Treat OTAs as partners, not enemies, and lure travelers to your hotel website.
Google is frequently changing its algorithms, and Facebook is regularly altering its offerings, which is proof that digital marketing is always evolving. We have officially moved into the John Naisbitt coined “high-tech, high-touch” world.
Digital distribution costs are soaring and the number of players entering the market to compete with online travel agencies (Google, Facebook, Apple, TripAdvisor, Amazon and Airbnb) is rapidly rising. The key is to negotiate with your distribution team—yes, the OTAs can be an integral part of your team—and reduce your commissions. Then make certain that you have a strategy in place to earn the repeat business of every single guest—and get them to book directly next time.
Enhancing direct bookings
A simple and effective way to enhance direct bookings is to develop a blog on your hotel’s website. Our GM at The Keating Hotel, Adam Della Rocca, writes on topics such as the location of the hotel in relation to nearby hip spots that are “local finds,” and offers content that really appeals to his niche of travelers.
Another way to increase direct bookings is to be present on social media sites to ensure that your hotel really jumps out in search results. Make certain that your hotel descriptions are unique for metasearch sites as well as your own website. Also, do not use the same descriptor for rooms as you do for meetings or food outlets.
Attracting guests through search-engine optimization tactics is paramount to successfully increase direct bookings. Your website and your content on any blog site must be optimized for search engines; ideally, you are positioning the reader to buy. Make it easy for guests to contact you when they are on the site. Many hotel sites are not designed with an easy-to-find phone number or email contact and do not make it user-friendly to “book now.”
To improve the reputation of properties, push surveys out to your guests. Ask them to review the property on TripAdvisor or another social media site and make sure you respond to reviews—good, bad or ugly!
Developing a marketing strategy
Strategies and tactics are two different things, but once you have developed the strategy, some tactics to layer in are pay per click, mobile optimization and web analytics.
With PPC, the hotel industry has been performing at a 10-to-1 return over time. That means a pay-per-click campaign of $50,000 might generate about $500,000. That is a massive difference for a typical 100-unit independent hotel.
According to McKinsey & Company, 61% of users were unlikely to revisit a mobile site if they had trouble accessing it, and 40% go to a competitor instead. Make sure your site is mobile optimized. Website analytics provide you with the information that you need to understand if your website is performing. Does it load quickly? Ease of use is always more important than “cool” features.
There is no way we can compete with OTAs for marketing dollars. That means it is extremely difficult to even get on the first page if you are an independent hotel, as Google pushes organic search results pretty far down the page. Some hoteliers ignore OTA market managers—that is a mistake. They have access to data that allow you to understand the dynamics of the market.
Providing OTAs with a bigger part of the mix in slow periods and smaller inventory in strong periods is a good strategy. It’s all about determining your optimal business mix. Direct bookings are considered to be the overwhelming goal of every hotelier, but every marketer must look at their own hotel and determine the best mix of direct and indirect channels to optimize the effectiveness and efficiency of acquiring a new guest.
Summary of the best ways to turn lookers into bookers
A list of critical elements in improving direct bookings includes:
- a compelling story;
- text descriptions and photos that are current and complete;
- a clear path to booking;
- re-marketing program to get return visitors;
- Instagram-worthy spots for social media;
- unique selling proposition;
- specials sent via email newsletter;
- conversion metrics reviewed to see what is working; and
- customer-relationship management must be put in place.
The bottom line
Education and training are key elements in successful distribution channel management. This field is changing quickly, and being asleep at the wheel will result in very quick reductions in market share.
Robert Rauch is an internationally-recognized hotelier, CEO, and founder of RAR Hospitality, a leading hotel management and consulting firm based in San Diego, California. RAR Hospitality’s hotel collection includes independent, boutique and branded properties throughout North America.
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