As more intermediaries get between you and your guests and technology increasingly digitizes the guest experience, building direct relationships with guests has never been more challenging or important for hotels and brands.
So how can hotels keep on top of these trends and utilize new tools and technology to drive a higher volume of lower-cost, higher yield bookings? Here are some key strategies to consider:
1. Diversify distribution
Experiment with listings and advertising on channels like metasearch, Instant Booking on TripAdvisor, Book on Google and Trivago Express Booking, where commissions are lower than OTAs, and they pass the booking on to your hotel, enabling you to manage the guest relationship almost from the beginning.
2. Calculate and compare the costs of acquisition
Analyze the costs of each channel and the value of the guests they generate in terms of rate, length of stay, total spend and profitability. Direct bookings on your website may appear to be highly profitable compared to other channels, but consider the costs of cost-per-click bidding and other expenditures used to attract and service this business. Once you understand where your greatest profits are, invest more resources in these channels.
3. Manage relationships with OTAs
You’ve heard it before, but part of the reason OTAs have become so powerful is because hotels agree to terms that are not in their best interest. Hotels give OTAs liberal access to inventory and allow them to offer lower rates than those available through direct channels. It’s critical to control both the price and the volume of rooms you make available to OTA channels, to reduce dependency, to review OTA contracts carefully and to negotiate the most favorable terms possible. Most importantly, ensure that OTAs never undercut your direct-booking rates.
4. Optimize Your Website and Booking Engine
Your website and booking engine should be user-friendly, easy to navigate and feature helpful content, visuals and local information to help travelers plan trips. Include a best rate guarantee, and advertise the benefits of booking direct. Consider adding a live chat service to give site visitors instant answers to their questions.
Many hotels have adopted sales tactics from OTAs to increase conversion, such as adding messages to booking engines about the number of rooms available and how many travelers have recently booked. Other hotels display price comparison widgets such as Triptease’s Price Check and The Hotels Network’s Conversion Suite.
5. Be mobile friendly
As more travelers turn to mobile devices to research trips, communicate with hotels and share experiences, your hotel needs to adapt with the times. This means ensuring that your website is mobile friendly and giving guests the option to communicate with your hotel and provide feedback on mobile devices.
6. Focus on guest service
Expedia, Priceline and Google are technology companies that invest their money in marketing and technology; they can’t compete with hotels when it comes to customer service. The better your service and the higher the quality of the guest experience, the more likely your guests will come back, book direct and recommend your hotel. This includes ensuring that phone lines are adequately staffed in order to capture all those booking inquiries from smartphones.
7. Collect, Analyze and Act on Data
The volume of data available related to traveler behavior and preferences is virtually unlimited, but you’ll need to invest in tools and training to make sense of it. Tools like ReviewPro will help you aggregate data, analyze it for actionable insight, and use it to personalize marketing campaigns and the guest experience.
Display review scores and guest survey scores on your website to show transparency, increase traveler trust and drive a higher conversion rate. Send in-stay surveys to allow service recovery before guests check-out and post-stay surveys to identify what guests liked/disliked about their stay and prioritize operational and service improvements. Use a case management tool to automate follow-up on important direct feedback to deliver better guest experiences and exceed expectations.
8. Engage with guests and encourage brand advocacy
Use social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to engage with guests and invite them back. Done well, you can even mobilize brand advocates and influencers who represent a cost-effective and powerful way to spread the word about your hotel and encourage direct bookings.