Questioning the Norm: How to Stimulate Direct Hotel Bookings?

Most hotel-owners have accepted paying commissions to Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) as a standard practice or a cost they “should” incur to survive. However, depending entirely or profoundly upon OTA bookings means you are not selling your rooms at the intended prices with commissions factoring-in as a revenue restrictor.

Can you restrict your dependability on OTAs? Can you stimulate more direct bookings? Can you actually reduce the impact of manipulative review sites?

Well, if you are ready to think beyond the conventional ways and be precautious-yet-perceptive, you have more than a fair chance of raising your revenues and decreasing your OTA dependability. If you are serious about raising the bottom-line and not just surviving, read ahead:

Don’t Wait for Direct Bookings, Drive Them Your Way

To get started, try to understand why OTAs seem to drive hotel bookings. The answer is simple—they engage more browsers than hotel websites. By offering reviews, search tools, ratings, etc. OTAs are structured like interactive yellow pages. However, there is one OTA industry fact that most property owners don’t know.

A very small fraction of people using OTAs actually make a reservation on their initial visit to the website. It takes a few, repeated visits before they proceed with the reservation. This creates a window of opportunity where you can step in and grab attention of prospective customers.

This doesn’t mean you have to re-structure your website akin to OTA portals, though if you can afford to do it, there is little harm in making the investment. What you can do without spending too much is creating interactive tools so that probable customers are offered information besides room availability and pricing. How can you do it?

Use Social Networking for Enhancing Your Customer Connect & Direct Bookings

Use Social Networking for Enhancing Your Customer Connect & Direct Bookings

The answer lies in creating a social media pool that is driven by your past, present, prospective and future guests besides industry enthusiasts and avid travelers. Your role is to ensure that the interaction across your social media channels is sustained and is driven towards realizing direct bookings.

How to get Social Media Integration Right? It’s Easy, Mr. Hotelier!

Firstly, ensure that the landing pages you configure for your OTAs have social media plug-ins. This strategy will ensure that slowly, more traffic is directly driven to your social channels, decreasing your OTA dependability.

Create your own social media accounts. This is rather easy to do, doesn’t require any technical expertise and is free-of-cost. You will realize that more direct reservations are catalyzed via social media traffic through various social networking activities, such as:

  • A Pinterest of your hotel images means that the images will be shared instantly, across thousands of people.
  • A Facebook “Like” for your webpage(s) is most likely to be commented upon by the Facebook community, often engaging instant views, comments, etc.
  • Your regular updates on Twitter helps to create followers who further promote the links, helping to promote your hotel across a bigger audience.

Is Social Media Engagement Worth Your Effort?

Social media channels are more captivating than OTA sites that are sprouting incessantly and most OTAs seem to have a similar interface. Further, social media engagement is freely accessible, even on-the-go and doesn’t have a shelf-life. Your prospective guests might not be checking-out OTA websites every day but they are more likely to be active on their social media handles, at least once, every day—can you think of a better way of reaching out to potential hotel guests?

Imbibe & Recreate Selective OTA Features

Ask any traveler who regularly logs onto travel, review or OTA sites. He is most likely to confess that it is the user reviews that induce the maximum recall factor. You too can create a similar environment on your website.

You can publish testimonials and customer feedback on your hotel’s website. If this means requesting your guests to provide a feedback; don’t hesitate in making the effort, i.e. on your social media channels. If possible, keep an open laptop, with your social media pages open, on the Front Desk. Request your guests to type what they liked best about their stay in your hotel. This is simple, effective and doesn’t take a lot of doing.

Try to upload the reviews in real-time. For instance, if your guest posts a review on Facebook, be proactive in thanking him instantly. This kind of real-time connect is not found even in some of the leading OTAs. Try to be more transparent in your social media handling. Be ready to accept the criticism too—this will raise your credibility immensely.

Not on the Mobile Yet? You are missing out for sure!

If you want to create genuine walk-ins for your hotel, not having some presence on the mobile means you are missing out on assured bookings. Walk-in bookings or same-day reservations are being increasing fueled by the mobile.

This isn’t just a theory but an industry fact endorsed by Google which reported that hotel bookings made via mobile devices grew by more than 3,000 percent from 2010 to 2011!

Being present on the mobile also means capturing more customers who are in proximity of your hotel and perhaps, the best way of ensuring that there are a few, even if little, daily check-ins.

This is why even the most conventional of shoppers are getting on to the mobile platform since mobile visibility ensures some volume of daily sales. Thus, getting an easy-to-use mobile version of your hotel’s website is seriously recommended.

Don’t Listen to What Everybody Says, Rate Parity is Still Relevant!

The dominance of OTAs has resulted in maintaining rate parity turning, a major challenge for most hoteliers. When mystery shoppers are asked to check upon OTA offered rates and room rates at the hotel reception, the resulting difference is often a shocker.

While findings of mystery shoppers are used for creating industry reports, this kind of price difference can also be dug-up by customers who are ready to make a few phone calls, i.e. at your hotel and for getting a comparative quote from OTAs.

What can you do? I am not recommending starting a slug fest with your OTA pool. However, try to ensure that the OTAs are not selling your room nights at a higher rate. To limit your dependence upon channel conversion, try to convert more bookings via the phone and email. Ensure a better, more comprehensive follow-up for the smallest of query you get. When guests are about to check-out, offer them some kind of incentive on directly booking with you the next time or for recommending another, confirmed booking.

Make Your Direct Bookings Better than OTA Bookings—Yes, This is Doable!

Try to remember one simple fact—travelers always seek to book in the most undemanding manner. Ensure that making an online reservation on your site is easy and offers security for payment processing, such as credit card or debit card payments. This is just the beginning of making yourself look better than OTAs. Try to do something that no OTA or promotional channel can deliver.

Offer something to a guest during the reservation process itself that instantly makes him feel pampered and establishes a recall value for your hotel. For instance, create a pop-up in your website where a complimentary breakfast is offered for checking-in on the scheduled time. Even better, offer a room upgrade option for an unexpectedly big discount.

This goes beyond just the upsell aspect, i.e. you are making the OTA seem like a less profitable way of making a reservation. Such things get promoted via the most potent forms of marketing, i.e. word-of-mouth or direct, in-person recommendations.

One way of mimicking and even improving upon the OTA booking process is streamlining your reservation system. One easy way of doing this is adopting a PMS hotel system like Hotelogix that seamlessly integrates with your website, allowing you ease of accepting deposits and making room bookings. The Hotelogix PMS also helps you manage bookings across multiple platforms, ensuring your booking functionalities remain error-free.

Get OTA Choosy but Don’t Hate Them

Travel review sites and OTAs are proven reservation-generating resources. You cannot risk breaking away completely from them. Yes, the endeavor is to encourage direct bookings but losing out potential customers through any channel is sinful. However, don’t be at the mercy of OTAs. If you feel that some OTA is tainting your reputation or fraudulently selling your room nights, be ready to disconnect him from your reservation channel. This is where the CRS capabilities of Hotelogix Hotel Management System come to the fore—it allows you to view all bookings being funneled through different channels, choose the most profitable OTA and manage OTAs with greater transparency.

As a hospitality business, what measures have you taken to enhance your direct bookings? Has any particular method turned out to be beneficial beyond expectations?

Please share your expertise with our community.