HOW TO STOP ONLINE TRAVEL AGENTS FROM TAKING ALL YOUR PROFIT
The OTA's (Online Travel Agents) such as Bookings.com, Laterooms and Trivago provide a steady and essential stream of bookings for many hotels. However the commissions paid can be high and all hotel managers should be looking at ways to reduce the OTA dependency to improve direct sales & improve margins.
DSM have worked with many hotels in the area and we are often asked "So what can hotels do to improve direct bookings?"
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
OTA's have huge marketing resources available to them and with 1000's of hotels on their sites they dominate the search rankings. Many hotels do not do any form of SEO themselves and this is a missed opportunity, combined with a strong content strategy you can compete and help drive traffic through to your website. When carrying out SEO ensure you research your keywords carefully to highlight good opportunities, it may be a case you can compete for a particular event coming up in your town.
Content is absolutely critical to a number of the strategies detailed in this article, good content gives users a real reason to visit your website (even when not looking to book) and to keep on coming back. After identifying your SEO keywords make sure you plan your content far in advance, a good ranking position takes time to establish so if you are targeting an event don't create the content a few days before.
Make sure the content on your website is consistent across all of the OTA's, you do not want to lose a booking to an OTA because they mention the free parking instead of you.
Ease of Booking
You want to make sure that there are no obstacles stopping your guests making a booking through your website. If you have ever used any of the OTA's to book you will know how easy their booking process is and this should be a real consideration when selecting a system. It is well worth evaluating your booking process to see if there are any bottlenecks and if your conversion can be improved.
This should be a given but make sure someone is answering all the calls at reception, if a customer wants to book but cannot get through its either a lost sale completely or they will book through a different method.
I debated including this as we have written a lot on the importance of being mobile friendly but I cannot overstate the importance. Our hotel clients have more mobile & tablet traffic then any other sector we work in and you simply must make sure your website is responsive and optimised correctly for mobile traffic - this includes your booking system. It is quite likely your website sees more traffic from a mobile & tablet device than a desktop.
Ensure your guests & potential guests have a positive experience of your brand, one of the reasons people book through OTA's is trust. If your website looks unprofessional & you have no social presence you are missing a brilliant opportunity for people to engage with your brand and build trust. Have conversations with your current, past & future guests on social media which will help them engage with your brand before, during and after their stay - unique interesting content will make this much easier.
It doesn't stop once you take the booking, you can use Social Wifi to encourage guests to engage with your social channels once they are at the hotel. After a guest checks out ask them to leave you a TripAdvisor review to help build further trust.
According to TripAdvisor over 260 million unique users plan their stay on TripAdvisor every month! TripAdvisor allows hotels to advertise directly on their listings along with the rate. The advertising platform is called TripConnect and it allows you to directly compete against the OTA's by placing bids. If you have positive reviews this is a really easy way to get a few more direct bookings through your website.
On more competitive terms or keywords where you need immediate results Pay Per Click (PPC) is a fantastic opportunity to compete with the OTA's. Google's Adwords platform needs careful management to highlight the best opportunities and not waste budget but is a great tool as part of a strategy to improve direct bookings.
Even if a guest has booked through an OTA you can still win them back for their next booking. Make sure you collect as many of your guest's email address as you can and send out your content through an email marketing strategy.
With email you can be really clever and set up automation to wish them Happy Birthday or send them a booking reminder a few days before they usually book. The more data you can collect the more targeted you can be in your campaigns, perhaps the same band or event a guest came to see is back in town?
Be careful not to send too much out as it will annoy your guests and they will unsubscribe but it can be a very powerful tool in educating & engaging guests which will ultimately lead to future direct bookings.
Rate Parity & Strategy
Make sure your site is offering the best offer a guest can find. With rate parity this means you frequently cannot offer a discount further than what the OTA's are advertising but make sure you are at least as good and preferably better. Try removing certain dates from the OTA's if you know you won't have a problem filling the hotel that weekend or offer a better rate for a non refundable advanced booking.
Improving direct bookings is a continual process and will take time. These strategies hopefully have given you some good ideas to get started, get this right and reap the rewards of improved margins and happier guests.
If you have any questions or what to discuss further call us on 0345 500 4600