier’s dream. More direct bookings mean less commissions to OTAs and therefore increase of revenue for the hotel. And here comes the struggle…How will you, as a hotelier, convince your guests to ditch their OTA habit and book with you directly?
The Hotelier on the Guest’s shoes
Let’s get in the shoes of a typical traveller and explore the journey of the booking process. Taking the scenario that you travel on leisure or business to a destination that you have never visited before, you will by default search the destination on the matching field of your preferred OTA’s website. Once you find the hotel that you want and its score passes your requirements, you will typically search for the hotel’s direct website to see more and get assured that you are making the right choice.
The user has reached your page and now it’s all about what you have to offer to stand out from the OTA intermediation; here are some tips to help you boost your hotel’s direct bookings:
1. Optimize your Website
Your website is the most important marketing channel and stands as the shopfront to your hotel, but often hoteliers ignore this tool and depend on OTA’s presence. Use to your advantage the fact that OTAs cover all the services of a trip from airfares to car rentals and overload their page with content that ends up making the user experience more complicated and cluttered to the customer’s eyes. It’s fundamental to build a strong digital identity with a visually attractive, user-friendly and easy to navigate website, focused on optimizing the user’s experience on all devices.
Bring out your best of photos, reduce the unnecessary text and format your content in strategically displayed positions where the user can’t miss them. Last but not least, be proactive and iron out any obstacles that will lower down the speed of your website. You want your guests to be focused on booking and they will expect a fast and seamless experience, not ending up being an abandoned reservation.
2. Embody a User-Friendly Booking Engine
A booking engine implementation on your website will keep your guests onsite and enable them to review the availability of rooms and the matching prices in real time. Keeping the booking flow as hassle-free as possible should be one of your main objectives when implementing the tool and all it needs is the right technology along with a keen eye to detail. Try to keep the booking process simple and don’t make your customers wonder why it’s so difficult to book with you!
3. Offer Legitimate Benefits
OTAs secure their presence in the game through price parity agreements with a hotel, making sure that the latter can not offer a lower room rate from theirs. Customers usually ignore the potential price match between the two and this is your chance to step in and reinforce Best Price Guarantee. Today’s users are all about convenience, so to maximize the impact on their decision, go the extra mile and show what you offer against the competition. Whilst the price will be matching, you will treat your guests with special incentives and value-ads that only those who book directly will enjoy. Get inspired and convince your guests by highlighting them on your page and across the channels that you are present.
4. Boost your Listing on Metasearch Engines
Metasearch engines like Trivago, TripAdvisor and Kayak process billions of searches per year for travel information, showing travellers combined results of various OTAs and the hotels’ direct booking sites, all in one place. According to PACE Dimensions’ analysis, over 45% of travellers use metasearch sites to find the right hotel at the best price. Online bookers tend to see such engines as a more reliable source and you get an extra chance to drive customers to your website. However, this won’t be a complimentary promotion. Hoteliers battle with the big players who look to consolidate and outspend on cost-per-click (CPC) or pay-per-click (PPC). Similarly to the other models, the key on such pricing is to find the balance between bidding too low with the risk to be listed low on results, and bidding too high with the risk to overspend on guest acquisition. If you decide to advertise your property through a metasearch engine, make sure you keep your listing’s details up to date to enhance the performance and optimize the advertising.
5. Feature Guests’ Positive Reviews
Reviews and scores have high influence on a traveller’s decision to book with you. When searching for a hotel, almost 98% of customers go through the reviews and consider it a crucial step prior to making the final call. Your reviews, similarly to the rest of the content, needs to be strategically merged on your website and be visible throughout all the steps of the booking process. Whilst you want to highlight the positive, be proactive and respond to all of them, especially the negative ones. The Management Responses are important and a chance for you to demonstrate that you have listened to the customers’ feedback and took action to support your business.
Changing the customer behaviour is an ongoing challenge and a hot topic for hoteliers who struggle to free their businesses from OTAs. Do they really need to consider them as enemies? Not at all! They are neither friends, nor enemies. OTAs and hoteliers are and will be considered as frenemies when it comes to this controversial topic of hotel distribution. Like it or not, there is no way hoteliers can compete with the giants of the industry as the latter’s’ resources, strategies and power to reach a wider audience will beat the former big time. It’s all about adaptation and hoteliers should settle on the middle ground aiming to the balance between the two. One way or another, isn’t a higher conversion what hoteliers really want? Use OTAs wisely and for the mutual benefit of both and be sure you will achieve it.