5 Ways to Increase Direct Bookings

Online travel agencies (OTAs) are here to stay. And that’s okay; when used well, they can be an extremely valuable marketing tool. But no matter how successful your partnerships with OTAs are, you should never neglect opportunities to boost direct bookings. With the lowest cost of acquisition (no hefty commissions required), these reservations are just too valuable to dismiss. And with that in mind, here are a few suggestions for maximizing direct bookings at your property:

Maintain rate parity

Cost is the most significant factor affecting the channel on which a customer chooses to complete a reservation. Rate parity agreements likely prohibit you from undercutting OTA rates, so the best you can do is ensure you’re not charging more on your own website. Once cost is consistent between your site and OTAs, other incentives and practices can be used to win bookings.

Offer discounts to limited audiences

Being forced to offer your best rates on OTAs is a frustrating situation to be in, but there are ways around it. While you can’t post discounted rates directly on your website, you are permitted to advertise discounts to limited audiences. This means groups of people like your followers on social media or email subscribers. Consider hosting regular campaigns on these platforms with discount codes to be redeemed at the time of booking. And actively encourage users to follow your pages and sign-up for emails. Calls-To-Action on your website like “Add your name to our email list for access to special offers” should do a lot to encourage participation.

Provide incentive

Discounted inventory is not the only option for encouraging direct bookings. Anything that adds value to a reservation can help persuade a guest to book direct. What sort of things should you throw in to sweeten the pot? Every property has something different to offer, but guests are always happy with things like free WiFi, gift cards, mobile check-in and access to amenities. Some hotels have even found success by making a charitable donation for every direct reservation. So don’t be afraid to get creative! Just be sure to find something that suits your clientele and company culture.

Maintain a user-friendly website

There is an expectation nowadays for online experiences to be easy, efficient, and fast. And users have very little patience for websites that don’t fit that bill. If you want guests to follow through on a direct booking, a great deal of attention needs to be paid to the design of your website. An integrated booking engine is a must, and your content should be compelling, easy-to-navigate and mobile-optimized. If guests don’t have a seamless user experience, they won’t hesitate to abandon your website for their favorite OTA. Looking for a website redesign? Contact our design staff today.

Consider re-marketing

Even with a flawless website, there will be guests who abandon the booking process. While they might not commit to a reservation, these potential customers will have shown a keen interest in your property, and you’ll still have an opportunity to capitalize on that interest. Re-marketing allows you to identify those “almost” customers and target them with online or social media ads in order to win them back. Interested? Check out Google Adwords and Facebook’s Custom Audiences. Both offer simple re-marketing solutions.

Every hotelier dreams of a reservation calendar dominated by direct bookings. Without the substantial commissions charged by OTAs, they’re the most valuable type of reservation, and should be pursued. While you’ll likely always rely on OTAs for bookings, make sure you’re doing everything you can—from updating your marketing practices to adjusting your web design—to encourage customers to book direct.

4 Considerations for Choosing the Right OTAs

Online travel agencies (OTAs) have taken the hospitality industry by storm. What began as a platform for selling excess inventory when demand was low, has grown to dominate the entire booking landscape. Today, the majority of reservations worldwide are made via these online platforms, which makes OTAs an essential component of all lodging operators’ distribution strategiesoften accounting for the majority of a property’s revenue.

While the cost to play the OTA game can be steep (commissions range from 10-30%), the benefits of exposure on these platforms are many. Not only does an OTA distribute your business to a wider audience than you would be otherwise capable, but it can also act to promote direct bookings on your website due to the billboard effect. And it’s worth noting that OTAs can aid international customers in understanding and booking with your property. Offering details in the appropriate language and currency helps open your doors to guests from all over the world.

When it comes to your OTA strategy, it’s a good idea to diversify. Don’t rely on 1 or 2 agencies; you want your property to be visible across multiple channels. But there are a lot of different platforms to choose from, so how do you know which OTAs to use? The right distribution channels will vary for each property, but here are a few things to consider when choosing the right OTA for you:

Cost

Obviously, one of the biggest concerns (and most important things to consider) is the cost of partnering with an OTA. There’s quite a bit of variability in the commissions charged by various OTA platforms, and some can be prohibitively high. When determining if an OTA is worth the cost, remember to account for the customer lifetime value (CLV) of guests brought in by the channel in question. If your landing high-spending, returning guests, steep commissions may ultimately be worth it.

Target Market

OTAs are not all the same. Just as individual lodging operators cater to different types of guests, OTAs have their own demographic sweet spots. For a productive partnership, ensure you choose an OTA that aligns with your target market. Platforms that cater to hostels (like Gomio and Hostelworld) are not the ideal distribution channel for boutique properties; and OTAs designed for vacation rentals (like Airbnb) would do little for a chain hotel. The same can be said for geographic region. While many of the major players (like Booking.com and Expedia) are prominent worldwide, others focus on a more specific region (like Ctrip).

Experience

The experience of an OTA should be considered when choosing the platforms on which to sell your inventory. How many bookings do they facilitate? How long has the OTA had a presence in your market of interest? Does the channel in question have a history of serving properties similar to your own? While you may choose to take a chance on a newcomer, it’s wise to prioritize reputable channels with a demonstrable history of success.

Functionality

Finally, ensure the platforms you choose have interfacing capabilities with your channel manager. Any changes to availability made over an OTA or on your property management system should update automatically. Avoid any situation that would require you to input inventory changes manually. It’s a waste of your time and could result in overbookings.

 

Deciding on a combination of distribution channels that compliment your property is an important job. You need to sort through a lot of available platforms to find the ones whose cost, target market, experience and functionality meet your needs. And it doesn’t end there. While OTAs expose your brand to a massive audience of potential customers, they also do the same for your competitors. If you want to get noticed on an OTA, you need to manage your profile in a way that maximizes exposure.

 

 

 

Make the Most of Your OTA Profile

You probably have mixed feelings about Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Booking.com. On the one hand, they bring in a significant number of bookings and offer beneficial exposure. On the other hand, they take a 15-30% cut of revenue. The truth is, despite the steep commissions, OTAs are a critical part of a property’s marketing strategy that shouldn’t be neglected. While we adamantly encourage pursuing direct bookings, it is important to invest time and energy into your OTA presence as part of a holistic approach to online marketing. Here are a few tips for making the most of your OTA profiles.

Content

Complete all fields >> When setting up your property’s profile you should take care to complete all available fields. This includes everything from location and contact information to descriptions of rooms, facilities, and policies. Not only does this ensure your listing is included when browsers use search filters but it also displays credibility to those browsers. An incomplete profile appears unprofessional and potential guests are more likely to overlook your property entirely. And don’t forget to include a link to your website to help boost those coveted direct bookings!

Use attention-grabbing images >> There is a lot of competition on OTAs. Browsers have to scroll through multitudes of options when looking to make a booking, and it’s easy to get lost in the noise. Ensure your property stands out by including a collection of professionally captured images. They should be vivid and diverse—include photos of the lobby, facilities, rooms, and views—so the browser can imagine their entire stay with you. If you have a professional video showcasing your property, you should also include this as the use of video tours are correlated with higher conversion rates.

Management

Update continually >> There’s no easier way to lose credibility than having out of date information online. Your OTA profile is something that requires regular (but easy!) maintenance. Setup monthly or seasonal alarms in your marketing calendar as a reminder to check and update your online profiles, ensuring information and unit inventory are always accurate and relevant. This also includes your photo gallery. New images will keep your property’s profile fresh and exciting.

Highlight special offers >> People browse OTAs so they can weigh their options. They’re looking for a reason to choose one property over all others, so make sure to give them that reason. Include special offers and promotions on OTA platforms to help snag unsure browsers. They’re yours for the taking!

Manage reviews >> Online reviews have a huge impact on sales. 92% of people read online reviews, and the vast majority consider them when making purchase decisions. It is therefore critical to both encourage feedback from guests (more reviews inspires more browser confidence) and respond to reviews promptly. While you should not be replying to every online post, choose to respond to those that require an explanation or apology as well as a few positive reviews to offer appreciation for their kind words and hopes to see them again.

Optimization

Follow OTA recommendations >> Just as there are tips and tricks to optimize your websites ranking on a search engine, there are measures you can take to improve your ranking on an OTA. Every OTA uses a different algorithm and most offer suggestions on how to climb their ranks. Heed their advice and stay informed. As an OTA tweaks their internal ranking system, you should adjust your optimization strategies accordingly.

 

While every hotel dreams of sales dominated by direct bookings, OTAs are (and will remain) an integral part of a property’s success. Fortunately, you don’t need to choose one over the other. Improving your OTA profile can actually boost direct bookings by providing exposure for your property and bringing you opportunities to nurture loyal, returning guests. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to maximize your presence on OTA platforms.

5 Ways to Turn OTA Lookers into Direct Bookers

There’s no denying that OTAs pack a powerful punch when it comes to online bookings. OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia have a potent arsenal of cutting-edge technology and massive marketing budgets behind their very successful distribution strategies; they boast online omnipresence with global consumer reach and seamless online bookings. While lodging operators understandably begrudge OTA commissions eating into their bottom line, there are two sides to the coin — the flip side is that hoteliers have an opportunity to take advantage of the increased visibility that OTAs offer.

When I search for accommodation online, I often start my search on an OTA, but before making a decision, I always google the property’s own website. I do this because I want to get a better feel for the property beyond what’s presented in their OTA listing. This is known as the “billboard effect” — where a property’s OTA listing works much like a billboard; increasing a property’s exposure and even driving direct bookings.

But in order for the billboard effect to work, a property’s own website needs to offer customers a smooth path to booking.

#1. A well designed website.

A website that not only looks good but is easy to navigate and functions smoothly is key to impressing prospective guests and luring them to book direct. A property’s own website has the potential to give customers a much more distinctive and genuine online experience than an OTA.

Check out our post about optimizing your website for success, but in a nutshell, it comes down to successfully portraying the special experience of staying at your property through engaging imagery and content that communicates the unique features of your property, from special packages to property features to location.

And make sure your site offers just as good a user experience as the OTAs — with fast load times, intuitive navigation, mobile friendliness and easy online bookings (more on that next).

#2. Simple, secure, mobile-friendly online bookings.

OTAs are so successful with online bookings due to simple, trusted and mobile-friendly booking processes, and properties must follow suit on their own websites to avoid booking abandonment.  The fewer steps it takes to make a reservation, the better. Your online booking engine should reassure customers that the booking process is secure by displaying a secure payment badge when asking for credit card information, and should send automatic email confirmation to customers to assure them that their booking was a success. Your booking engine should also be able to display rates in different currencies.

#3. Best rate guarantee & benefits of booking direct.

While hoteliers can’t publicly advertise lower rates than those on OTAs (due to parity agreements), rates available through a property’s own website should match those offered on OTAs to support a best rate guarantee. Why shop anywhere else when the rate on your site is guaranteed the lowest?

Customers are more likely to book direct when the value of booking direct is apparent. Make sure the advantages of booking direct are advertised on your website — like preferred rooms, free breakfast, a drink at the bar or free parking — perks that are only available when booking direct. Value-added packages might cost more than discounted room rates advertised on OTAs, but the upgraded experience should offer more value than the discount offered through the OTA.

Rates lower than those on OTAs can be offered to limited audiences, like your Facebook fans, Twitter followers or newsletter subscribers, if they book direct. Invite customers to like your Facebook page or sign up to your newsletter to access special deals. Empower staff taking phone reservations to offer a lower rate.

#4. Convert OTA customers into future direct bookers.

Don’t give up on customers who have booked through an OTA — you’ll get ‘em next time. But in order to do so, it’s important to ask for their email address upon check-in or check-out. Tell guests that you would like to share special discounts for future stays or to pass to a friend. Alternatively, you could offer departing guests coupons for a 10 percent discount if they book direct next time.

If your property offers a loyalty program, invite guests to join to access points or perks when booking direct.

#5. Optimize your OTA listings.

While it might seem counterintuitive, it’s important to ensure your listings on OTAs are complete and high quality. Excluding quality content from OTA listings will not drive customers to your website; instead, customers are likely to skip the listing entirely to consider properties with more appealing listings.

Listings with great photos, complete descriptions and amenity lists, and competitive rates are much more likely to motivate a shopper to take note of your property and search for your website… which is where all the above tips come into play for turning that OTA looker into a direct booker!