In today’s digital economy, it’s never been easier to develop a website to showcase and market a hotel. The real challenge however is Digital Marketing and Direct Sales and how to position the hotel organically with search engines and to establish a sustainable direct bookings strategy that maximizes on the quality of hotel bookings.
Many hotels these days opt for the easiest solution in attracting guests to their hotel. One of the main main distribution channels available for this purpose is the Online Travel Agent, mainly because they have built a solid reputation in website marketing.
Over the last 5 years OTA’s have been able to turnover a large volume of bookings for hotels by making it easier and simple for customers to book a room from their website. Moreover, OTA’s have also built a near monopoly in organic and paid key word search - ensuring their dominance in the digital economy.
With OTA’s more less controlling a big chunk of the on-line market - what’s left for the hotel when considering the option of Direct Bookings ? Also … is it worth the time and money to develop this distribution channel when other options abound ?
The simple answer is - Yes !
Hotels should not overlook their direct bookings. Let’s not forget that a direct booking, as the name suggest comes from a customer’s having already vetted other booking opportunities. The Direct Booking from a customer is also one of the first steps in developing a “contact point” with them which allows the hotel to establish a firm loyalty base over the longer term.
Aside from establishing a loyalty base – the customer that books their room direct with the hotel has the potential to yield a better overall room revenue in the longer term compared to other point-to-point hotel stays which are offered through the OTA. (For example - the hotel can maximize the value of its direct bookings through a loyalty campaign or special event especially designed for returning guests to boost overall occupancy when there is not much flow through traffic) In other words focus on quality not necessarily quantity.
When thinking about how to maximize direct bookings, one of the best places to start is by looking at the key entry points for the hotel – namely the website and social media. To get the most from our website platform we cannot over emphasize the importance of smart phones and the mobility they offer.
With this in mind the hotel needs a Responsive Website to showcase their hotel. But the responsive website alone cannot drive direct hotel bookings.
To get more direct bookings from your website or social media - the booking engine must also be mobile friendly to compliment the seamless experience and transition between the web page and the “point of sales” booking platform and check out process.
Why this is important is because its anticipated that about 40 % of hotel and travel bookings in 2018 alone - will be done by people using their mobile devices. The booking engine therefore needs to be adaptive to the changing market and technology trends.
Over the course of time and through mobility as markets get bigger – the booking engine provider will need to invest in research about of how people use and interact with the booking engine as a “point of sales” tool to complete their booking with the hotel.
A few things the hotel should consider when selecting their Booking Engine as part of the overall strategy to drive more quality Direct Business thorough the door :
We want to encourage customers to make their booking as quickly as possible, so its doubly important we don’t waste their time by asking them to provide more information then needed. Too many steps in the booking process will ensure the customer frustrated and goes elsewhere.
The Booking Engine should already feature intuitive menu’s that help reduce the steps it takes for customers to provide their information. For example, functions like pre-selected room type / number of adults / number of days / number of rooms etc … that are already a default can not only reduce the time it takes to clicking to “Book Now” but also enhances the user experience ...
Especially smaller display of Smart Phones – for example …. its really important the information being offered is properly indexed and categorized. For example the Direct Booking engine may have information about: Special Offers / Promotions / Packages/ and a Loyalty Program…
If indexed properly, the amount of time necessary to navigate to sections in the Booking Engine to get relevant information will be markedly easier – and therefore enhancing for the overall usage experience.
There’s nothing worse than having to scroll through long pages of information which may be irrelevant to the customer.
Too much content in one place with flashy icons or images can be an overall distraction. Because the mobile display has less room to feature information - less is always better for getting the relevant information across.
With smarter indexing, less scrolling for example the booking process can be completed quicker.
Booking pages should keep eye motion and distractions to a minimum. To reduce eye motion keep information as succinct as possible put all “other’ information into a drop down menu or menu draw and provide information only when clicked upon
Most hotel bookings from a mobile device users usually have shorter lead time of about a week before arrival. Because of the shorter lead time, “call to action” features like BOOK NOW should be readily displayed and prominent in order to prompt the user to click through.
Other similar support features for “CALL TO ACTION” can be “CHAT” or “CALL NOW” which provides supportive assistance during the booking process – should the user encounter a problem.
To conclude – Hoteliers cannot overlook the importance of direct bookings. Direct Bookings can provide the hotel with a better way to drive more quality business to their property which usually can also yield a higher room rate. But in order to be effective, the hotel has to consider a responsive website and social media placement – complimented by a mobile friendly booking engine with features that make it easy to book in order to complete the direct bookings process.