Online travel agents (OTAs) make it easier for travelers to find and book places to stay, and now account for over half of gross bookings at US hotels and lodging providers such as hostels and bed and breakfasts.
Of course, there are downsides to OTAs for hotels. In addition to the margin that they lose when bookings are made through OTAs, hotels lose control of key parts of the guest experience — parts at which they would normally have the opportunity to differentiate themselves.
Fortunately, hotels have a number of tools at their disposal to increase direct bookings. Here are eight of them.
1. Provide online booking functionality
Needless to say, hotels realistically need to offer online booking functionality if they want large numbers of travelers to book direct.
But in today’s competitive market, simply offering this functionality isn’t going to be enough. A good website that offers a high-quality booking experience is necessary.
2. Offer a direct booking price guarantee
While OTAs can be very convenient for travelers, the number of options can make it difficult for travelers to ensure that they’re getting the very best rates when they book hotel accommodations. To address this and encourage direct bookings, hotels can offer a direct booking price guarantee under which they agree to match a lower rate offered by a third party, such as an OTA, within a specified time after a guest makes a direct booking.
Some operators even go beyond simple price matching. For example, IHG offers an additional five times the number of rewards points, up to 40,000 points, to guests who find a lower price within 24 hours of a direct booking.
3. Engage in post-check out direct marketing
Hotels generally collect guest contact information, such as email address, from OTAs or guests themselves. Post-check out, this information can be used to send follow-up communications that encourage direct bookings. Emails with offers, such as discounts and special packages, can be particularly effective, but at a minimum, hotels should note the benefits of booking direct, such as a price guarantee.
4. Launch a loyalty program
One of the most effective ways to drive direct bookings is through loyalty programs that reward guests for their stays. This is particularly true for hotels that are popular with business travelers, like Hilton, which has managed to grow its online direct bookings three times faster than other channels.
Of course, loyalty programs aren’t always viable. Large and mid-size hotel chains typically have a far greater ability to create attractive loyalty programs than smaller operators but even smaller operators should explore how they can acknowledge and reward repeat customers even if they don’t build a full loyalty program.
5. Take advantage of on-site marketing opportunities
Hotels have unique opportunities to market themselves because their guests are captive at their locations for extended periods of time. While a high-quality experience is obviously the best kind of marketing for driving repeat business, hotels can take advantage of the time they have with guests inperson to promote future direct bookings.
This can be done in a variety of ways. For instance, signage, flyers and postcards promoting direct bookings. Staff can also be trained to mention to guests that there are benefits associated with booking directly.
6. Use Google My Business
When searching for a place to stay, many travelers will Google hotels that they are interested in, even if they discovered those hotels through an OTA. This presents an opportunity to capture direct bookings that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.
To capitalize on this opportunity, it behooves hotels to add or claim their locations on Google My Business for hotels, which provides hotel listings that are integrated with Google Search and Maps. By doing so, hotels can optimize their listing details, making sure that they are accurate and present their properties in the best light.
Specifically, a Google My Business for hotels account allows hotels to upload photos to their listing, and to specify amenities, highlights, class ratings and, most importantly, a website link. For hotels using Google Hotel Ads, booking links can also be added.
7. Pay for ads, but don’t forget to look beyond Google
Because many travelers search for hotels they’re interested in before making a booking, search advertising can be an effective driver of direct bookings. Here too, promoting the benefits of direct booking, such as price guarantees, in ad copy help capture bookings that would have otherwise been made through OTAs.
But hotels should also look for advertising opportunities beyond Google.
Most popular travel platforms offer paid advertising solutions and some are even launching self-serve ad offerings that make it easy for even the smallest hotel operators to set up targeted campaigns.
Social media is another channel hotels shouldn’t ignore, and they are wise to remember that because organic reach is generally limited, their efforts on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat might need to be supported by paid spend.
8. Offer all-inclusive packages and experience-based offerings
Hotels can take advantage of consumer willingness to spend money on experiences — the so-called experience economy — to encourage direct bookings by creating all-inclusive vacation packages and experience-based offerings, such as classes, events and tours.