Online travel agencies (OTAs) have enjoyed huge growth over the past few years, with the majority of consumers now booking hotels and accommodation via third-party sites.
However, new research from Kalibri Labs suggests that consumer favour could in fact be be shifting, reverting back to brand hotel sites rather than OTAs.
In the analysis of the period of May to December 2016, when the hotels in question ran ‘book direct’ campaigns, Kalibri found a faster rate of growth in hotel site bookings compared to the OTA channel. This was also the case in terms of both revenue and room nights when compared to year before, (and prior to the direct booking campaigns being launched).
So, what makes consumers want to book direct rather than via a third party? Here are some examples of hotel websites I think are getting it right.
As one of the most well-known hotels in London, the Ritz largely relies on its prestigious reputation to drive bookings. This means that people might be more inclined to visit its website as a first port of call anyway (as opposed to a third party site). However, the Ritz still encourages direct bookings as often as possible, immediately capturing the user’s attention with a list of benefits (including lowest rates and free calls and internet).
Elsewhere, it sets out types of rooms and suites clearly, showcasing the opulence and luxury of the hotel with large and prominent imagery.
The search and booking process itself is quick and easy, with prominent reviews also being used to spur on consumers and encourage bookings.
This is perhaps surprising for a luxury hotel like the Ritz, whereby a high level of service is presumed to be standard. However, its inclusion shows how important the advocacy and influence of past customers can be – regardless of hotel heritage.
A relatively new luxury hotel in London, Rosewood uses full-screen imagery to emphasise its stunning exterior and interior design.
Like the Ritz, it also encourages direct bookings, but instead of simply emphasising the obvious reasons – it uses ‘additional benefits’ such as complimentary room upgrades and late check-outs.
Again, the search and booking process is clear and concise, with the results page conveniently listing various upgrades or alternative hotel packages.
As well as encouraging consumers to spend more, this is also good for helping people to discover other services Rosewood can offer such as its wellness spa and cocktail bar and restaurant.
Bellagio Las Vegas
Bellagio hotels offers one of the most user friendly site designs, with a drop down search feature making it super easy to browse availability and book. Alongside this, it places a huge emphasis on value, luring users in with its ‘best rate guarantee’ and offers such as a ‘two free complimentary buffets’ when you book by a certain date.
According to Kalibri, loyalty is becoming a powerful driver for direct bookings, with the study finding that between four and six of every 10 room nights booked were driven by loyalty members.
Bellagio is one hotel that heavily focuses on this, promoting the benefits and perks of its ‘M Life Rewards’ programme across its website.
As well as promoting access to special room rates, the hotel effectively showcases the variety of places where its points can be used.
Cervo is a boutique hotel in the ski resort of Zermatt, Switzerland. Along with an impressive site design, which emphasises its cosy and charming nature and mountain-side proximity, I have chosen it because it uses a number of tactics typically seen on online travel agencies.
For example, it uses urgency throughout its search and booking process, telling users when there only a limited number of rooms available.
Similarly, it tells you how many other people are currently looking at the room. This can effectively instil a fear of loss into the user, prompting them to click through and book rather than abandon.
However, if a user chooses not to complete the booking, the site will also ask if you want to save your search for a later date – which is another clever way to capture data and retarget potential customers.
Earlier this year, Premier Inn was named the world’s strongest hotel chain by Brand Finance. The reasons were a combination of good value, convenience, and emotionally-driven marketing – features which are all emphasised on its website.
The website promotes family-friendly stays and comfy beds, but of course, this would all prove irrelevant without a fast and intuitive UX – which it also happens to deliver.
As a nationwide chain, location-based features are important, and its responsive search bar and map makes it easy for users to find a hotel in the right place.
Similarly, the hotel search results show users flexible rates as well other useful nuggets of information like whether a hotel has new rooms or is a special ‘hub’ version, which are centrally located in select cities.
To prompt users further, Premier Inn highlights a TripAdvisor rating for each hotel which promotes a sense of authenticity and trust.
Artist’s Residence, a small boutique chain in locations including London and Brighton, uses its website as an extension of its hotels’ eclectic design.
In contrast to a lot of hotel sites, it is decidedly minimal, made up of a combination of illustrations and photos. And unlike the sales-driven and urgent tone of hotels like Cervo, it all feels very understated.
There is only one promise of a ‘best price guarantee’ to ensure customers that booking direct is the best option.
But is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, as there is enough imagery and information to entice interest.
What’s more, users are prompted to search room availability in multiple places on the site, plus the offer of flexible dates and further hotel information at the booking stage.
This example also shows the importance of having a website that mirrors the hotel’s values.
After all, it’s perhaps the case that customers are looking at Artist’s Residence specifically for its boutique style and quirky nature, so a website that is both urgent and boastful could end up putting more people off than getting them to book.
So, what can these examples tell us? Here is a summary of some key characteristics that consumers might favour over an online travel agency.
- Promote direct bookings. The Ritz and Rosewood make it clear why users should book directly, and this is likely to increase confidence in both new and loyal customers. Signposting the benefits alongside reviews and rating on the booking page might also be effective for driving conversions.
- Upsell hotel extras. Online travel agencies don’t have the opportunity to include as much content about hotel extras, such as spas or food and drink facilities. This is one area hotel sites can make the most of, particularly when it comes to upselling on hotel packages like afternoon tea.
- Drive loyalty programs. If there’s one reason to use a hotel website rather than an OTA, it’s being able to make use of special hotel offers and discounts. Bellagio is a good example of how to promote this, using its ‘M Rewards’ scheme to drive bookings.
- Copy OTA tactics. Personalisation is a key reason online travel agencies tend to be so popular. Through data, these sites are able to guide users towards relevant results, with a focus on value and choice. However, hotel sites can steal some tactics also used by OTA’s, such as creating a sense of urgency and social proof.
- Make it convenient. Factors like location can help determine whether or not someone books a hotel, so increasing focus on this can also be effective. With area guides or locational maps, for instance.
- Create your own identity. Lastly, Artist’s Residence show how a hotel website can be just as important for building or furthering a brand’s identity – not just as a vehicle to drive bookings.