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.

Over, Under, and Double: A Hotelier’s Guide to Booking Crises

Managing reservations to maximize revenue can be a complicated task. Trying to minimize the damage of no-shows and cancellations can result in more reservations than available rooms—while playing it safe to avoid double-bookings can leave units unnecessarily vacant. Here’s a quick guide to dealing with and reducing booking crises.

Overbooking

Overbooking inventory is a strategy used by many hotels to account for no-show guests and cancellations. When it works, it saves a lot of revenue, but there’s significant risk associated with the practice— particularly for smaller, independent properties which have fewer rooms to play around with. When it backfires (i.e. when you find yourself in front of a confirmed guest with no room to offer) it can be extremely stressful and cause a lot of damage to your brand. Unhappy customers have a tendency to express their dissatisfaction online after all.

For many independent hotels, the risks of overbooking are just too high. But that doesn’t mean you have no options. The first thing you can do to mitigate the damage of cancellations and no-shows is to include a fee in your cancellation policy and take credit card information upon booking. Not only is this an incentive to commit to a reservation (likely reducing no-shows and cancellations overall), but it means when a guest does choose to cancel, less damage is done to your bottom line. Check out our recent post for more strategies to deal with no-shows and cancellations.

All that being said, you should always have a prepared strategy for dealing with over-bookings. When you find yourself with more guests than rooms, you’ll need to choose which guest to walk (consider the loyalty of—and revenue being brought in by—each guest), find alternate lodging for them, and then do something to make amends (perhaps a free meal at your on-site restaurant).

Double-Booking

Unlike over-bookings, double bookings are never intentional, but rather due to errors made in inventory management. Hotels need to sell their inventory on a collection of distribution channels (their property’s website, numerous online travel agencies, and the Global Distribution System, for example) in order to maximize occupancy. But if inventory isn’t updated in real time, the same room could be sold by multiple distribution channels.

Obviously, it isn’t reasonable for a hotelier to update all channels as new reservations come in. It’s a time-intensive process prone to manual errors. That’s where technology comes into play. Having a property management system that interfaces with all your distribution channels means inventory is updated automatically across all systems, vastly reducing the possibility of a double booking (and all the headaches that come with it).

Underbooking

Some hoteliers try to reduce double-bookings by allocating separate inventory for each distribution channel. While this does eliminate the potential to sell the same room twice, it can also easily result in unnecessarily vacant units. One channel could sell all of their allocated inventory and start turning customers away while other inventory is sitting unsold on another platform. It’s not a recommended practice and luckily one that can be avoided with a pooled inventory model (all units available to be sold by all channels at the same time) and PMS-to-distribution channel interfaces (to reduce risk).

 

Reservation management can be tough. The task of balancing the need to fill rooms and the desire to provide a flawless customer experience is a delicate one. Make your life simpler by ensuring you have a property management system that takes credit card information at booking and interfaces with all your distribution channels.

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.

3 Ways Cloud Hotel Management Software Attracts New Guests

Designed to automate processes, cloud property management systems (PMS) are key to streamlining daily operations and customer service that results in satisfied guests and repeat business. Most lodging operators understand how the level of efficiency and personalized service facilitated by a cloud PMS helps turn first-time guests into loyal customers — but it’s also important to understand how a cloud PMS helps bring those first-timers through your door.

Expanded Reach

Approximately 80% of travelers turn to the Internet when planning their trips, visiting 38 sites on average before booking, so it’s crucial for hotels to be visible online where potential guests are looking.

When it comes to expanding and managing online distribution, cloud PMS give lodging operators an advantage through direct integration with channel managers or OTA partners. Direct connectivity between the PMS and OTA channels or a channel manager not only puts a property in front of travelers all over the world, but also ensures that rates and availability are up to date across all channels to maximize occupancy and reduce overbookings.

Integrated distribution is key to expanding the visibility and accessibility of your property — and saves lodging operators a lot of time and hassle managing inventory and reservations.

Direct Accessibility

In today’s online-oriented world, hotels need to be accessible for booking wherever their customers are. In addition to putting a property’s live rates and availability in front of travel consumers around the world through integrated distribution channels, cloud PMS also provide direct online booking functionality through a property’s own website.

According to Google survey, 52% of travelers will visit a hotel’s website after seeing them on an OTA, so offering direct online bookings is key to increasing conversions. The easier your direct online booking engine is to use, the higher your conversion rate will be. Features like photo slideshows and upselling/cross-selling options will help your property stand out to prospective guests.

Lodging operators should look for a cloud PMS that offers a mobile-friendly direct online booking engine since more than half of travelers who book travel online now do so via a mobile device.

Generates Demand

Cloud PMS play a fundamental role in generating demand through rate and revenue management and by helping to identify target audiences for marketing purposes.

Rate and Revenue Management:

Price is a major influence on many travelers, so attracting new customers depends a lot on setting rates competitively. Cloud property management systems include flexible rate management features (like quick overrides, rate reports, day-of-week pricing and packages) that allow properties to create and sell the right rates and packages at the right time to the right customers. When integrated with an automated revenue management system, cloud PMS help power dynamic pricing strategies based not only on a property’s historical pricing and occupancy data, but also on market and competitor analysis.

Targeted Marketing:

Successful marketing efforts rely on PMS data — particularly guest profile data. Guest data helps properties identify their most profitable customer segments and design more effective marketing strategies targeted at lookalike audiences.  Cloud PMS make it easy for lodging operators to access and make sense of the data that informs pricing and package setup, advertising campaigns and content marketing efforts that successfully attract new customers.

 

Cloud PMS are well known for the part they play in building customer loyalty by taking operational efficiency and guest service to the next level. But, according to many of our customers, even more beneficial is the integral role cloud PMS play in acquiring new customers through automated distribution, direct online bookings and data transparency. To learn more about how a cloud PMS can help your property win customers, drop us a line.

How a Booking Channel Interface Works with WebRezPro PMS

Lodging operators often ask us how and why WebRezPro Property Management System (PMS) integrates with online distribution channels. They are both great questions, and because they pop up so frequently, we thought it would be helpful to write a blog post about why a property should integrate their online distribution channels with their PMS, and how those interfaces work with WebRezPro.

The Advantages of a PMS + Booking Channel Interface

A direct, two-way connection between a property’s PMS and booking channel partners streamlines online distribution by automating the process of updating rates and availability on OTA/GDS channels and capturing OTA/GDS bookings in the PMS. By automating data exchange between the PMS and channel partners, the interface:

>> Saves time by eliminating the need to update OTA/GDS inventory manually through channel extranets.

>> Saves even more time by eliminating the need to enter OTA/GDS reservations manually into the PMS.

>> Reduces the chance of manual errors.

>> Reduces the risk of overbooking.

How a Booking Channel Interface Works with WebRezPro

There are two ways WebRezPro can connect to a property’s online distribution channels:

>> WebRezPro can connect to separate booking channels (OTAs and GDS channels).

>> Or, WebRezPro can connect to a channel manager, like SiteMinder, myallocator or Seekda, which provides a single point from which to manage inventory and reservations on multiple booking channels.

The decision to connect to separate booking channels (OTAs and GDS channels) versus a channel manager depends on a property’s online distribution strategy.

For example, properties that want to limit third-party distribution to one or two major OTAs, such as Booking.com and/or Expedia, connect WebRezPro to those channels via separate OTA interfaces. Properties that distribute inventory through many channels typically employ a channel manager (as described above) and connect WebRezPro directly to that channel manager through a single channel manager interface.

An interface to a separate booking channel (such as booking.com) works the same way as an interface to a channel manager (such as SiteMinder):

  1. Through the interface, WebRezPro automatically pushes inventory (as determined by the property) to the channel or channel manager. When changes are made to OTA/GDS inventory in WebRezPro, the interface automatically sends those updates to the channel or channel manager.
  2. When a booking is made through a channel partner, the channel or channel manager automatically sends reservation data through the interface to WebRezPro, and availability is automatically adjusted across all channels (in the PMS and on third-party booking channels).

The interface works 24/7, automatically updating inventory and reservation data.

OTA Interface Flowchart

Channel Manager Interface Flowchart

How to Get Connected

WebRezPro connects to numerous OTAs, GDS channels and channel managers and the list is always growing. Have a look at our Interfaces & Partners page to see if an interface to your channel partner is already available (if not, we can probably make it happen).

Then, simply contact your WebRezPro account manager and let them know which channel you want to connect your WebRezPro PMS to. They will let you know of any costs involved, and, along with WebRezPro Product Support, will guide you through the process every step of the way.

We hope this explanation helps clarify how WebRezPro integration with booking channels works. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

If you are interested to learn how integrating WebRezPro PMS with other hotel systems — such as POS, in-room entertainment and payment processing systems — can help save time and streamline operations, take a look at our Quick Guide to PMS Integration for an overview.

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!

Online Hotel Bookings Continue to Rise: How to Get Your Due Share

According to data recently released by the TravelClick North American Distribution Review, online channels continue to lead hotel bookings. In the second quarter 2014, OTAs experienced the largest increase in bookings, up 12 percent over last year, followed by brand.com bookings with a 6.9 percent increase, and then the GDS channel with 2.9 percent. (Read the full article on the Lodging Magazine website.)

While we probably don’t need the data to tell us that online booking channels — OTAs, hotel websites and the GDS — are increasingly popular with travelers, the numbers contribute to hard evidence of the importance of utilizing these channels effectively for maximizing online revenue.

But improving your online revenue takes more than simply offering bookings on your website or signing up with an OTA like Booking.com or Expedia; it takes a coordinated approach where the various channels complement each other and work together.

Optimize Your Website and Online Booking Engine for Mobile

Let’s look at some more figures: data from HeBS Digital, a marketing consultancy, shows that one in eight bookings at independent hotels are made on mobile devices, and more than 42 percent of website visitors come from smartphones and tablets. So, in order to maximize online bookings — and bookings in general —properties should have a mobile-optimized website offering mobile-friendly online bookings to capture this significant (and growing) proportion of mobile bookers.

While large brands with plenty of resources frequently invest in both a mobile site and traditional website, for smaller, independent properties we recommend a website built with a responsive Web design approach. A single responsive website automatically customizes content for all three screens — desktop, tablet and mobile — providing an optimized user experience on each device without requiring you to manage separate sites.

A well-designed, mobile-friendly website that is easy to navigate and use inspires consumers to click (or tap) the “book now” button, whether they are using a desktop computer or a smartphone. Your mobile-optimized online booking engine should also be integrated with your Property Management System (PMS) for automatically centralized reservations.

Work With GDS and OTA Channels

We’ve blogged before about the benefits of working with GDS and OTA channels to expand your property’s global reach and increase online bookings. Choosing a major channel like Expedia or Booking.com is quite a safe bet, or consider taking advantage of the extensive connectivity of a channel manager like Siteminder. Think about who your ideal customers are and where they like to book.

To maximize your property’s exposure (and ultimately online revenue) through GDS and OTA channels, ensure that your listing features a full description, a complete amenities list and pretty pictures, make certain your rates and packages are competitive and current, and work with your OTA account manager to improve your listing’s performance and to stay on budget.

Then, take the logical next step: integrate your online distribution channels with your PMS. Direct integration between your PMS and your GDS and OTA channels will save you a lot of time managing your OTA reservations by centralizing and automating the process through your PMS. It also improves real-time accuracy of availability and rates, maximizing online revenue while greatly reducing the risk of double-booking. WebRezPro PMS offers integrations to 18 online distribution channels (and the list is growing).

Don’t Forget Social Media!

The traveling population has taken to social media like ducks to water and so most lodging operators now consider social media a key sales, marketing and customer service tool. Adding a booking widget to your property’s Facebook page can help turn your social media visitors into paying guests. Make sure your booking widget is integrated with your PMS.

To help entice your Facebook fans to click the “book now” button, actively engage with potential guests through your social media accounts by answering questions, posting eye-catching photos of your property, and responding promptly to any feedback from guests. (You can do this with the time you save by integrating all your online booking channels with your PMS!)

Finding the happy balance: direct bookings vs. OTAs

Online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Booking.com are responsible for a large chunk of online room reservations (more than 20%), but they also demand 10 – 25% commission fees. Do you love ‘em or hate ‘em? While hoteliers understandably tend to resent the sizeable commissions they have to pay for OTA bookings, many are also reliant on OTA’s to increase online visibility and fill rooms last minute that would otherwise go empty.

The consumer reach of an OTA is far and wide thanks to substantial marketing budgets an independent hotelier can only dream of. Websites like Expedia.com, Booking.com, and Hotwire.com have developed powerful brand recognition and appear at the top of Google search results — it’s hard for an independent hotel’s website to compete with that.

Relationships with OTAs can be beneficial and worthwhile; it’s the dependency on OTAs that is detrimental to independent hotels when commission payments are eating into your bottom line.

Finding the happy balance between OTA spend and the rest of your marketing strategy is the key.  The goal is to maximize bookings across all your online channels in order to increase RevPAR.

INCREASE DIRECT BOOKINGS

Due to rate parity agreements, you can’t publicly offer lower room rates than are advertised with your OTA, but you can offer prospective guests other effective incentives to book direct:

  • Free Upgrades and Add-ons: You can offer prospective guests special bonuses for booking directly through your own website, such as a free room upgrade (a better view, a larger room, a balcony…) or free add-ons like a room service order, movies on demand, breakfast, or a drink at the bar.
  • Value-added Packages: Think about packaging rooms with discounted on-site amenities – such as spa services, parking or transport – or tickets to local events and attractions. While the room-only rate is the same as that advertised on your OTA, the value of the package advertised on your own website is much greater.
  • Discounts for Limited Audiences: You can offer lower rates to limited audiences, such as your Facebook fans and repeat guests, in the form of exclusive discounts. Discount codes sent to repeat guests by email  or advertised on your Facebook fan page allow these limited audiences to access special rates through your online booking engine. WebRezPro Property Management System’s flexible rate management features allow hoteliers to easily create packages, add-ons and discounts that can be sold through WebRezPro’s mobile-friendly online booking engine for direct bookings.
  • Recruit at Check-in: When guests check in, offer them a 10% discount if they book direct next time. You can even place a sign at the front desk advertising this offer.
  • Appealing Website & Easy Online Bookings: Ensure your website looks great and makes booking easy. State “Best rate guaranteed.” Your online booking engine (as well as your website) must be easy to use and mobile friendly. Take a look at our web design services.
  • Collect Reviews: Travelers researching hotels on OTAs will see your hotel pop up among other similar properties, motivating them to research their options further by looking for property reviews and the hotels’ own websites. Include a link to Yelp or TripAdvisor in post-stay email communication with guests and ask guests to review their stay.

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR OTA

If you are not maintaining a healthy balance between your OTA bookings and direct bookings, those hefty OTA commissions can hurt… but here’s what you are getting for your buck:

  • >> Increased exposure (on a global scale) – Due to the popularity and brand recognition of OTAs, if your property is listed with an OTA, it will get found.
  • >> Last-minute sales – OTAs are very useful for filling rooms last minute that would otherwise remain unsold.
  • >> The “Billboard Effect” – A study by Google shows that 52% of travelers visit your hotel’s website after seeing you on an OTA… That’s right; OTAs  can actually drive direct bookings.

Here are some tips for optimizing your OTA listings:

  • >> Nice Photos: Are you showing your property in its best light? Include images of the hotel’s exterior, lobby, guest rooms (including bathrooms), and best amenities (like a nice pool shot) to give viewers a visual experience of your hotel. Pick the best photo (exterior or guest room or sparkling pool) for your listing’s profile picture/thumbnail.
  • >> Full Descriptions & Amenity Lists: Make sure the description of your property and list of amenities are complete and highlight all the main assets of your hotel. You can check guest reviews for ideas on what to emphasize, for example, are guests always raving about your pool, the speed of your Wi-Fi, the comfortable beds? Do ensure information is accurate; false promises result in disappointed guests and bad reviews.
  • >> Great Rates: Stay on top of your room rates and packages – rates and packages offered through your OTA must be competitive and current.
  • >> Talk to your OTA Market/Account Manager: They can provide valuable insight and strategies to maximize profitability. From performance reports for listings to information about destination air traffic and airfare, OTA account managers have the knowledge to help smart hoteliers develop successful packages.
  • >> Manage Your Budget: Cap your property’s daily/weekly/monthly OTA spend so you don’t blow your budget in the blink of an eye.

Using an OTA to get a guest the first time is well worth the cost of the commission on the booking; getting that guest to book direct next time is the key to achieving a happy balance.