Independent hotel operators may lack the corporate backing to invest in expensive revenue management systems, but they are able to make swift moves to leverage shifting consumer demands and changes in the market because of their lean operations.
Some 44 percent of travel sales and bookings are expected to occur online through either desktop or mobile devices during the next five years, according to data from Euromonitor International.
With so much search traffic and reservations for hotel operators being sourced online, it makes commercial sense for an operator to integrate an online booking engine into their website to be able to increase the level of direct bookings.
A hotel website is the ideal platform to do this because it yields the lowest cost of customer acquisition through direct interaction and utilising an integrated online booking engine. It delivers a fuller guest profile, an opportunity to earn higher revenue and ultimately reduce cost of sales if you have less third party commissions to pay to OTAs (Online Travel Agents).
The benefits of direct bookings
For the guest there is a common buying mentality, where we want to feel like we are getting the best possible deal and receiving the personal attention we crave at the hotel. For independent hotel operators many guests believe if they form a direct relationship and cut out “the middle man” i.e. the OTA, there is more likelihood that they’ll get a better rate.
By receiving a direct online booking, an operator benefits from reduced commission costs, and as an operator you’ll be in a better position to engage directly with the guest and not have to rely on the limited communication opportunities controlled by the OTA channels.
Plus, direct bookings help operators to exert more control over your hotel’s brand as you interact directly with guests before, during and after their stay with you.
Also, by integrating your product pages with your booking engine, you’ll reduce the risk of a visitor making a room reservation for example on an OTA site which may have a better user experience.
As an independent operator it would be great of course to only have direct bookings - but in today’s marketplace operators should strive to balance direct business along with reservations from the third party channels.
With an intelligent approach to managing your distribution, an operator can spread risk by sourcing reservations from multiple channels, keeping costs down and “turning the tap on” for OTA business when slower market conditions dictate it.
If hoteliers turn off the OTA channel completely, they then risk missing out on the exposure offered by third party sites, as guests use them for research purposes as well as making bookings.
The most effective plan for independent operators is to drive more direct bookings by connecting systems, aggregating booking data, and gaining deeper insights into their guests buying behaviour and booking profile.
An effective approach to revenue management is to implement a strategy to grow occupancy, monitor the revenue per available room (RevPAR), as well as overall profitability, and finding the right balance between all the various distribution channels - both on and offline.
How to encourage direct bookings
Here, we have examined nine ways independent hotel owners, hotel managers, and revenue managers can encourage their customers to book direct.
1. Keep your guests happy and satisfied
For hotels, a happy guest is a loyal guest. For operators a great stay experience and loyalty are inextricably tied together and need to be front of mind to keep guests returning and creating positive word-of-mouth referrals.
That means that at every customer touch point staff are acutely aware that you are only as good as the last contact you had with the guest. From being on the phone to in-person interactions, a positive guest experience needs to be the mantra - where all staff take responsibility to look after guests, visitors, delegates etc. to the best of their ability.
2. Staff training
Staff should learn how to be more effective with listening to customers and how to deal in a constructive way with complaints.
It is important then to develop appropriate management procedures and processes that staff are trained on to help deal with the multitude of customer scenarios and situations that occur everyday at a hotel, good and bad.
By listening to guests, staff can map out where the points of friction are and what they need to address to have the most impact on a positive guest experience. This type of information should be shared at staff meetings and integrated into training sessions for implementing policy and procedures.
3. Turning "lookers into bookers"
Most operators would agree that a customer review can hold a lot of influence on how a prospective guest makes their final buying decision, and there’s plenty of research to support that especially when it comes to booking a hotel room.
A recent TripAdvisor® study revealed that more than half of travellers won’t book a hotel until they have read reviews because they believe it helps them pick the right hotel.
According to a study from TrustYou the link between reviews and hotel conversion rates and pricing shows travellers are almost four times more likely to choose a hotel with higher review scores when the prices are the same, and 76 percent are willing to pay more for a hotel with higher review scores.
So, as hotel operators we need to be encouraging guests to make reviews and have a procedure on how to respond to reviews good and bad.
Reviews are also a free way to assess how your property is performing. They highlight what’s going well and where improvements can be made.
4. Reduce booking friction
Whether the guest is booking online or via the phone, booking friction can negatively impact the overall customer experience. It can be quite common for hotels to want to push bookings via their website, rather than offer the option to call direct.
But in those scenarios when a prospective guest wants to learn a bit more about the property, it’s location or may be have a specific question to ask - often a website can not fulfil all these needs and that fact that you can talk directly to a person on the property can be a very welcome option.
For online channels, when you integrate your online booking tool make sure it is easy to use with a clear process to follow for inputting check-in and check-out dates, as well as having a secure payment system.
5. An integrated web booking engine
Integrating a web booking engine into your brand website enables your website visitors to view the availability of rooms in real-time.
Happybooking can help you increase direct, commission-free hotel bookings with our online booking engine. A mobile friendly, cloud based platform that seamlessly integrates with any website to manage all the functions you need.
Happybooking has fully integrated modules and provides features that support you no matter the size of your business. We can provide automated payment solutions, custom integrations to POS (Point of Sale) systems, seamless channel management integrations with access to 100+ booking channels including GDS connectivity and much more.
Plus, an online booking engine linked to your website provides data for you to analyse and build insights on your guests; from how they book, the device they use, where they are from, etc.
6. Building emotional links
All too often operators can put too much focus on discounts as a generator of loyalty, in the belief that when there is a change in market circumstances, and there is an opportunity to put prices up - customers will remain loyal. And that tends not to be the case, and the motivation for this particular type of customer is price.
Often with guests that book through OTAs the motivation is to book a stay for a reduced price, so it becomes more of a transactional relationship managed by the OTA with cost being the decision maker.
But, having a direct booking relationship with your guests means that you have an opportunity to create loyalty through trust and guess satisfaction. So when markets change, this type of customer is more likely to stay loyal even if you do have to increase rates.
Building a long-term relationship means looking into guest engagement, customer service, building trust, and creating memorable moments that allow your guest to feel an emotional tie to your property - which can be hard to replicate by your competitors or on price alone.
7. Treat your customers well and get to know them
Happy and satisfied guests will tell 4 to 6 people about their experience, an impressive way to influence positive word of mouth and referrals of your property.
Most guests appreciate a professional approach by staff. It is always a nice touch if your staff can address guests by name or at a minimum take eye contact and have a genuine interest in the guests welfare.
But it is also important to keep in perspective that the attitude of the customer will be dependent on the type of property. So, a customer booking a stay at a beach side resort has different expectations of a guest experience compared to a guest staying at an airport hotel.
So, you’ll need to understand from the customer's perspective what their expectations are and how you meet and exceed them.
According to Bain and Co., a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by 75%. Gartner Group statistics tell us that 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers.
8. An effective approach to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Your hotel website plays a critical role in attracting visitors that are qualified and interested in staying at your property.
So, you should have an SEO strategy and activity plan to grow organically sourced website traffic, because those visitors that do arrive through organic search tend to be qualified and ready to buy.
SEO is about increasing the visibility of your website and helping you to attract and keep visitors engaged and interested in what they read and experience on your website. They may not buy when they initially visit your site, but a good first experience means that you are on their radar when it comes to making a booking in the future.
SEO forces you to optimise how your website is seen by search engines and visitors. It helps you to organise your content and map out the flows of visitors when they land on your website to keep conversion as high as possible.
According to Trivago, around 50% of all online bookers use metasearch to find their ideal hotel, and this trend is set to grow. Metasearch engines help travellers make an informed choice by allowing them to compare prices across different sources.
9. And don’t ignore your OTA guests
Even though a guest may have booked through an OTA channel, you still have an opportunity when they arrive at your hotel to convert them into a direct guest for their next reservation.
Learn how to explain the benefits they would receive if they book directly during their next stay. And offer incentives like discounts and added value features that direct bookers exclusively receive.
Additionally, don’t forget if you can ask for their permission to email them and keep them up to date with special offers and news for your property.
A great direct online booking experience
Happybooking have always focused on creating a user-friendly property management system based in the cloud that can help property owners improve their revenue performance with a direct booking engine, generating increased profit margins by lowering commission costs and reducing admin time.
So, take a quick tour to see how it works - click here.
Our guest blogger is John Kennedy.
John is a hospitality consultant, dedicated to helping increase profits through marketing, revenue management and efficient operations and can be found at https://kennedy.marketing/
Image source: Modestas Urbonas on Unsplash