How independent hoteliers grab direct bookings
27 JANUARY 2016 10:53 AM
Independent hoteliers have myriad ways to attract and keep hotel guests booking direct. Here are a few.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—With changes happening within the online-travel-agency space, such as consolidation, it's more important than ever for independent hoteliers to have a sound distribution strategy that focuses on direct bookings, sources said.
One way to boost direct business is by providing an incentive to returning guests. For example, at the Castle Hotel & Spa in Tarrytown, New York, repeat guests who previously booked through an OTA will receive 15% off their next stay if they book direct, said Joseph Howley, rooms division manager and spa operations manager of the 31-room hotel.
At the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, 95% of total bookings are direct bookings, according to Thea Wall, director of revenue management and business development. Of those direct bookings, 25% comes from group business, she added.
“We focus heavily on our repeat guests,” Wall said, adding that there are two ways guests can get discounts for their loyalty: participating in the hotel’s contests on social media or by being a part of Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ iPrefer program, a points-based loyalty reward program for independent hotels within Preferred’s system.
For some independent hotels, driving direct business can be as simple as touting a well-known restaurant to the locals or sharing the property’s iconic history. Take, for instance, Quirk Hotel, A Destination Hotel, located in an arts district of Richmond, Virginia, called The West Broad District.
The 74-room boutique hotel originally operated as an art gallery and houses hand-picked pieces of local art throughout the public spaces and guestrooms, said Kate McDonald Brown, area director of sales and marketing.
|Each guestroom at Quirk Hotel features a unique piece of art. (Photo: Quirk Hotel, A Destination Hotel)|
“Our art collection was collected by going to fundraisers in the region or collecting art from interesting artists in the region,” McDonald Brown said, adding that each room in the hotel is different. The building also is celebrating its 100-year-old birthday.
Quirk Hotel’s attachment to Destination Hotels—which is one of the largest owner and operators of independent hotels, resorts and residences in the United States—also helps the boutique hotel convert lookers to direct bookers.
“Destination has done a great job of creating a program called Destination Delivers where you get VIP treatment such as a discounted stay, or at (Quirk Hotel) you get a special food-and-beverage credit,” McDonald Brown said.
Advantages of booking direct
Booking direct comes with many benefits at the independent level, sources said.
For example, guests are dealing directly with the hotel for any questions, Castle Hotel & Spa’s Howley said in an email.
“Small hotels have in-house reservations, so you are speaking with someone who knows the hotel inside and out and can best guide you with suggestions for activities or help you get the best room rate,” he said.
Howley added that the hotel also is more flexible than an OTA about moving dates and allowing guests to cancel a hotel room.
“Usually OTAs have stricter guidelines and it’s more difficult to make changes to reservations,” he said.
Working with guests through the booking process enables hoteliers to build trust, Howley explained, which is key to getting repeat business.
Personal attention is another benefit of booking direct with an independent hotel, McDonald Brown said.
“Every guest should be treated as a person,” she said, adding that at Quirk Hotel, staff members are trained to go above and beyond to make each guest’s experience authentic and enriching.
Focusing on unique experiences at the property level can create strong word-of-mouth marketing, Wall said, something that’s important for all hoteliers.
“Word of mouth is more important than ever,” Wall said. “It’s our responsibility to re-educate people on how it’s great to get info from a third party, but direct will help you get every detail communicated.”
Why the OTA partnership still matters
Although sources said direct bookings are important, they aren’t so quick to discount partnerships with OTAs.
“As an independent hotel, you rely on the distribution that can get you in front of the most eyes as possible,” Quirk’s McDonald Brown said. “(The) most inexpensive way is to partner with OTAs.”
Both Howley and Wall agreed.
“The Castle Hotel & Spa, among all hotels worldwide, depend on the OTAs greatly,” Howley said. “It is a great marketing tool and a way to get your name out to travel agents that may not know a certain area or have never visited your area.”
While OTAs account for less than 5% of Windsor Court Hotel’s bookings, Wall stressed that it’s still important to use OTAs as partners.
“During certain times of year, we put an emphasis on (OTAs),” Wall said. But because of the hotel’s room categories—80% of room inventory are suites—and the property’s room rates, Windsor Court is not typically the hotel guests are looking for online, she added.