OTAs a Boon or Bane for the Hospitality Sector? 8 Hacks How Hotels Can Optimize Direct Bookings

Hoteliers often regard Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) as competitors for the direct online booking business. This happens not only because it is far more profitable if guests booked direct but more importantly it saves the hotels an absolute fortune in commissions charges. Whilst OTAs have the marketing monetary means to ensure strong online presence, most hotels even struggle to maintain its position in the higher organic searches.

However, there are ways in which Hoteliers can secure more direct bookings. The following life-saving hacks will do just that:

1. Create a technically sound website – making the booking process easy

If you have booked on any one of the Online Travel Agency’s (OTA’s) platforms, booking a room in a hotel at a location of your choice and at a price point that meets your budget is a snap! Your website is your ‘front door’ to reservations. So why do hotels still have websites that make navigation akin to finding your way through a labyrinth?  

There are key areas to consider with a focus on the customer’s seamless journey from entry to exit.

Firstly, ensure that property images are professionally taken that showcases your hotel in the best possible light. Secondly, the ‘book now’ button emphasize ‘best rate guarantee’, no deposit and free cancellation policies throughout the booking route. The room-booking page itself needs to feature strike-through pricing and the remaining number of rooms available to create a sense of scarcity.

Lastly,and most importantly given the growing number of mobile phone users, your website should be optimized for the mobile traveler. This will convert your website into a lean mean booking machine and tempt those ‘lookers’ into direct bookers.

2. Make your employees ‘tech savvy’ and cater to the needs of the millennials

In 2015, 68% of US adults owned a smartphone1 and both Boomers and Millennial are connected to their mobile phones almost on 24/7. In Europe, there are 240.3 million smartphone users and in India 2016, the country is seeing an explosion of smartphone usage with 204 million users (15% of the population).

The ‘tech savvy’ hotels can now laser in by offering customers with convenient check-ins, control in-room temperature and lighting, have room order and amenities via the guest’s mobile phones.

Topping this with information on city’s events, from coolest restaurant or bar to the latest buzz in town, supporting the growing demand for an ‘authentic experience’ providing the mobile traveler with more conveniences at the edge of their fingertips. These personalized services and touch-points are a guaranteed form to get your guests booking directly with you time after time.

Data Source: 1Pew Research 2015; e-Marketer 2015
Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/494554/smartphone-users-in-western-europe
Source: 3 e-Marketer 2015

3. Use the date that you have at your fingertips

As we move towards being more data-centric, hotels are still falling behind in terms of capitalizing on the huge amount of data acquired via their Property Management System.

Understanding the stay metrics, the number of nights spent, breakfast to dining ratio, bar spends or tickets for an event purchased via the concierge, all these data can help hotels analyze and personalize the experience for their guests.

A lot of information can be gleaned from merely asking the guest the purpose of their stay. Hotels can tailor guest stay experience to encourage return business.

4. Building an email list – an underrated weapon!

The onus is on the hotel to train the Front Desk or Reception to encourage OTA guests to leave their email addresses. The registration card could capture the email address and avoid compromising the guest profile transferred via the Channel Manager interface directly to the hotel PMS.

A surefire way to obtain guest’s email addresses is to run a competition with a free night stay for the winner or to join the database with specific offers provided to loyal subscribers only. This will reduce commission payouts and safeguard revenue on future bookings.

In addition, you could post to the guest a pre and post stay email. The pre-stay email serves as a reminder to the guest a day before their arrival, the weather condition and any events that would interest the guests followed by a post-stay email which can serve as an online guest comment card with special offers to encourage direct booking.

Hoteliers could also incentivize the Front Desk staff on collating email addresses with a bonus payment. This helps to increase guest loyalty with benefits to be reaped by both the Hoteliers and their staff.

5. Loyalty Programs – Start one today!

Booking direct has been the Hoteliers mantra as they look for ways to minimize the steep OTAs commission rates.

Whilst OTAs do a great job in getting guests to the front door of the hotel, having a strong loyalty program can ensure repeat business by the same OTA guest through the hotel’s various incentive schemes.

Where OTAs fail in offering custom deals, Hoteliers can do so via their loyalty programs. As OTAs are reluctant to share customer data, hoteliers can capture crucial information about their guests through the loyalty program and create personalized experiences for their members.

6. Incentivize direct bookings

The ‘Billboard effect’ is a recent trend where guests discover your property on an OTA website.

Granted that OTA’s dominate the meta search for hotels online, however, Google recognizes that 52% of ‘potential customers’ will visit the hotel’s website after finding the property on the OTA’s site.

In Europe, OTAs such as Bookings.com and Expedia are facing restrictions from the European Commission concerning their rate parity policies4. For the European customers, this means a cheaper room rate can be had on the hotel’s website and many end up booking direct with the hotels as a result.

However, this does not apply to other countries where rate parity still exists. Further inducements to enhance guest experience could include other value-added incentives such as free Wi-Fi, free parking, priority check-ins, late check-outs, type of pillows are some of the ways to entice the guest to book directly with the hotel.

Leaving a hotel calling card given at the time of check-in for an OTA guest listing an offer of a discounted room rate on their next visit could sway the guest to move from booking with the OTA to the hotel.

Source: https://www.tnooz.com/article/booking-com-makes-changes-to-rate-parity-clauses-in-europe

7. Embracing social media

While review sites serve as a platform for customer’s comments by way of ‘bouquets’ or ‘brickbats’, more customers are also taking on to social media platforms such Facebook and Twitter to air their experiences.

Hoteliers need to have a ‘hands-on’ approach or miss the opportunity to engage with their customers. Having compelling content on your website with tips, how-to-guides combined with high-resolution images is a great way to interact with your audiences.

There are two other good reasons as to why having fresh content is important, one it is great for SEO as long as the blog is optimized with relevant keywords and links to drive traffic to the site and the second reason being it is an avenue for lead generation.

You can do this by designing a gated-content such as a map of the nearest bars, restaurants, cinemas within the vicinity of the hotel. Viewers are required to share their email addresses before downloading the content.

8. Focus on reviews  – an opportunity to engage with your guests!

One of the best ways for Hoteliers to connect with prospective guests is to join in the conversations on review sites such as Tripadvisor and on OTAs sites like Bookings.com, Expedia, online directories like Yelp.

The more the number of reviews you get, the higher the chance of winning an award (awards have a good algorithm of balancing the good and the bad reviews both), even smaller budget hotel or Guest House companies have done this  very well and have succeeded in creating their own client base by focussing on reviews.

Whether the reviews are good or bad, it helps for other guests to see that you are actively responding to the reviews. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are a veritable source of opportunities to connect with potential guests whenever a fan or follower visiting the city raises a query about best places to stay, eat or drink.

Interact with the fan or follower with tips for best places to visit in the city with a link back to your hotel’s website if they needed a place to stay. Signing up to Google Alert is good practice to keep regular tabs regarding any online mentions of your property.


OTA’s and Hoteliers a marriage of convenience

Whichever way one looks at it, OTA’s are a necessary channel for selling your inventory. They have the marketing muscle and dollars to be in front of the audiences that hoteliers are trying to reach and it would be best to leverage on this referral source to drive incremental revenue.

So instead of trying to beat them at this game, it is best to work on ways to win the customers when they are on your property.