Drive More Direct Bookings Without Sacrificing Your Bottom Line
By Mark Lewis-Brown, CEO & President at Vertical Booking USA
One of the best – and worst – things about the hospitality industry is how much most hotels have in common: they’re offering relatively similar products and have a great deal of competition within their immediate marketplace – other hotels, alternative accommodations and the OTAs – which, in most cases, leaves hoteliers waging an uphill battle to profitability.
But instead of thinking outside of the box when it comes to boosting direct bookings, decreasing the cost of acquisition and increasing overall RevPAR, most hoteliers continue to follow the old-school playbook (which probably smells as musty as my Great Aunt Tessie at this point) every day, every month and every year, hoping and praying for a different result.
Making an already difficult, competitive and complex market even more so, technology – and consumer demand – continue to evolve at a lightning-fast pace with the coming-of-age of the newest generation of travelers: Millennials (cue groans here!).
So, obviously, that’s the bad part of our current shared experiences. But, wait… it’s not time to run for hills just yet!
Let’s not forget all the good happening in the hospitality industry now: legislations are changing that help hotels win back market share from the OTAs, Airbnb began allowing hotels to list their rooms on the site (giving hoteliers a new sales channel) and we, as an industry, are learning, each and every day, how to improve our operational strategies and, as a result, boost our bottom lines. Today, hoteliers also have access to a smorgasbord of operational technology that helps boost direct bookings and RevPAR, without even lifting a finger. Three cheers for automation!
All that is to say that today’s hoteliers have a great opportunity to use innovative, out-of-the-box reservations, revenue and channel management strategies that will differentiate your property from the hundreds or, even, thousands of direct and indirect competitors in your marketplace – which is the subject of our article, the third and final part of our Discounting is for Dummies article series. (If you’ve fallen behind on your reading, read Part One and Part Two here). Today, we will examine how automation – using technology that you may even already have – can help boost your property’s bottom line: more specifically, I will share tips and tricks that will help your property leverage the power of your CRS to improve your direct booking conversion rates AND boost your RevPAR.
Of course, we all know what a CRS is: it is the hub connecting all your distribution channels – including your brand.com website, metasearch engines, the GDSs and online travel agencies – to your property management system (PMS). You may (or may not) also be familiar with the top benefits of a CRS:
- An effective CRS gives your property access to ALL your distribution channels through a single platform, making it quick and easy to manage inventory, pricing, the property’s website, among many other valuable features.
- A good CRS grows as your business does. Whether your property gets a huge influx of reservations at one time (because of a special event) or because your property continues growing in popularity over time, your CRS should adjust its performance accordingly to ensure that it is as productive as possible – no matter how meteoric your growth becomes.
- Your CRS can make it much easier for your property to handle complex reservation requests (hello, bleisure travelers!) with no extra muss or fuss.
But, there is one additional, lesser-known benefit of using a CRS: by using a sophisticated, integrated, well-rounded CRS solution, your property can increase your direct booking conversation rates.
Just kidding, I’ll pick it back up to tell you how to get your CRS started on boosting your direct bookings, TODAY. By adding these built-in CRS features into your reservation management strategy, your property will quickly see the impact that it can have on your property’s occupancy, ADR and RevPAR.
So, let’s get started now with the first CRS feature that you should leverage NOW:
FEATURE: OTA Rate Comparison Pop-Up
The new and largest generation of travelers (read: Millennials) are primarily looking for a great travel experience, BUT they also prioritize value, as they often travel for much longer periods of time than previous generations did. Unfortunately, most consumers believe that the room rates on the OTAs are much lower than offered through properties’ websites, making it unlikely that a Millennial will book directly without double-checking rates offered by the OTAs and metasearch engines.
But there’s an app (platform?!) for that!
Your CRS can enable OTA Rate Comparison Pop-Ups to potential guests who are checking the availability and pricing of your rooms on your brand.com website; the pop-ups show real-time rates from the top OTAs and metasearch engines, making your potential guest comfortable that he/she is getting the best rate on their upcoming trip – and making them more likely to book directly.
This feature also benefits hotels; using OTA Rate Comparison Pop-Ups is a great way for your revenue management team to ensure that the property’s OTA room rates automatically match the lowest rate, while remaining in parity.
FEATURE: Persuasive Messaging & Tagging
While shopping online, have you ever seen a message in the corner of your screen saying: “Hurry, there is only one more of this item in stock!” If you’re like most people, you will click BUY immediately; the fact that it is almost out-of-stock made you realize that you CANNOT live without it.
The Persuasive Messaging & Tagging feature shows a potential guest that others are looking at and/or booking rooms, at that exact moment (social proof) and that the property is so popular that they are almost completely booked (scarcity). The combination of these two psychological triggers are powerful ones, and ones that your CRS can help your property leverage to boost direct bookings.
This strategy is especially effective when marketing to Millennials; experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) is highly effective at driving action, as “the majority of adult Millennials stated that they want to say yes to everything due to the fear of missing out (as shown in a study done in the US and UK).”
And, the best part of using FOMO to boost direct bookings: vacations and travel are the one of the most FOMO-inducing experiences for Millennials, making this feature is a MUST if you want to boost bookings with this valuable demographic.
FEATURE: Secret, Locked Deals
This feature helps hotels to use the psychological trigger of reciprocity, in which the property gives the potential guest something special (access to lower rates) in exchange for their email address (and permission to add them to your email marketing list). Secret rates make potential guests feel like VIPs, which makes them more likely to book with you AND it gives you the opportunity to market to them regularly (a good way to increase repeat visits – the most profitable ones for hotels!).
FEATURE: Abandoned Cart Recovery Strategy
Like in the retail industry, this feature encourages guests who are about to abandon the reservation to complete the booking, using a fully customized pop-up message. Simple but also, highly effective!
FEATURE: Competitor's Rate Checker
Are you always competing for guests with one (or many) direct competitors in your city? Looking for an easy way to compare their rates without having to search each property’s site manually? The Competitor’s Rate Checker feature makes it easy for the revenue management team to monitor the rates of your pesky competitors, in real-time, from the main online distribution portals; this enables rate changes on the fly and an increase in occupancy because your rates will continue to beat the rates of those dorks over at INSERT COMPETING HOTEL NAME HERE.
FEATURE: Metasearch Management Tool
Consumers LOVE metasearch channels, as they are the OTA equivalent of the OTA Rate Comparison Pop-Up feature that we discussed earlier: they allow potential guests to see ALL of the available rates on ALL of the OTA sites and, therefore, feel more comfortable knowing that they got the best room rate possible.
But, I would bet than many hotels don’t feel the same way about metasearch channels. Managing, monitoring and updating rates on the OTAs, PLUS the metasearch engines can get tiresome; after all, revenue managers are already spending, what must feel like one million years, looking at data, making calculations and updating rates across all these channels.
Having a Metasearch Management Tool integrated into your CRS allows the property’s revenue management team to manage, monitor and connect with the top metasearch engines, all from one simple platform. Rates and availability are pulled from the booking engine and sent to the metasearch platform, with all clicks directed to the booking engine on the property’s website.
FEATURE: Alternative Offers
Most hoteliers and revenue managers focus on two opportunities (during the consumer booking cycle) to boost revenue: when the guest chooses their room type and then once they have checked-in, with the possibility of buying additional services or food and beverage on-site.
But how many hotels are thinking about the opportunity to upsell (beyond the basic: “Want a fancier room? No? OK.”)? I’ll tell you, it’s not as many as there should be.
Major key alert: upselling is a huge revenue booster and your CRS should integrate functions that automate upselling for every customer who moves from looking to booking, via your brand.com booking engine. Instead of just offering a fancier room (as ALL hotels do, and which most customers rarely consider because it’s so unnecessarily expensive), the Alternative Offers feature in a CRS can automatically suggest special promotions for guests who choose to stay for additional nights and/or can offer bundle packages during the room selection phase of the booking cycle (among many other upselling options, designed according to your property’s business goals and amenities).
Upselling is basically free money, so shouldn’t you have a CRS who will handle that for you, with no muss and no fuss? (Hint: the only right answer is YES!!)
FEATURE: Flexible Date Calendar
My favorite airline booking tool is Google Flights; using their calendar feature, it’s never been easier to compare rates and determine which days make it most affordable to fly. Today, there are so many travelers (i.e. digital nomads and business travelers) who have the flexibility to choose their travel dates to decrease their overall spend – instead of making decisions based on a set date of travel, as was traditionally how people booked flights.
Until recently, there was no tool that allowed travelers the same flexibility when booking a hotel stay; now, sophisticated CRS solutions can show potential guests room rates for a specific date range on a calendar, making it easy for them to find and book the least expensive stay possible – no extra clicks required!
Now, I know that was a long one article so thanks for sticking with me all the way to the end! Let’s finish this article with one very simple question: does your CRS offer all these revenue-boosting features?
Once again, the only right answer is YES!!