Distribution management remains one of the most important things a property has to oversee in 2017. While we believe a good distribution strategy is a healthy mix of third-party distribution partners, we want to focus on how properties can win more direct bookings. Depending on your property, you may have varying opinions about direct booking strategies and their importance to your revenue and brand.
Regardless of your property type, direct bookings (should) offer higher profit margins and an opportunity to connect with your guests.
There are an endless amount of reasons why you should care about direct bookings, but we’ll outline a few of the most important ones. OTAs are great in many ways, but in others, they infringe on your business. Creating a healthy distribution mix is a never-ending battle, and you should revisit your distribution management strategy on a regular basis.
When guests book direct, you and your property are able to control the guest’s experience in its entirety. If a guest books on an OTA, the OTA in large part is controlling the pre-arrival process. The OTA sends the booking confirmation, and if it’s a large OTA, they will continue to try and cross-sell the guest until long after their trip is over (i.e. car rentals, activities, guides, future trips etc.).
If the guest books direct, the only communications they’ll receive about their stay is from you. This allows you to maintain a stronger hold on your brand and messaging. You know more about your property and destination than any OTA and you can use that to your advantage.
As the property owner or manager, you have the ability to offer insider information and better traveling advice. An OTA can offer cookie-cutter information based on location and simple demographic data, but you understand the nuances of your location more deeply.
In today’s market, we see consumers becoming brand loyal to OTAs like Expedia or booking.com. With “member-only” pricing and branded loyalty programs, it’s not surprising that travelers turn to OTAs when researching and booking travel.
Your property can combat this by creating your own loyalty program and offering direct booking perks, like including breakfast or another extra amenity. OTAs have large and intense marketing campaigns to target people during every stage of their booking process. An independent property doesn’t have the time or resources to operate at the same scale, but you can have an easy-to-use website, blog posts, and active social media to strengthen your online presence.
An obvious reason to focus on direct bookings is because they’re commission-free. Depending on the OTA, the commission charge could be above 20% or it could be as low as Airbnb’s 3%. Recently, an article called OTA fees the steal of the century in favor of the OTA. The argument is that the commission fees are used to directly market properties.
It was an interesting take on how the commission fees are actually used. But, for any property, if you’re comparing the same exact reservation, you’d rather it was booked direct rather than on an OTA. Direct bookings = more money.
However, the benefit of an OTA is discovery and bring properties reservations they may not have received without the added distribution. As we’ve mentioned before, a healthy distribution mix is necessary, but you need to put yourself in the best position possible when a guest visits your website.
Gaining more direct bookings in 2017 isn’t much different than getting them in 2016. The internet remains the most powerful and efficient way to obtain new bookings and that’s not changing. The “too long; don’t read” version of this would be to get a good looking and easy to use website, fill it with content and post it to social media. But, if you’re interested in more of the details, continue reading.
No matter where a guest is in their travel journey, whether it’s dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, or sharing, you want to make sure their online experience is strong. This means having a beautiful website that’s easy to navigate and understand. Don’t hide important information like room types, amenities, and most importantly the book now button. It should be painfully obvious how and where to check availability and book a stay.
Keep your website updated with regular content on a blog. As you probably know by now, Google and other search engines prioritize sites that are updated regularly. New content gains attention from search engines and boosts the entire website’s performance.
Blog-like content can also help convince travelers to stay at your property. Content can often help paint a complete picture of what your property has to offer. On an OTA, your property’s listing will look like every other listing.
One of the major advantages of being an independent property is that you and your staff are extremely knowledge about your property and usually travel in general. Big, branded hotels have employees who are passionate about travel and know a lot, but we find there’s a different level of passion with independent hoteliers and property owners. Translate that knowledge and passion into shareable content. It will pay off in the long run.
Retargeting ads are one of the OTAs most widely-used marketing tactics. Follow their lead and make sure you create your own retargeting campaigns to remain competitive.
There are several ad distribution companies that you can use to essentially “follow” your customers around the web. You can install a few lines of code on your website that will then track all the people who visit. Then it will display your ads to those same people on different websites around the web and keep your property top of mind.
Facebook also allows you to do this with their pixel. You can advertise to people who visit your website and track those who booked because of it with their conversion-based ads. During the dreaming and planning stage of travel, potential guests will visit several different websites and likely check out many different options. Retargeting ads allow you to showcase your property.
These ads will help increase direct bookings because they should link directly to your website or proprietary booking engine. You never want a guest to visit your website and end up booking on an OTA. While it’s your job to make sure your direct booking offer is more attractive, retargeting ads help seal the deal.
There are an endless amount of different strategies and tactics to increase direct bookings. Large hotel brands, like Marriott, have been pushing direct bookings hard in the past few years. Independent hotels and properties can fight back the same way using pretty basic tactics. While it might be time-consuming and require some creativity, but it will be well worth it when you start driving more direct bookings.