With the constant evolution of the bookings landscape and the hospitality industry overall, comes the indefinite anxiety of optimizing marketing channels to maximize revenue and the questions of “could we be doing more to boost direct bookings?”, “How do we decrease customer acquisition costs?”, or “how can we minimize revenue lost to OTAs via commissions?”
The one initiative within the hospitality space that major brands have taken on with a fury and huge marketing spend is the push to drive more direct bookings and pull business away from Online Travel Agents (OTAs) which charge hotels ever-rising commissions for bookings.
While booking success and revenue growth may seem like a losing battle considering increasingly aggressive marketing campaigns used by OTAs, hoteliers still have an immense opportunity to improve direct revenue while lowering distribution costs.
Most hoteliers attribute the triumph of OTAs over direct channels to the sheer strength and size of digital marketing budgets of OTAs. Though they do an exceptional job of search engine marketing, the truth is that a substantial share of OTAs’ growth can be attributed to organic search traffic.
As much as it might surprise some hoteliers, none of the strategies or marketing opportunities that we discuss in this post are out of their reach, even for smaller individual properties. We are here to tell you that driving direct bookings, cost-effectively, through digital marketing channels is something that hoteliers can achieve today when they consider a few strategies for direct booking growth.
- Up Your Digital Marketing Game
- Actively Monitor and Respond to Guest Reviews
- Make Booking a Pleasure for Guests
1. Up Your Digital Marketing Game
It’s no secret that the tourism and hospitality industries face the challenge of integrating new marketing technologies into traditional marketing strategies.
Habitually, our businesses rely on the old-fashioned brand promotion. Contrary to what we know and trust, the reality is that what has worked in the past, may not work today as everything is shifting toward digital means.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Optimize your website for keywords relating to your property, its various services, location, local demand generators, etc.
Hotels were among the first businesses to adopt SEO practices during the early era of internet marketing in the 1990s. During this era hotels saw a lot of success simply by creating a basic website and placing a few keywords on each page, but things are completely different today.
Search engines like Google change their algorithms daily, often without warning or announcement, making it harder and harder for marketers to stay ahead of the digital curve. For those marketers who ignore changes like this, dropping off Google’s results pages (SERPs) is inevitable as Google actively penalizes websites that do not adhere to latest algorithm updates and ranking factors.
The practice of placing keywords on a website to achieve SEO success has also evolved from a keyword focus to a page theme focus. It’s no longer necessary to define keywords on a page within your website’s coding. Instead it has become far more important to approach the task holistically and to set a page focus for every page on your website before defining the page content that supports that focus.
Whether your hotel is in a major demand market like Miami’s South Beach or NYC or in a smaller market with less in-bound tourism, local events and seasonal things to do will always be a source of room nights for your hotel and can provide great social content for social media shoppers looking for ‘things to do in’.
Don’t get caught up in trends – like ‘Snapchat being the fastest growing social media network.’ Though this might be true, Snapchat is still not even in the top 10 social networking sites by number of visits. Facebook is by far the leader with about 40% of the market share of visits.
Instead, pick the best performing social channels for your property and focus your available attention there. Why not cast your largest net in the pond with the most fish?
Assign a dedicated resource to social media. Your social channels could be the first interaction that you have with potential guests. You need someone on social that knows how to couple appropriate branding with style and humor; some graphic design and photography skills wouldn’t hurt either.
Take advantage of Facebook and Instagram. New visitors want to see activity on these pages as they are looking for pictures of your hotel, rooms and the amenities available on property.
Create an experience and environment that makes visitors want to capture the “Instagram moment” and tell their friends “hey, look where I am!” If you can achieve this, you’ll draft an army of happy customers to promote your hotel for free.
Start a Blog
Write consistently about the hotel, events, local points of interest, even travel tips for guests that might not have been to your area in the past.
Give the reader what they are looking for, offer value and they will read it. They might even become inspired to visit your property.
Additionally, posting regularly on your blog will give search engines more branded content to index that can drive visitors back to your website and potentially to book direct.
Display, Pay-Per-Click (PPC), and Social Media Advertising
Give Google Adwords and Facebook/Instagram Ads a try. How valuable is “top-of-mind” exposure to you?
Solutions such as display remarketing ads, pay-per-click and social media advertisements enable hoteliers to deliver the right message to the right customers at the right time in their travel planning journey.
If you want to show up at the top of search engines like Google, you need to invest in paid advertising. Google has monopolized all the most viewed real estate on results pages(SERPs) with monetized offerings.
A good PPC campaign doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars every month and will have an instant impact on direct booking growth.
Social Media Marketing is one of the largest and fastest growing digital advertising methods available on the web. With access to an ever-growing number of users, advertisers can take advantage of scores of consumer data to deliver ads to the most relevant audiences.
Social ads are a highly scalable, highly targeted way to get your property in front of a large number of potential guests. Facebook and Instagram allow you to reach an unprecedented number of people with any budget.
A well thought out campaign that targets need periods and considers seasonality and booking patterns has become a foundation of digital marketing success.
What you spend in media will be far less than the costs of commissions to the OTAs for many of the same bookings.
Don’t have the time to manage online media and/or social media advertisements? Working with an agency like Vizergy who offers scalable digital media solutions of all genres might be the best route for you. With a team of dedicated digital media specialists who can help you get your display, social and PPC ads up and running in no time, Vizergy can expand your reach and help keep costs low.
OTAs have been diligent with consistent messaging through emails to help retarget visitors to their websites.
Hotels should segment their customer base and consistently send out promotional messaging to guests and any website visitor who didn’t book.
Make sure your GMB listing is complete and accurate. Much like in paid advertising, Google has situated the My Business Listing details in a prominent location on the page, particularly in mobile searches.
Therefore, GMB has become more valuable than even a site that ranks at the top of organic listings in SERPs.
2. Actively Monitor and Respond to Guest Reviews
Guest reviews are truly the #1 thing that can make or break your hotel. Regardless of whether it is a good review or a bad one, be sure to respond, and do it promptly.
If you do not respond to reviews, you are leaving money on the table. Seeing responses from hotel management might even be enough to sway a potential guest’s booking decision. It gives them the feeling that management is willing to take care of their needs if they arise.
If you receive a bad review, demonstrate to the guest that you care about their patronage and about your business overall. Let them know that you are listening and fully intend to make the issue right. If you begin to see a pattern of similar negative reviews put an action plan in place to tackle these issues at the hotel.
If you receive a great review, take advantage of the opportunity and share the rave review with the world via social media and a testimonials page on your property’s website.
Proactively interacting with guests through reviews makes your property stand out. It makes your guests feel heard and it is one of the best ways to improve customer satisfaction and guest loyalty. The more active you are, the better chance you have of drawing people back to your property’s website rather than an OTA.
3. Make Booking a Pleasure for Guests
This alone might as well serve to be the key turning point for unlocking more direct bookings. If you have done a good enough job of driving potential guest to your booking engine, you’d better make sure that it is easy for that guest to complete the booking process or they may bounce to another site which makes it easier.
The growth of the OTAs is often attributed to how easy those websites have made the booking process for guests. This is a crucial phase of the reservation journey for your guests so make it as simple and clear as possible to commit to a booking.
A good digital marketing agency should be monitoring these conversions, from website to booking engine to reservation and discussing where people are getting lost along the way.
Along that same vein, if you can present a pleasant booking experience, your guests will have already been satisfied with their experience with your hotel before even setting foot on the property.
Make Integration Between Your Booking Engine and Website Seamless
You can enhance the trust your guests have in your hotel by making your booking engine, and the transition from website to booking engine as continuous as possible.
By making your booking engine responsive, integrated in branding with your website, accessible to all users (regardless of language, technical knowledge or disability) and secure, you can ensure a booking experience with the minimum amount of friction possible for the guest.
Create Urgency in the Booking Process
By using tools such as promo banners, urgency messages, early-bird and/or last-minute rates throughout the booking process, you can create an urgency and make the guest feel like they are in danger of missing out if they don’t book now through your website/booking engine.
Ever heard of FOMO (fear of missing out)? It’s a real thing, and if you use it right, it could mean a big bump in direct bookings. Let customers know when there are “only 2 rooms left at this rate” or that “this promotion ends today!”, to urge guests to book now.
Not only will using tactics like these improve your direct bookings in general, but you can see more benefits. Early-bird rates help with short-term cash flow by accepting full payment up front. Last-minute rates may increase short-term occupancy and can help you fill remaining rooms.
If done well, your booking engine can become your most valuable marketing and branding tool that incentivizes guest loyalty, further driving direct bookings and revenue in the future.
Overall, your booking engine should allow guest to make a reservation at your hotel in a few short steps, instilling trust in your hotel and inspiring excitement for their stay.
As exhaustive as the efforts may seem, in due time you will see results of an increase in direct bookings.