How to best activate your direct booking channel
By Daniel Parker CHDM
In a post-COVID world, every dollar counts. You need to get heads in beds, but it’s becoming challenging especially with your Competitive Set dropping their rates to previously unseen lows. This, compounded with OTA commissions removes more dollars from your hotel affecting the ability to get cashflow in through the door. How does one fight back against this? The focus must be on your cost of acquisition, the channels that cost the least to achieve bookings. The best for this? The elusive direct booking. In this article we provide you with some tips on how to get your direct channel converting and bringing in those guests.
Offer nothing on a 3rd party that you don’t have on your own site
We know that OTA’s are a necessary evil. They provide you great promotions and options to reach more guests to get bookings. We’ve all found ourselves having to use an Expedia package, or a Booking.com Genius offer from time to time when demand is low. This is not intrinsically bad. However, if you are not providing guests a matching discount on your site you’re going to be losing bookers to the OTAs. If you offer a Genius rate on Booking.com, ensure that you’ve got a members rate on your direct site. You can have your cake and eat it too, offering attractive discounts in need periods, but not unnecessarily losing bookings to OTAs.
Provide unique offerings on your direct channel
Each property has their own unique selling points that you can save just for your direct channel. This might be the spa, bar, restaurant, bikes for hire, these are things that you do not have to roll out to third party providers. This is what you can use to make your direct site unique and provide additional selling points for your guest. It gives you the opportunity to create packages, and provide exclusive value add options to your guest that they will not get anywhere else. Whereas we know ADR is going to be tough to hold onto in this climate, value adds such as free breakfast, or bike-day rental can help add value to the rate, negating the need to drop further.
So you’re perfectly in parity. All of your public rates on 3rd party providers match up with what you have on your website. Yet for some reason you’re still losing bookings to OTAs. One of the main reasons behind this could be that you’re not participating in metasearch. By providing a small budget for a metasearch campaign your direct website will show up when people search for your hotel in Google Hotels, Bing, Trip Advisor and Kayak. This is a relatively inexpensive channel, as even a small budget can help make a difference. Usually with returns upward of 7:1 metasearch is another great tool to help you avoid paying those costly commissions. Don’t have enough cashflow available to opt in for this? Some CRS providers can offer a commission based Meta-model, charging commissions of around 10% for bookings attained on Metasearch.
Similar to metasearch, if you aren’t participating in digital marketing, you’re essentially hiding your direct site from the eyes of your bookers. 3rd parties like Expedia and Booking.com will bid on keywords related to your hotel so that their listings for your hotel show up first when searched on Google. If you can divert some $ to getting your direct site featured on Pay Per Click initiatives and digital advertising, you’ll ensure that your direct site and everything it offers is the first port of call for many guests. Whilst it may seem troublesome to have to spend $ at a time like this, in the long run, you will make them back with interest through savings in OTA commissions and increases in direct bookings which traditionally lead to a guest who has a longer life cycle with a hotel.
Convert your indirect to direct
A good distribution strategy will ensure you’re able to get bookings on all channels, both direct and 3rd party, it’s unreasonable to expect 100% of bookings to come through direct channels in most properties. Those 3rd party bookers are going to be great opportunities to turn a one-time guest into a repeat direct guest. You can do this by e-mail collection upon check-in, or signage in the room. Advertise the best perks to booking directly, and if your rate strategy allows, offer them a private offer such as a welcome back code that will provide a discount only available via this rate code. It will both reward them for staying, and incentivize them to book with you directly should they return, as 3rd party vendors are unable to offer perks such as this.
Mobilize your mobile
The growth of mobile bookings continues to grow, primarily due to demographic and the tech-savvy generation that dominates the traveler’s world. Ensuring that your mobile presence is just as strong as your desktop will put you at a competitive edge in converting the “instant gratification” generation. Mobile bookings traditionally have a shorter lead time, so having a booking engine optimized for mobile screens and mobile exclusive offers will help convert on this medium.