8 Ways to Dominate Your Direct Bookings

By Alex Gaggioli, July 21, 2015

From time to time, we publish content on leading websites in the industry, to share our knowledge with as many people as possible. A version of this article originally appeared on tnooz.

Savvy hoteliers seek ways to increase their slice of the pie. It seems like every new marketing tactic comes with a steep commission structure that makes it less useful. It’s time for hoteliers to make direct bookings the dominant revenue source for their properties. Here are eight strategies.

1) Use a commission-free booking engine

Come on folks, it’s not 2005 anymore. There are many low-cost, well-designed booking engines these days. It simply does not make sense to pay the same high commission on your own direct bookings that you have paid for the past ten years.

For-commission booking engines often promise higher conversions as a justification for these commission costs.  They cite things like “user design studies” or “3rd-party integrations” that justify commissions. But I don’t buy it. There are are plenty of well-designed, flexible, powerful commission-free booking engines out there. (Ours is called mybookings).

Removing commissions from reservations made on your own website is the only way to make your direct channel worth it. It’s time to retire booking engine commission fees.

2) Mobile bookings–duh!

I’m embarrassed bringing this up. This should be a no-brainer by now. Time and time again I see hotel websites with booking engines that are not optimized for mobile devices. (To add insult to injury, some of them charge commissions!). According to a 2014 study, only 45% of hotels accept mobile bookings (TripBarometer). Guests will make 38% of all online bookings from mobile browsers by 2018. This is according to World Travel Market Global Trends’ 2014 report.

Getting your website and booking engine mobile optimized is easier than ever. If your current booking engine is not mobile optimized, switch today to one that is. Every day you wait, you lose up to 38% of your possible direct reservations.

3) The Billboard Effect

By now, we’re all familiar with The Billboard Effect. It’s the phenomena where guests who discover your hotel on an online travel agency (OTA) visit your website. Many end up booking directly with you. Properties who list inventory on OTAs increase their direct reservations by up to 26%. (The Billboard Effect, Chris Evans).

It seems counterintuitive, but you will increase direct reservations by listing inventory on OTAs. It’s smart to list at least a small segment of your inventory on OTAs to enjoy this phenomena. (Even if you don’t want to use OTAs as the primary source of your reservations.)

But, this can be a complicated and time-consuming project. Listing inventory on OTAs is not exactly a user-friendly procedure. Instead, find a channel manager. A channel manager (like our own myallocator) can help you push your vacant inventory to many different OTAs at once. It keeps them all up-to-date with your current vacancy status. This helps prevent overbookings while giving your OTA marketing reach the largest possible.

The more OTAs where you list your inventory, the more direct traffic you will get. Choose a channel manager that has many integrations. Favor those with niche marketplaces that suit your property best.

4) Targeted discounts

Rate parity can be a big bummer, because your cheapest rates should always be on your website. Rate parity is when you agree to publicly sell your inventory for no less than what you sell it for on certain OTAs. This is how some OTAs remove the incentive for guests to book directly with you.

But, there is a way to get around this. Most rate parity agreements do not apply to guests who are part of your brand’s marketing database. This includes social media followers, email subscribers, and customer loyalty program members. You can send private, compelling offers to these individuals. If you do so with enough frequency, this can be a huge driver of direct bookings.

5) Content marketing

Content marketing is a huge time investment. It’s also hard to do well. Content marketing is when you produce compelling content, such as how-to-guides and photo galleries, that inspires guests to book with you. In spite of how tricky this can be, it’s important to tackle for many reasons:

  1. Compelling content is what drives new traffic from search engines. Without it, your SEO strategy will not work.
  2. Content marketing is a great way to get email addresses. You can produce, say, a local tourist guide, or a gallery of high-resolution photography. Then put them behind a content-gate. (A content-gate requires a viewer to share their email address with you before they can view your content). In this way, you can bolster your email marketing list, which you can now use for targeted discounts to get around rate parity.
  3. Content marketing is also what keeps people sticking around on social media. Cute photos of your dog may interest your Facebook followers a bit. But they will be much more interested in, say, a photo-journal of the construction of the new wing of your property, or your new spa. Your Pinterest followers may find memes you found on Facebook funny. But they’ll be more interested in exploring original, inspiring photos from your property.

It may take hiring someone, or even a small team, whose job is to do nothing but produce and share new, compelling content. But it is a great way to increase direct reservations.

6) User-driven design

Your website is a conversion engine that has one goal–to turn website visitors into paid hotel guests. It is not an art canvas for playing music you like or showing off your favorite animated gifs. Put thought into the layout of your website, and the content you publish there.

Your average run-of-the-mill hotel website will have a few low-resolution photos of beds. This isn’t good enough. When you send guests to your website, make sure they enter an environment that inspires them. Make sure it is easy for them to book.

Make sure that you have a bold, colorful call-to-action (CTA) on every page of your website. (CTAs like Book Now, Book, and Reservations all work well). Make sure that your website’s primary navigation is easy to read, and that it doesn’t overwhelm your visitor. Use high-resolution, large photos when you can. Guests decide whether they like your property within .05 seconds of arriving on it. Photos inspire them the quickest, so make sure that you hammer them with awesome imagery as soon as they arrive.

Make your website for your guest, not for you. You’ll turn it into the conversion engine it needs to be to give you more direct reservations.

7) Rope guests into your customer loyalty program

Not every property has a loyalty program. But maybe they should. Most guests like going places where they have had a great time in the past. This is why so many families go to Disneyland year after year. Business travelers return to the same convenient hotels where they get a nice stay for an affordable price. Loyalty programs incentivise them to choose the same property over and over again.

If you start a loyalty program, you can leverage it to get more repeat business. This also gives you a segment of your marketing database that work as “super-guests”. They are more likely to respond well to your new deals and content. They are more likely to respond well to content you share on social media. This can garner that content the views, likes, and shares it needs to gain a wider audience.

8) Respond to online reviews and comments

One of the best opportunities you have to find new guests is to join conversations already taking place about your property. From OTAs like Expedia, to online directories like Yelp, guests from all over the world are talking about you.

More than that, your future guests are likely to visit each of these places when researching your property. The average guest visits 38 different websites when planning a trip–yes, that’s thirty-eight! (Expedia, Compete, 2013). One of them may be your website. The rest? OTAs, directories, online community forums, and other places where guests talk about your hotel.

The nice part about this is that you too have the freedom to hop on in and voice your opinion. Respond with good energy to negative reviews and low ratings. But more importantly, talk about the great things guests can see back on your website. These include discounts, photos, guides, etc. Provide links back to your website when possible.

Set up Google Alerts to email you whenever someone mentions your hotel’s name online. This will help you keep up-to-tabs with the buzz about your property. Be sure to inspect your property listings on OTAs and directories, and respond to reviews when you can. A personal comment from the owner or manager looks good to guests, improving your brand’s perception. Also, those same guests are more likely to visit your website, share their email address, and become a direct customer.

Domination Takes Work

Hey, this takes work, no doubt. But that’s why so many hoteliers fail at increasing their direct revenue–it’s hard! The difficulty of this leaves a huge window open for those willing to put in the work. There are twenty properties in your area. But 19 of them are too busy to deal with all this “online nonsense”. Guess which hotel will benefit from it? That’s right, you–the one who sits down and does the work.

It can be done, and you can do it.

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