In today’s competitive environment the fight between Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), Metasearch engines, Global Distribution channels and Brand.com websites to capture guests bookings is as fierce as it’s ever been. It is clear that for hoteliers, driving bookings through their own website is the preferred path to increase their profit margins and decrease costs.
In reality, the trend seems to be in the opposite direction. The average conversion rate on a hotel independent website is just 1-3%, meaning for every 100 visitors, only 1-3 will book, while less than half of those visitors will even bother to click further to find rates. Which leads me to the question: Are hotels websites now becoming just a glorified online brochure that allows guest to find all the information about a hotel while they end up booking their stay elsewhere? Just like a number of big box retailers have became the “showroom” for shoppers to touch and feel their products before ordering on Amazon at a lower price, have the Brand.com websites become the showroom for prospective guests?
Graphic by TravelClick
It doesn’t have to be that way. Hoteliers have just fallen asleep at the wheel over the past decade and now they’re waking up to a harsh reality and trying desperately to catch up on a race in which they are several laps behind. According to Phocuswire, guests will on average visit 18 websites on multiple devices across 8 sessions before making a decision to book a room. All the while, OTA’s and other third party channels have also created their own loyalty programs, limited time offers, massive promotional campaigns, and a number of other tactics to lure those guests away from booking direct.
Seven Strategies All Hoteliers Must Use to Grow Direct Bookings
A true Multi-channel Marketing Plan goes beyond each individual marketing avenue. The center of your marketing should always be your BRAND, and everything should revolve around it. You will always want your guests to remember your brand so that when you promote new offers in the future, half of your marketing is already done. Like diversifying a financial portfolio, diversifying your marketing portfolio through a Multi-channel approach will minimize the effects of any individual channel changing its policy or suddenly no performing as originally expected.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
This is an old and true technique but it still work very well. As opposed to paid campaigns, your organic SEO ranking will be growing steadily over time. The key is to treat each of your listings as a “non-paid” search ad. In other words, make your title, description, and overall tags be as enticing and appealing to a guest as a magazine intriguing headline so they will click on your listing and land on your website’s page. A lot of web searchers purposely stay away from paid ads and prefer to click only on natural links during their search for a less biased experience.
One of the main reasons why hotels must participate in Metasearch campaigns is to compete with the dominant OTAs and get more direct bookings. The rationale is that even if you’re still paying a commission to the Metasearch Engine for each booking, in the long run, by getting the visitor to ‘book direct’ you will be increasing your chances of the same visitor booking direct with you again, only next time, it will be ‘really’ direct and without going first through Metasearch. In other words, you’re investing in your guests lifetime value for future bookings. The key here is to ensure that guests see your direct channel as an option on metasearch. If they don’t, you’ve lost that guest.
Another obvious but critical element during the guest decision making process. Just look at your Google Analytics reports. Do guests abandon your website before getting to the booking engine? Do they arrive at your special offers pages and click to book? If not, do they find discrepancies between the direct rates advertised on metasearch channels and the rates on your website? Are you offers and direct booking benefits clearly visible and defined?
When you advertise your best rates on your website’s homepage, your guests will be able to easily identify cost. Provide frequent calls to action to reach the booking engine by deep linking specific offers and room types. Additionally, studies show that by using engaging content like video to showcase your property can decrease bounce rate by up to 30% and increase the amount of time spent on your website by up to 20%.
It is well documented that 94-96% of shoppers in general abandon a cart without making a purchase the first time around. The same happens when arriving at a booking engine. That’s why it’s so critical to have a well planned remarketing campaign. Sometimes guests just need a second impression before booking direct on your channel.
A simple but targeted cart abandonment email campaign will allow guests to pick up right where they left off and book at a more convenient time. You can also target them via retargeting ads with enticing offers customized to their choices in order to redirect them to your website and encourage them to complete their booking.
Offer Best Rates and Limited Time Offers
If your room rates are higher than those displayed on third-party channels, you can rest assured that your guests will not book direct. Rates are the key factor when it comes to a booking conversion above all other value added elements.
Keeping tabs on rate parity across all distribution partners poses an arduous task for any hotel and the reality is contracts with third party vendors often leaves them with wriggle room to out-compete a hotel on the initial price offered on meta.
For hotels affiliated with a soft brand or another marketing collective, inconsistencies in rate can have another financial consequence: Undercutting the organization to which the hotel is paying some form of membership dues. Hotels make an investment into the brand in order to benefit from broader distribution, but if hotel rates appear higher on the brand’s website than they do elsewhere, the investment quickly becomes an expenditure.
Use Limited Time Offers (LTO) to entice guests to book right away. OTAs also do a great job showing the limited number of rooms available at a discounted rate. With no urgency to book, guests are more likely to consider other options, delay a decision and bounce from your funnel if they don’t feel a necessity to book.
You can instill urgency by displaying banners and CTAs showing the low inventory at a particular rate or a limited time to book each offer. You can also create “Internet Specials” that are only available on line for guests that book direct. But practicing these techniques on a regular basis, you will also be growing your loyal visitors looking for YOUR rates before searching elsewhere.
Booking Engine Performance
This is the last point on this list, but make no mistake. It’s also the most important one. No matter how efficient all of the above strategies are, if your final step of the sales process, the booking experience, is deficient, all of your efforts and investment will be going to waste.
In today’s high performance digital environment, there’s not much of a price for second place finishers– and less so for hotels that do not have their own digital house in order. As a means of growing direct bookings, any traffic building strategy is only as good as the booking engine on the hotel’s brand.com site on both mobile and desktop. “If your conversion numbers on Google Analytics are low, don’t waste a penny on metasearch, Google Ads or any type of paid campaign because you’re up against the OTAs and their conversion rates are unparalleled in the industry.
I can’t emphasize enough how important is to provide a guest with a frictionless and seamless experience once they get to the booking engine. That means, no surprises, no added costs, no long waits for pages to load, no issues of any kind. The closest you can get to “one-click” booking, the better.
As always, if you need any assistance with your hospitality marketing, our MGR Team will be happy to chat with you one-on-one. Use this link to contact us and set up your free consultation.
Thank you for reading. Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR). Happy Marketing!
Sources: Phocuswire. TravelClick, Google
Photo by Oliver Dumoulin on Unsplash