A common challenge that many independent hotels continually face is capturing direct bookings and preventing OTAs from not only taking away that potential revenue, but also a direct relationship with the guest. There’s no question that competitive pricing offered by OTAs have made it much more difficult for independent hotels to drive direct bookings on their website. One study, however, has shown that 53% of rates are cheaper on a hotel’s website when compared to OTAs.
Contrary to this study, travellers still have the assumption that rates are much lower on third party sites and therefore, immediately search on Expedia or Booking.com to make their reservations. According to Tnooz, of the 1,000 travellers surveyed, 75% of them between the ages of 18 to 64 believe that the best hotel rates are found on a third party site. This is probably the case because of how these OTAs market themselves as having the best rates guaranteed. Travelers who tend to book with OTAs are accustomed to the simplicity of the booking process and prefer the familiarity of the company name.
In order to recapture these consumers, an effective marketing strategy needs to be put in place that incorporates the three marketing tactics outlined below. The key is to provide enough value to online visitors so that they do not consider the option of booking elsewhere. Give users what they want at first glance, and take the guesswork out of whether your hotel offers the best rate or not.
Having a strong online presence that appeals to users is just one part of the equation. Even more important is the need to provide guests confidence that they are making the right choice when it comes to booking direct with you over an OTA.
Promote best rate guarantee
Many consumers are unaware that hotels either offer the same exact price as the OTAs or lower for the same room and dates and still think they are getting a better deal on an OTA than if they they were to book direct on the hotel’s website. As a hotelier, it is up to you to clearly promote that booking direct is the best option. Give users reassurance that they are receiving the best rate guarantee when they book direct with you. Make it clear that if they found a cheaper rate on third party site, you would match that rate and even add more incentives to further encourage them to book on your hotel’s site.
Find a booking engine that has the automated capability of pulling up rates from OTA sites to compare to the rate you have available on your site. This will prevent users bouncing off your site to check rates on third party sites like an OTA or a metasearch engine like Trivago. Another thing it does, is leave users reassured that your hotel is indeed promoting the best rate guaranteed on your hotel’s website. Making rates apparent on your site allows users to stay on your site longer and make a decision without having to research rates on other sites. If an OTA does offer lower rates than your site, find a booking engine that is capable of automatically matching the OTA’s cheaper rate. To highlight that your hotel offers the best rate, prominently display it next to the booking widget. A good example of this is the Pickwick Hotel site.
Capture direct bookings with exclusive perks
To further entice consumers to book direct on your site, why not offer perks that would only be exclusive to those who book direct? An easy way to this is by promoting a special that offers something more than just a cheaper rate. Take advantage as an independent hotel of offering specials to guests. Promoting a special provides value that no third party site can really offer. Specials or perks you can offer guests to encourage them to book direct can be something like adding complimentary WiFi, a complimentary room upgrade, free breakfast for 2, late check-in/out or free shuttle service to or from the airport.
Once you’ve developed a special that guests care about, then prominently highlight that on your website. Here’s a good example from Dude Rancher Lodge’s website, a hotel located in Billings, Montana. Notice the promotion is next to the booking widget that reminds the user that booking direct is the way to go, not only because the hotel will match a lower rate listed on an OTA site but the special also offers free breakfast for 2.
Be sure to promote your specials on all your social media channels as well to further get the word out. In addition, use paid advertising like Google Adwords or/and Facebook ads to make your special even more visible to travel consumers. There will be times when a consumer may find lower rates than your hotel site, but a an effective way to recapture the user’s attention to book direct on your site is by offering added value through specials like the ones I’ve mentioned here.
Simplify the booking journey
Simplifying the booking journey for users is must-do tactic to get travellers to book on your site instead of going to an OTA to make their reservations. Independent hotel sites have a leg up when it comes to a simple booking process over OTAs. This is because when booking on an OTA you immediately notice there are plenty of options to book from airfare, transportation, hotel, and vacation packages. This overload of information can be disruptive to consumers merely wanting to book a hotel.
As an independent hotel, use that as an advantage to make the booking process on your site quick, easy and user-friendly on all devices. Simply go through your site’s booking process and see if your site is easy to navigate. Do you find that your site has way too much unnecessary information? For example, do you have a lot of “fluff” in your description of the rooms? If so, be sure to remove redundant descriptions and give users a shorter more accurate description of your rooms. Put more time and effort in providing value within your content.
Don’t scare your users away with a complicated booking process that will make them abandon your shopping process. Instead, research a booking engine that describes the room and amenities in a straightforward matter and provides high-quality photos. Every consumer will appreciate the convenience you’ve provided when booking on your site.
Follow these three marketing tactics to get users to want to book direct with you and take them out of the mindset that third party sites always offer the better rates.
About the author
Melody Ciria is a Destination Marketing Strategist and leads the Social Search Marketing Team at E-Marketing Associates. She has experience in the hospitality industry and specialises in tailoring social search optimization for independent hotels. E-Marketing Associates works exclusively with independent hotels to help maximize bookings with the use of our innovative online marketing products.