The landscape for hotel bookings has changed hugely in the last decade, with the advent of Online Travel Agents and other third parties comprising a significant proportion of searches and reservations. The public has come to trust these OTA channels, showing a strong preference for their convenience and ‘always on’ accessibility. It’s also easier for hotels to have business flow from external sources, but the downside is that every third-party channel takes its cut, reducing a hotel’s profitability. By gearing up to encourage and increase direct bookings, the hotel is more in control of how it chooses to market and sell rooms. There’s still a balance to be maintained with the valuable source of revenue coming through the OTAs - such as Booking.com, Agoda, Expedia, and Trip Advisor - but hoteliers can do so much more to strengthen the bottom line through direct bookings. With direct bookings, hotels can also access guest data collected during the booking process: valuable information that can be used for pre-stay and post-stay communication, and marketing follow-ups.
What are Direct Bookings?
A direct hotel booking is when a guest comes straight to the website of the hotel, or indeed even calls on the telephone to make a booking. (And yes, some people still use the phone to make reservations!) The advantages of direct bookings are immediately obvious. When guests book directly, hotels don't pay commissions to third parties, therefore retaining a higher percentage of the booking amount, leading to increased profits. In addition, a hotel will have greater control over the booking process, allowing improved management of room availability, pricing, and promotions, depending on specific needs and strategies.
So let’s take a look at how to ensure productive and increased direct booking for hotels.
Optimize Direct Bookings, Increase Revenue
Making the hotel website really shine
The hotel’s website is the first thing to examine. Is it fit for purpose, and how contemporary-looking is it? To some extent, hotels have abdicated responsibility for maintaining their website in favour of relying on the OTAs to bring in guests. When was your website last reviewed and refreshed? It should have great images and up to date messaging - it should ‘shine’. And is it reaching out to the right demographic? Knowing your customer is fundamental for all businesses, and in the hospitality industry that’s of paramount importance.
So step one in increasing direct bookings is to ensure that the hotel website is welcoming, accurate, and smart. ‘Smart’ means having functions such as a ‘friendly’ chatbot to guide guests through the process of booking, with answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and suggestions for special offers and upgrades. Chatbots work 24/7, and can ‘speak’ and ‘understand’ a range of languages. However gifted and dedicated hotel staff may be, they can’t offer the constant service that a chatbot can, in the language chosen by the potential guest.
A booking engine is an essential function on any hotel website, and should be signposted and easy to find, and use. A smart website will also start the process of communicating with a guest as soon as a reservation is made. Through the hotel’s Property Management System, a confirmation email, welcome messages, and all booking details can be generated automatically, and yet have the feel of personalised interactions.
Being mobile friendly for hotel guests
If a hotel’s website is due a refresh, chances are it also needs a review in terms of the technology used by guests to access it. Whereas once most searches were done through a desktop computer or laptop, now mobile devices are the favoured tool, especially for younger (and often more affluent) guests. It’s essential that a hotel website works seamlessly with mobile solutions, and that all payment options are up to date. There have been very many advances in mobile apps and payment solutions, and hotels must be up to speed with these. A hotel that doesn’t have seamless mobile functions is automatically handing back a potential client to the OTAs, which certainly are mobile friendly. A rigorous review of not only the look of the website, but the underlying technology is therefore needed to ensure that direct bookings are successful.
Helping Search Engine Optimisation guide guests to your hotel
Whatever device potential guests use when searching for a hotel, they have to find it easily on the web. If your hotel is low down in the ‘rankings’ of a search engine, then it is far less likely to be seen and selected by a guest. Google has a massive 91.55% share of all internet searches, and 75% of all users don’t look past the first results page presented to them. This means that top ranked hotels have an inbuilt advantage over lower listed hotels. This comes down to the effective use of Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO. It’s quite the science now, but the principles of SEO are simple: Keywords and key phrases are used to provide ‘punchy’ descriptions which match up to the expectations and needs of the searcher. Keywords are found by the search engines on the hotel’s website, so how you describe your hotel is hugely important in reaching the market. For example, if your website headline is simply ‘Nice Hotel’, that is hardly going to cut it in SEO terms. ‘Modern hotel with excellent Spa facilities close to town centre’ is far more keyword descriptive, or ‘Cosy child and pet-friendly hotel in open countryside’ immediately conveys what’s on offer. Guests long ago passed the point where they simply search for ‘Hotel in Manchester’ (or wherever). Just as guests expect increasing personalisation in hotel services, they also expect to find search engine listings which quickly fulfil their search terms.
Deciding on what your hotel has to offer, and who your target audience is, goes a long way to then being able to provide successful descriptors on your website, which will help SEO push the hotel up the rankings. People don’t have the time or inclination to scroll through page after page of hotel offerings: they want to select the quick, easy, most obvious fit with their expectations.
Keeping the lines open for the personal touch
There are still times when guests would rather telephone and speak to front desk staff, and when this is the case, it’s obviously important to provide excellent customer service. It’s estimated that around 10% of guests still prefer to engage with their chosen hotel by speaking on the phone. This requires trained staff who are guest-facing, and who understand their own importance in the chain that will provide a great guest journey. From the very first telephone interaction, there are opportunities to answer frequently asked questions, but to also query guests about special needs or other interests - creating a dialogue from the very start. If a good rapport is established, then that’s also the chance to upsell to a higher grade room, make restaurant reservations, or broach other special offers. Positive interaction with guests from the get-go helps build a stronger bottom line.
Leveraging social media to improve hotel direct booking
Social media is one of the most powerful encouragers for guests to make direct bookings with hotels. As well as browsing the OTAs, people scan through social media looking for reviews from previous guests. Glowing reviews are of course encouraging, and poor reviews are clearly not. Hoteliers should never imagine that guest reviews are out of their hands however. By encouraging reviews to be posted, responding to reviews, and curating a hotel’s social media presence, Management can create a dynamic situation which promotes more direct bookings. Talking directly with guests through social media demonstrates the approachability and values of a hotel. It’s also the place where special events and offers can be trailed.
Every hotel should be aware of its social media presence, and look after its output, as well as constantly monitoring guest reviews, and the activities of competitors. Social media is a big decider in which hotel would-be guests choose, in part because reputation is key. Reputation can be lost rapidly through unmonitored reviews, and can equally be enhanced through positive reviews. Direct bookings reinforce the hotel's image and reputation because when guests book directly, they interact with the hotel's brand, which leads to increased brand recognition and reputational awareness. Having an active, positive, and professional online presence shows potential guests that you take their concerns and interests seriously.
Personalising services and acknowledging individuality
There is no longer a ‘one size fits all’ hotel offering, and the move towards ever-increasing personalisation is a notable trend in the hospitality industry, particularly since the pandemic. Guests became rapidly more adept at online working, and also at searching out exactly what they need in the way of accommodation, food and beverages, service, and the ambience of a hotel. In response, hotels need to offer personalised services that meet dietary requirements, offer flexible check in and check out times, and personalised suggestions of things to do and places to see. Fortunately, these are exactly the sort of functions that come with a modern Property Management System, especially one with add-ons such as SabeeApp’s Guest Advisor. Make the offering personal to guests and it will encourage direct booking. What’s more, it will encourage direct re-booking, as satisfied guests return, or spread the word to others through word of mouth and social media reviews. The automation of most front desk and back office functions is now very advanced through Property Management Systems, creating a smoother, more efficient guest journey. What’s more, because all the routine activities are handled more quickly and efficiently by the PMS, hotel staff are much freer to devote more face-to-face time to welcoming guests and ensuring that their stay is personalised and memorable.
Making special offers that can’t be provided through the OTAs
When a hotel is engaged in direct dialogue with a guest, as well as upsells there is also the possibility to adjust pricing, which is not always possible through the intermediary of an OTA. For example, third-party booking websites often require hotels to maintain rate parity, meaning the hotel cannot offer lower rates on their own website. Direct channels to a hotel allow special offers and discounts to be more easily available, further increasing the likelihood of a successful reservation. Dynamic pricing has become a key concept for hotels, and it’s more dynamic when unrestricted by the rules and algorithms of the OTA channels. By being more in control, hotels can also offer more flexible cancellation and modification policies to guests who book directly. This can be a significant factor for travellers - especially since the pandemic when changeability and choice have become ever more important. Flexibility can lead to more bookings, because guests don’t feel they have committed to an agreement which can’t be changed.
Digging deep into the data mine
Much of the success of the Online Travel Agents is down to the ‘back office’ use of the data mined from interactions with customers. This means that the OTAs get to know the market in granular detail, but very little of this valuable information is ever passed on to the hotels themselves. This all changes with direct booking, where the rich data is now available to the hotel itself, which can gather valuable information about guest behaviour and preferences. This information can be used for targeted marketing efforts, improving services, and tailoring the guest experience. Knowing guests' needs and wants through data mining leads to better understanding, and therefore more effective marketing. If you know what a guest is looking for, and how they behave, then you can market much more effectively to them. More effective marketing leads to increased direct bookings, and a boosted bottom line.
Providing a great guest journey and experience
When it all comes down to it, the ultimate measure of a hotel is how excellent the guest journey and experience is, and this should be the goal of every hotelier and member of staff. The drop-down that comes from satisfied guests is of course a well-booked and profitable hotel. The bottom line can however be very usefully improved by following the suggestions we have made here to produce better direct bookings to the hotel, rather than through third parties. Direct bookings benefit hotels by increasing profits, providing better control over the booking process, growing guest relationships, enhancing the guest experience, strengthening branding and reputation, and offering access to valuable guest data.
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Gearing up for success with a modern PMS
The key to all these benefits comes in the form of contemporary cloud-based Property Management Systems, and added ‘Smart Solutions’. ‘Cloud-based’ means that instead of the system residing in a clunky set of black boxes - in the past usually cluttering up the hotel’s back office - all of the software is remote ‘in the cloud’. This provides huge advantages - and not only in lack of clutter! Software can be regularly updated remotely, so that the hotel always has the latest and best. A modern Property Management System also works seamlessly with suites of additional apps which extend services and facilities to entirely new and enhanced offerings which benefit guests and the hotel alike.
At SabeeApp we have over ten years experience of working exclusively in the hospitality industry, worldwide, and we’d like to show you more about how seamless front desk and back office solutions can be easily applied in your hotel, and how increased hotel direct bookings will boost your bottom line.
Please give us a call to book a free no-obligation demo of our system, along with further ideas on how to increase direct bookings for your hotel.