An Online travel agency (OTA) will account for approximately 60% of all independent hotel bookings. That is a strong statistic that cannot be ignored. As a hotelier battling big chains, the increasingly complex guest journeys and rising commission bills, you won’t find this article to be easy reading, but it’s a fact that must be explored and understood.
The reason is simple: by embracing your Online Travel Agency partnerships and combining them with direct booking strategies, your hotel can remain competitive and deliver the best booking experiences for guests.
Costly re-admission: it doesn’t have to be like this!
If you accept a booking via an Online Travel Agency, then you’ll pay a commission for that business. This negatively impacts your RevPAR and affects your bottom line, but it does result in a new customer. What if that customer re-books via the same OTA, however? You’re paying for re-admission, and that’s when the real problems begin to mount. This doesn’t have to happen, however. Change will only occur if hotel operators take control, and the key lies in optimizing their OTA strategy and learning from their strategies to enhance direct bookings.
Learning from the big boys
There are three key insights hoteliers can learn from OTAs when it comes to creating a direct booking experience that attracts more guests and reduces the possibility of them choosing a commissionable route:
Your hotel PMS should enable you to collect a wide variety of data about each guest, but are you doing anything with that data? Knowing their previous room selection, method of booking, extras chosen and any previous discounts applied will enable you to personalize their experience and attract them to your brand. Experiment by browsing an OTA you’ve previously used to determine how it personalizes the booking experience and then apply what you’ve learned to your booking processes. Whatever makes you feel good about booking via an OTA, replicate that feeling on your Website!
- Segment and use your email list
How often do you receive an email from an Online Travel Agency with hotel offers that appear to match your preferences and past booking behavior? As a hotelier, you can do this too by combining the personalization techniques suggested above and segmenting the list of email addresses within your database. Your hotel PMS should enable you to do this by filtering specific guest types, sources of business and demographic data. Segment your database by those types of guest, their locations and stay habits, and then send regular emails to your past guests, making the call-to-action your online booking page.
- Make it as easy as possible to book
When was the last time you tried the online booking process on your Website? It might seem like an odd action, but by understanding the experience you’re offering guests, you’ll start to identify their challenges or frustrations. Your booking process should contain as few steps as possible, be ultra-clear and work flawlessly on mobile devices. If it doesn’t, then it might be a barrier to entry for otherwise direct bookers.
How to embrace your OTA relationships
It’s easy to view OTAs as the enemy, but if instead you consider them a provider of new guests, and work on building direct relationships via the methods above, they’ll become much more valuable. When compared to actual ad dollars spent to attract new guests, the OTA’s do this rather economically. To maximize your Online Travel Agency relationships, try the following:
- Align your online and offline marketing efforts. Remember, not every customer will book via an OTA if he or she finds you there; they may instead use the phone, and it’s vital they encounter the same brand, pricing and packages they found online.
- Fine-tune your OTA listing. Was it rushed? Have you included enough original images that accurately show the best your property has to offer? Most OTAs offer a wealth of tools designed to help you create a listing potential guests can’t ignore.
- Be smart with availability and rates. You can use OTA rate flexing and closeout features to maximize their use during your slower seasons. Don’t just “set and forget” your rates and availability.
- Extend the service beyond accommodation. If an OTA offers the ability to combine flight and car rental with your accommodation, then let it do so – it may attract guests who haven’t booked independently.
Experiment with several OTAs and look for niche Websites which appear to target your ideal guest; there are no rules to how many OTAs you should use and for how long you should remain on their Websites.
You hold the key to your Online Travel Agency relationships and only you can influence how they work for your hotel. That’s a satisfying amount of power one can wield. The takeaway today is a simple and encouraging one: if an OTA sends you a booking, then you have a golden opportunity to ensure it books directly during the future and to build a profitable relationship with hospitality marking tool using post stay engagement forms and special offers from that point forward.