The acceleration of technology over the last decade has left no industry untouched. With an explosion of online travel agencies (OTAs) creating both opportunities and threats for independent hotels. The process that many customers now use to choose and book a stay away from has changed beyond all recognition. There are still ways to encourage direct bookings vs OTAs and plenty of reasons to do so, which we will explore in this article.
On the one hand, OTAs offer a unique channel for promotions and market access. The volume of traffic they command gives independent hotels the opportunity to get offers out in front of thousands of potential customers who might never otherwise encounter their service.
On the other hand, competition is often ferocious. Many independent hotels find this becomes a disheartening “race to the bottom”. The only winners in this scenario are those willing to cut their profit margins to the bone. With some operators apparently willing to boost occupancy at almost any cost.
The obvious benefit of direct bookings is the fact you won’t have to pay a commission to a third party. It’s all between you and the customer, giving you far more scope to make a healthy profit. Also, you have full access to your customers’ data, which otherwise would stay with the OTA. Allowing you to get back in touch with your guests.
With this in mind, let’s explore some tried-and-tested ways that you can boost your direct bookings and drive up profits for the months ahead.
User-test your website
Did you know that up to 80% of hotel reservations are made from mobile devices? Despite this statistic, many hotel websites make it difficult to make an online reservation from a phone. User test yours to make sure that you can easily and quickly make a reservation from your smartphone – if you’re not getting as many direct bookings are you would expect, this could be a prime reason.
Customers are increasingly impatient. If your website isn’t properly optimised for mobile or lacks a touchscreen-friendly booking engine, then they will abandon their attempt to reserve a room at the first hurdle. Similarly, test that your website loads quickly. As many as 49% of visitors will abandon your website if it doesn’t load within 8-10 seconds.
Finally, the phone number on your website should be a clickable link for mobile users. So that they can call you with one touch rather than having to dial the number manually. Again, the easier you make it for people to get in touch with you, the more calls you will get. It sounds simple, and it is… But it’s surprising how many don’t take this basic step of testing their website as a customer would have to use it.
Make sure that you check your website from a user perspective regularly. At least once per month – and it should also be the first thing you do if you notice a sudden fall in direct bookings that wasn’t expected.
Make full use of Google My Business
Speaking of resources that are often not taken full advantage of. Have you registered your hotel on Google My Business? It’s free, and it’s packed with a host of tools that you can use to help you get more visitors to your website. Ultimately, more direct bookings as a result. Not only will visitors to your area see a full detailed listing on your business when they search for “hotels” within Google Maps, but you can also display special offers, weekly menu updates, photos, and much more.
Again, although this tool is available to all hotels, it’s surprising how many don’t take full advantage of it. Make your Google My Business page a “favourite” on your browser and set a weekly reminder to add new content to it. Respond to reviews that you receive; even negative ones can be turned to your advantage with a little skill.
Keeping your Google My Business page updated with seasonal opening times, latest menus and special offers will boost the overall traffic your website receives. As well as increasing it’s SEO ranking (increasing the likelihood of getting to that coveted front-page-of-Google result for certain keywords!)
Take advantage of changing habits by using Influencer Marketing
People’s leisure habits have changed remarkably over the last decade. In 2011, traditional TV consumed over 4 hours of time per day on average, whereas social media consumed just 90 minutes. By 2021, it is estimated that this statistic will have been turned on its head. With traditional TV relegated to less than one hour per day, and social media accounting for over 3 hours!
You can take advantage of this change by utilising Influencer Marketing. This method of getting your hotel’s brand in front of a new audience allows you to micro-target very specific demographics. It can often be surprisingly cost-efficient when compared to other forms of advertising. Best of all, you can tie in a special offer to your influencer marketing campaign. This allows you to accurately measure the exact return on investment.
This marketing route lifts you right out of the run-of-the-mill comparisons that afflict OTA websites and allows you to package a stay at your hotel as an experience in its own right, rather than just a convenient stopping-off point to grab a quick sleep before heading out again.
Capture the email address of drop-in visitors – and turn them into repeat customers!
Did you know that a major source of direct bookings could be literally walking in (and out) of your front door as you’re reading this? Every day, people use your reception and bar/restaurant for business meetings, as a place to catch up with their emails or grab an after-work drink with colleagues. By utilising WiFi marketing, you can capture their email address and entice them to return with some carefully selected offers.
Want to learn more about WiFi Marketing? Get in touch.
These drop-in visitors could be your best source of direct bookings, as they already know the location of your hotel. They have had a chance to sample your friendly, efficient service. Thus, they are more likely to be tempted to return by an offer of a free extra night or a free room upgrade. Best of all, when you email these previous visitors, you are not competing with anyone else for their attention. You have direct access to their inbox, and a carefully-crafted email campaign can be used to woo them to return again, and again!
Bringing it all together
We’ve explored four different methods, from basic to advanced, for helping balance the volume of direct vs. OTA bookings your hotel receives. While the proliferation of online competition might appear disheartening for independent hotel owners, there are ways you can turn the tide in your favour. Which combination will you choose to make your next year more profitable and rewarding?
Stay tuned for more articles to help you grow your business. Or join our email list to make sure you never miss out.