Too many front-desk staffs are allowing guests to book via the OTA channel. Here are some hints to help encourage more direct bookings.
As a speaker at various hotel distribution conferences, I often find myself observing sidebar conversations during which hoteliers complain about the commissions they are paying to online travel agencies. The subject of how to encourage direct bookings—thus reducing commissions—is a frequent topic of numerous articles I read, although most of these focus on encouraging direct website bookings. Too many hotel managers fail to see the interplay of online, voice and in-person channels and are still not training their staff to maximize channel conversion opportunities encountered in the reservations office and at the front desk.
When our mystery-shopping team randomly contacts hotels and mentions they are shopping online, we rarely hear agents encouraging us to book directly. Worse, when the rates are out of parity and showing lower rates at an OTA, some agents actually encourage the guest to book online instead of matching the rate. When I talk to fellow road warriors on airplanes and shuttle vans who have booked through OTAs, I always ask if the hotels they stay in ever encourage them to book directly next time; I have yet to hear any guests say they do. By my estimation, most hoteliers need to better train their front desk and reservations teams to covert callers and guests to direct channels.
Maximizing channel conversion starts with converting the “channel-surfing” callers who are looking online while on the phone, but it can also continue at the front desk when the staff interacts with guests who have booked through a third-party website. Converting callers and guests to book directly not only reduces distribution costs by eliminating commissions, but it also ensures potential guests don’t pick a different hotel off the online menu.
Here are some training tips for your next front desk and/or reservations meeting:
- Explain the importance of distribution channel conversion. Ensure everyone understands the hotel needs to be present on online channels due to the “billboard effect.” In other words, just have your name out there; there are some travelers who are loyal to these OTAs. Indeed, these third-party online sellers are marketing alliance partners. However, once guests contact the hotel directly they become a direct-sales prospect, and we want to make them our direct customers. It is a good idea to share with the team the commission percentages the hotel pays, as most frontline staff I encounter are shocked to find out these costs. (Note: If your hotel engages exclusive rate offers with OTAs, it is important to explain that these particular offers should not be matched.)
- Allow the frontline staff to verify online rates. Although the hotel industry has done a great job of ensuring rate parity, it is still sometimes the case that online rates are less than what the in-house reservations system is showing. In this case, the frontline staff needs to have Internet access to verify third-party offers so that they can be matched. Too many hotel managers restrict Internet access, thus prohibiting agents to quickly verify the rate.
Train the team to convey the benefits of booking directly. When callers state they see the same rates online, agents need to be able to convince guests to book directly. Examples:
- “I can set that up for you at this time so that you don’t have to worry about going back online.”
- “We can lock-in that rate and confirm it right now.”
“You have reached the hotel directly. We can secure that room for you now and take care of any special requests you might have.”
- Convincing guests who booked through an OTA to book directly next time. A small but growing number of hotels have marketing collateral to encourage those who booked through online sellers to book directly next time. For example, present guests with a business card or brochure offering a discount, room upgrade or special amenity for booking future reservations directly with the hotel. Make sure to provide the sample dialogue such as: “Mr. Simon, it’s great to see that you found us on (name of OTA), and I’m glad you selected us. If you call this number (or enter this promotional code online) next time, we can extend a value-added rate that is lower than what you will typically find at that website.”
- Securing return reservations at departure. Although many guests use express checkout these days, many still pass by the front-desk to receive a “zero balance” receipt or one that is updated to include their morning charges. When the opportunity presents itself, the front desk team should offer to book return reservations. Not only will this save on distribution costs, but it ensures the guest will return next time instead of selecting another hotel from the online menu, or trying to book directly but finding the hotel sold out.
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training writers. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly.
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