When online travel agencies such as Expedia and Priceline were first introduced, many hotels viewed them as a saving grace. These websites provided a conduit for property owners to fill rooms that might have otherwise not generated revenue. What many hoteliers didn't predict was that these deals sites would become so popular that customers stopped reserving rooms in other ways.
This has created a situation where hotels have to compete with their rooms on OTAs. Hotels don't want to pay OTA commissions for travelers that might have booked direct. They also know they can't advertise rates for less than what's on the deals site because of rate parity agreements. For some hotels, this has resulted in more and more moving to these distribution channels. But it doesn't have to be this way.
Here are three tips our hotel management experts devised for driving more customers to book direct, instead of defaulting to the OTA.
Wrangle In Visitors With Smart Website Layout and Design
Many times when customers shop for deals, they find a handful of properties in a similar price range. Their next step is often to navigate to the individual hotel websites. This is your big opportunity to convince them to book directly through your website.
The first and most obvious (yet surprisingly overlooked) best practice is to put your most attractive rooms front and center on the homepage. When customers book on deals sites, they often assume they will get the most basic room you have to offer. So if they see what they would miss, it might be enough to convince them to pay the extra amount needed for the better room. Use professional photos that show the room's best features, whether that's the view, a huge soaking tub, or the square footage — whatever generally "sells" customers on the room.
You should make it extremely obvious where site visitors can browse availability and book online. Your web booking engine should enable customers to view availability in real-time and book their room immediately. These systems should integrate with your property management technology, so all reservations are updated in real-time.
Finally, you should prominently display your discounts and packages. Rate parity requirements only apply to offers for the same room. Even if you can't offer a lower price for that same room, you can provide more value than the savings with add-ons.
Use Online Reviews To Send Them To Your Website
Another common step in the evaluation stage on OTAs is to browse online reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and the like. This presents yet another opportunity for hotel operators to jump in and drive direct website bookings, rather than sending them back to the OTA.
Hotel operators should respond to every comment possible that users post. Let's say someone comments on how much they liked the room layout, view, or another feature. The manager could respond by thanking them for feedback and providing a link to their customer loyalty program. Or, in a scenario where the customer was less than satisfied, they can acknowledge them again for the feedback and offer a discount for their next booking. This shows customers you care and are willing to take steps to provide them with more value.
Use Snail Mail To Send Deals To Your Best Customers
For many industries, direct marketing through snail mail has gone the way of the dinosaurs. But many hotel marketers say for hotel loyalty programs they still provide a significant return. This could be because postcards make you think about travel. When they're combined with a deal, it could be just the thing they need to get the ball rolling on their next trip. These postcards can also be hung up on a bulletin board or fridge as a constant reminder.