The competitive landscape for hotel and property managers has shifted so much in the last 10 years with the emergence of the OTAs (Online Travel Agents). As they continue to dominate the online booking landscape, finding ways to lower the cost of guest acquisition has become a significant priority for most hotels. While commission costs are beginning to come down as the larger hotel chains fight their corner, the share of customers booking through OTAs continues to grow. So what can smaller hoteliers do to drive more direct hotel booking and win back business?
Many hoteliers now realise that they will not be able to beat the OTAs at their own game. And while including them in your hotel booking strategy can help you maximise your exposure, the best route to growing profitability is increasing your online direct bookings. So what other benefits of driving direct bookings can you expect?
When a guest makes a booking directly with your hotel rather than through a 3rd party booking agent, you have all your guest details, including email addresses and phone numbers, right from the very beginning. Hotel owners really should not under-estimate the value of this information. The data hoteliers have in their own PMS (Property Management System) is probably the single biggest competitive advantage they have over the OTAs and should be fiercely protected.
It’s important for hoteliers to understand how they can leverage this data to minimise their rates being continually driven down. By using all of your customer data, including historical performance and on-property spending, you can set your rates for maximum profit. This means you can better understand how your pricing is affecting demand for your rooms, not your competitors.
Because OTAs do not have access to this data, they are forced to rely on competitors prices to gauge demand. This feeds into the ongoing cycle of hoteliers being pitted against each other to undercut one another on price and offer the lowest rate. This race to the bottom isn’t really beneficial to anyone, even the OTA’s. The lower the rate, the less they earn too.
Building a comprehensive profile of your guests from the moment of direct booking online enables you to build a more seamless and personalised booking experience. Leveraging the data you hold in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system enables you to make the best decisions on pricing and promotions.
When you sell your hotel inventory through an OTA or using a channel other than your own website, you are losing revenue in the form of the fees you are paying to these distribution partners. Surely cutting out the middle man wherever possible and encouraging direct hotel bookings makes the most sense from a revenue management perspective?
Having direct contact with your guests from the outset and using your data wisely also enables you to begin building rapport and offer enhanced customer service. Making the right offer to the right guest at the right time will not only wow your customers but increases the likelihood of driving more profitable repeat bookings through your lowest-cost channel.
Keeping a current customer is much cheaper than finding a new one. When you start delivering a better customer experience, you also begin to build brand loyalty.
Consider offering value-add deals as a ‘thank you’ to guests booking your hotel direct online. It can be anything from rental deals, free wifi, personalised recommendations for local day trips to a ‘best price guarantee’. They will all go a long way to ensuring that a guest feels personally looked after.
Then when their stay is over, follow up with them reminding them how much you enjoyed having them stay with you and offer them a deal for a future stay or to share with family and friends.
Delivering great personalised customer service and building your brand loyalty means you are far more likely to attract those all-important positive guest reviews. So make sure that they know how and where they can leave these reviews to show potential new customers the benefits of booking direct.
So what can independent hotels do to increase their chances of winning that all-important booking confirmation through your own direct booking site?
Before we even get into how to get more bookings and the potential marketing strategies that you could adopt, take a look at your current website and booking engine. Many of us have become so distracted by the battles for our marketing dollar from 3rd parties that we have forgotten to invest in our own hotel websites. When you consider that fewer than half of all travellers visit the hotel’s direct booking portal, it’s vital to maximise the conversion rate among those that do.
How attractive is your website? How easy is your booking process? Is it mobile responsive – does it work the same way on a mobile device? Do you have great photos of your different room types?
Among the key things to focus on are the consistency and simplicity of the booking process. Ideally, it should take no more than 3 clicks to convert ‘lookers to bookers’.
So what other direct booking strategies should you consider?
Increasing organic traffic to your website and ensuring it can easily be found when potential guests are searching for a hotel in your area is imperative. Invest in search engine optimising your website so that you appear for the most relevant, commonly searched and valuable search terms. Our recent series of blogs outlined more about what SEO is and how to do it.
As we have covered in another previous blog post – How Effective Is Metasearch As An Advertising Channel? – with metasearch advertising, you can pay to display your book direct rate in the metasearch results. You are not selling your rooms directly as you would with an OTA. You are effectively paying to display your own hotel website or booking engine alongside the OTA’s. Make sure you work with an authorized Google integration partner to help you get this set up.
Ensure you are making the most of the opportunity that social media offers to present your hotel in the best light possible. This includes highlighting what the local area has to offer as well as encouraging engagement with current, previous and potential guests. Again, you can work with a trusted partner to ensure your hotel marketing is the best it can be.
Make sure you have a well thought through email marketing strategy. Ongoing regular communication is vital to encourage direct hotel bookings. By segmenting your guest data you can engage people before they arrive and re-engage previous guests.
Developing special offers targeted at the right people at the right time creates that wow factor. Make real use of the data that you have to send promotions for their birthdays, anniversaries or any other important occasion.
Here at HiRUM, we find that many property managers often mention they don’t have the time or expertise to promote their property. In response, we have created the MRP (Marketing Reach Program) which provides property managers with a worry-free solution.
HiRUM MRP manages many aspects of your content marketing strategy for you. This ensures you are able to get in front of potential travellers when they are most likely to book. We will set-up and manage your Google My Business listing, completely manage your Google reviews and provide you with regular reports on your property marketing performance. We will even set-up and optimise your social media pages for you, keeping them active and engaging.
For more information on our Marketing Reach Program, please complete the form below.
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