As the hotel industry continues to be more competitive and OTAs strive for Google real estate dominance, hoteliers are finding it more difficult to differentiate themselves from the competition and drive direct bookings. With the emergence of new technologies and creative marketing strategies, independent hotels are able to not only compete head-to-head with OTAs but also attract travelers more effectively during the travel research and planning stage. It is not enough to just have a vanity website; proactive marketing is the key to persuading new guests to stay at your hotel and keep your returning guests loyal. According to a survey conducted by the digital market research company, Toluna, nearly 40% of user decision originates from rational thinking which relates to price, specials and reviews of the hotel whereas 60% of user decision relies on the user’s emotional side which is based on visuals like photos of the rooms as well as the descriptions of the amenities offered and the central location of the hotel. Based on this research, hoteliers need to better engage visitors to their website and turn it into a powerful sales tool that will convert visitors into guests. Here are a few helpful tips that will improve your website’s conversions and ultimately generate direct bookings.
Design for Conversion
Although it seems intuitive, many hotel marketers forget to design their website with little to no thought of what their guests would want. Before laying out how you would like your website to look, make sure you are always keeping your guests in mind. For example, think about what information the guest would find useful and valuable during their trip and which attractions, amenities, and rooms to depict that would influence the user to book with you instead of one of your competitors. Build the foundation of your website based on user-driven design, which means designing for the end user in mind that would encourage him or her to take the action of booking with you. Think of your website as a cash register; it has one goal which is to turn site visitors into paid hotel guests. In the travel industry today, potential guests have many options as to where they can book your hotel, whether it be through an OTA, Google Instant Booking and even a metasearch engine. In order to ensure they are booking direct, it is your responsibility as a hotel marketer to design a website that will inspire visitors to want to book with you. So how do you inspire the traveler? One, is through visual storytelling by depicting high resolution photography of the property and the surrounding area. Another is by telling your hotel story in a compelling and engaging fashion. It is also vital that your website is responsive and designed for all devices to fit to all screen sizes. Designing a user-friendly site will improve conversions and ultimately encourage more direct reservations. Keep these best practices in mind when you decide it is time for a redesign.
Use OTAs to Your Advantage
Hotels have a love and hate relationship with OTAs. Although hotels strive for direct bookings, there is no question that visibility on OTAs can give hotels far greater exposure. Having a presence on big OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia can be a good thing for many hotels as it extends the reach to more international guests. How you utilize these OTAs to your advantage is what will determine your success in driving direct bookings. OTAs are especially important when attracting visitors from other countries. Since your Search location is set on Google, there will be different results for users around the world. On the other hand, when your hotel is listed on an OTA, there will be greater consistency in how you rank on these sites. This ensures that maximum travelers from around the world find your hotel. According to 2014 Google Travel Study, OTAs are one of the sites that users visit during the research and planning phase. 40% of leisure travelers and 45% business travelers use OTAs sometime during the travel planning phase. In the same study, it was reported that 50% of corporate/business tourists and 33% of leisure travelers prefer to book through an OTA. With that said, find the ‘happy balance’ between direct bookings and OTA spend. Even if a traveler searches on an OTA for your hotel, entice him or her to book direct on your vanity website by offering incentives like complimentary room upgrades (balcony view or larger room), or complimentary add-ons (room service order or breakfast). Also, remember to tell your hotel’s story effectively through visuals and content.
Establish Value Above All
Ultimately the determining factor that would make a prospective guest book with you over your competitor or book through an OTA is the value you initially establish with that guest. Don’t try to sell your hotel but rather sell the destination. When you successfully establish value through your hotel’s story then price becomes a secondary thought. Metasearch engines like Trivago are mainly targeted for prospective guests who are price-driven. During the point of purchase, it is your chance as the hotelier to steer these price-driven guests to book direct by establishing value. Here are a few ways you can establish value through your hotel’s website: One, promote Value-Added Packages on your website. These value-added packages include specials like packaging a room with discounted concert/show tickets. Even though the room-only rate is the same as the one promoted on the OTA, the value of the package with the concert tickets would persuade the prospective guest to book direct with you. Another thing you can do is encourage the guest to check-in on Facebook and offering a 10% discount for their next stay. This would entice former guests to want to not only want to stay with you again but to make direct reservations on your website. Lastly, you may want to state “Best Rate Guarantee” on your website to appeal to visitors and explain why your hotel is offering the best rate with the added specials and packages.
By implementing these tips to your own hotel marketing strategy and showcasing your hotel’s website as the most powerful sales tool, you can begin to see the conversion rates improve and direct bookings increase. How impactful is your website as a sales tool in generating revenue?