Many hotels now have a presence on online travel agencies (OTAs) including Booking.com and Trivago in order to maximise their exposure and boost their chances of being spotted by would-be guests.
However, the percentage these OTAs take from each transaction means the ultimate aim for hotel owners and marketers is to get people booking direct through their own branded website so that they take all of the money. Achieving this can be tricky though, with OTAs enjoying such a big presence online and in TV ads and many travellers now using them as their first port of call. Indeed, a small survey by Marriott reported by The Caterer found that millennials now prefer to make reservations using OTAs over direct websites by a ratio of about two to one.This is a disappointing trend, so what can be done to lure people away from aggregator sites? The following tips might help to encourage more direct bookings:
1. Multiple methods of booking Different people like to make hotel booking engine in different ways, whether that’s because of their age range or other factors, so it’s important to be able to accommodate them – or the OTAs will. Ensure you clearly publish your hotel phone number on your website and offer an email address or contact form for guests who prefer to speak to someone about their booking. You can even make the most of new technology such as Live Chat, which is likely to appeal to the social media generation.Having the facility for people to make reservations online is essential if you’re to compete with the OTAs, so look into seeking out a booking engine provider if you haven’t already and make it easy for would-be guests to complete that final stage in the booking process. Interestingly, CitizenM reported a 20 per cent drop-out rate to The Caterer when it asked guests for credit card details on its website, which was harming its organic search efforts. Things improved when it started asking people for details after they had confirmed their stay, suggesting that travellers want results as speedy as those offered by the one-step reservations on OTAs.
2. Be the same, everywhere Branding is hugely important no matter what service you are offering or product you’re selling and that means presenting a cohesive presence everywhere you’re marketing your property.On social media, your website, your newsletters and anywhere else a marketing message is going out, it should do so with consistent colours, logos and tone in terms of content, or it’s going to confuse would-be guests.For example, don’t write your blog posts in jokey, colloquial language that would appeal to millennials and then Tweet boring, businesslike messages – they need to be the same to retain strong branding. Google recently discovered that guests visit an average of 21 websites before making a decision on their travel options, so don’t risk confusing them or having them not remember you because you don’t look the same from place to place.
3. Be competitive While parity agreements mean you can’t charge less than the OTAs, you can get around this by providing more value to your guests. It doesn’t have to be anything too expensive to your hotel, but it could really encourage people to think they’re getting a better deal.For instance, you might provide free breakfasts for anyone who books online or a special spa deal for those coming on hen parties. Many people assume there are better deals to be had via OTAs, so try publicising the fact that this isn’t necessarily the case.
4. Move with the times Marketing is constantly changing so that means your efforts need to do the same if you’re to keep up with your competitors. Regularly update your website so all the information is correct, as incorrect details will serve to annoy would-be guests and could harm booking rates. Don’t forget that organic search listings and things like local directories will also trawl information from your website too, so it needs to be right.You should also be trying to stay on top of fresh marketing techniques like videos and Live Chat, as they can really help with customer engagement.Regularly collecting data can also help with marketing efforts, as Marriott discovered recently. It began asking guests their reasons for staying and found it was mostly for local shopping, The Caterer reported. However, the brand’s content didn’t offer anything connected to that topic, so it quickly updated its site to cater for these travelling shoppers, boosting reviews and the company’s profile. Can you learn from this?
5. Work with OTAs We might be on the topic of beating the OTAs, but you can also use them to your advantage. Work out who is coming to your site from OTAs and then see if you can come up with ways to attract the same audience to visit directly. Also, remember that people who check out the likes of Booking.com are also likely to visit your site to research you before making a reservation, so ensure it is the best it can possible be. OTAs do generate a lot of exposure, so there is a place for them in your marketing strategy.By trying a few simple techniques, you could significantly boost your direct bookings and create a steady stream of revenue that returns year after year.