There was a time when travel agents were the only way to book travel. You called them or went into their offices, told them where you wanted to go, and they did all the annoying work of talking to airlines and hotels for you.
Then came OTAs — online travel agencies. Sites like Expedia, Booking.com, Kayak, Travelocity, and many others launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s, allowing consumers to book flights, hotels, rental cars, and even attractions like tours and sightseeing, all in one place.
But since then, another shift has been in the making. Customers are moving away from OTAs and toward handling things themselves again. They don’t need a middleman of any kind, digital or otherwise. For hoteliers, there’s an opportunity here. When customers call your hotel to book rooms without the help of a travel agent or OTA, your phone system can make sure they have the most convenient possible experience.
Have OTAs plateaued?
Expedia launched in 1996 — a product of Microsoft, and backed by Microsoft’s money. Today, Expedia Group employs 22,000 people across its network of OTA brands, including Travelscape, Vacationspot, Travelocity, Orbitz, HomeAway, and others. Expedia Group is responsible for $99 billion in gross bookings every year — 31 percent of bookings between the major OTAs.
But all that money has to come from somewhere, specifically, the hotel’s profit margins. In the heyday of the OTAs, hotels were willing to give up some of their valuable margins in exchange for unprecedented distribution. Now, with the rise of Google Maps, search engines, mobile apps, and other methods of finding hotels, they don’t need as much help finding customers anymore.
In addition, hotels would rather keep customers’ loyalty in-house. When a customer shops through an OTA, they see a long list of hotels all next to each other. They can filter by various features, but really, price is king. A customer who’s spent their last ten nights in one hotel chain will have no qualms about jumping to another if the price is better.
That’s why hotels would rather earn customers’ loyalty by providing a unique, personal experience. A pool and a continental breakfast may not be enough to keep people coming back, but a positive booking and customer service experience certainly can.
Talking to guests
With a VoIP phone system, you can modernize your hotel’s technology and provide the best possible experience for your guests, keeping them coming back for more nights.
An internet-based phone system can let you apply your guests’ names to room extensions, letting outside callers find guests by name even if they don’t know the number. You can set up guest extension voicemails, break down call costs on a room-by-room basis, and create high-tech meeting and conference facilities. You can even automate room service and housekeeping to add ease and convenience to your guests’ stays.
Another benefit of a digital VoIP system is that it will help you save your desk staff’s time for what matters. Common requests like wake-up calls and guests asking what time the restaurant opens for dinner can be handled by an automated system, freeing up your front desk staff for more important human interactions that delight your guests and build loyalty.
Perhaps most importantly, a VoIP system can bring your bookings into the 21st century. Customers are using OTAs less and less, opting instead to just search for hotels in the area they’re staying by themselves. With a digital, automated booking system, you can smoothly find availability, book rooms, and take payment over the phone.
Keeping up with trends
Technology is always changing, and successful businesses have to be flexible to stay on top. Digitizing your phone system will not only catch you up with the most current trends in hotel booking, but it will give you the flexibility to change your systems as the world changes. If you want to keep your customers coming back, a fantastic experience is the way to do it.
About the author
Frank Melville is the CEO & President and one of the founding members of Phonesuite (phonesuite.com). His passion for the hospitality industry and deep understanding of both telephony and hospitality drives Phonesuite’s success.