7 Ways to increase your Direct Business
The biggest challenge that hotels face today is how to increase direct bookings and survive in an OTA dominated world. Hotels continue to struggle with rising acquisition costs, shrinking margins and declining direct customer base. Additionally there are now alternative peer-to-peer accommodation distributors such as Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway and others cannibalizing direct booking revenues.
The feedback from almost all of the hoteliers is they want to reduce their acquisition costs. And most logical way is to increase the share of your direct business.
Following are some time tested strategies to increase direct sales;
- Correct Data usage:
Data is essential to driving direct bookings. Hotel’s data can help answer these two fundamental questions – Who are your guests and why did they choose your property? Identifying your hotel’s most profitable customer segments and what brings them to the hotel is the key to driving relevant marketing and sales efforts that generate direct bookings.
- Maintain a Compelling and User-Friendly Website:
A hotel’s own website is the center piece of any direct booking strategy. To maintain stickiness, convey a genuine sentiment and ethos of your property. Let the content of the website be driven by your customers and highlight what makes your hotel unique. Play to your strengths. A simple, attractive design with high quality images, captivating copywrite content, seamless online booking experience, and user friendliness are key elements of a successful website that turns lookers into bookers.
Website should be device responsive and should work across all browsers, devices (pads, mobiles etc) with different platforms (IOS, Windows and Android). These all make a huge difference in conversion.
Usage of Google Analytics to track visitor metrics such as time on site, conversions, source, recency, frequency etc can help identifying pages that need improvement. Google also offers features to test devices such as desktops, tablets, mobile. These are all free, so make good use of these tools.
- Smart Usage of Social Media:
In addition to enticing social media followers with special offers, packages, bundled pricing, post your guyest feedback directly on your site. Hotels sites which have a section for guest content posting messages, experiences and photos see a higher conversion than the websites that don’t have user generated content (UGC). There are some smart social advocacy solutions such as Flip.to that makes your existing guests into social advocates resulting in higher direct bookings.
- Offer great online user experience :
Engage with best of breed booking engine that offers features that work best for your hotel. Caveat: All booking engines are not the same – you need to do your research. Most travelers turn to online channels to discover and book travel, so providing high quality website is a must. The easier it is to book, the more customers will convert. Make sure the booking engine has a 2-way interface with your Property Management System (PMS). Additionally be mobile.
- Best Deals on your Website. Period:
Make sure your website and direct channels have the best available rates and best deals out there. Period.
Don’t let the OTAs have better rates, deals, members only discounts, special add ons, late checkouts, early checkins and other value adds that you don’t provide to your own direct bookers. Find ways to keep the guests coming back to you directly. Use rate shop and live rate shop solutions such as Spydr liveshop to check on your rate parity.
- Strong Loyalty Program:
Although loyalty programs may be cost prohibitive for smaller hotel chains and independent hotels, it may still be worth it to research alternative loyalty program options available in the market. Loyalty plans work for everyone. These programs incentivize guests to book directly to earn and redeem points and to receive special offers and discounts. Some of the successful initiatives in the absence of a loyalty program is a return guest discount promotion that you can extend to your return guests. Other options could be to offer small value adds, upgrades etc on your own websites that provide value but don’t create parity issues with the OTAs.
- Convert your Indirect bookings into Direct:
Make sure to capture guest information including email ids, address, contact information and other relevant information of all the guests who have booked through the OTAs or the wholesalers. Get their permission to opt in to your mailing lists and promotions. Extend return guest discounts, and let them know they will get more personalized service if they book direct and then just do that to build a virtuous direct booking cycle.
Finally, Go back to the basics
Hotels are in the business of making profits, but the most important element is providing a great experience, so that the guests keep coming back. Hotels are sometimes run ‘by the book’ and standard operating procedure manuals that often loose their guest focus.
The secret at the end of the day is great hospitality. If the owners and hotel teams keep that as a razor sharp focus, guests will keep coming back on their own.
It’s is a fact that it is an uphill battle to increase direct bookings for hotels today. This also leaves a huge window of opportunity for those willing to put in the work. If you have 10 hotels as your competitors, out of which 9 are too busy managing just the OTAs, you may still come out a winner, but only if you are focused on providing an “awesome guest experience”. Direct bookings will follow.