Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, bookings.com, hotels.com, and similar providers, are helpful for hotels, but they can also be problematic. While OTAs bring in customers and give your hotel exposure, they command high rates of commission that can cut into your profits and dilute your brand.
Direct booking is the best way to make money and create customer loyalty, avoiding one-time booking customers who are just looking for an easy booking or a good deal. Reduce your reliance on OTAs while increasing bookings, and you’ll be creating a strong platform for business success.
1) Use Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is key to attracting and interesting customers and attracting bookings. By making sure your hotel has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other social media platforms, you’ll be meeting customers where they are.
Advertisements on these platforms can be designed to target specific customers and engage with them. They also provide hoteliers with the ability to analyze how and why their ads translate to bookings.
Social media marketing personalizes your hotel beyond the offering of an OTA. You can use your platforms to share photos, interesting stories, deals, and other snippets of your hotel’s specific personality. This can elevate your business far beyond a simple listing on an OTA page.
Show potential customers why you are special, and they’ll see why they should book with you.
You can use your social media marketing to direct people back to your site for booking, bypassing OTAs entirely.
2) Make Search Engine Results Work for You
When people want information or a service, they generally consider the first or second page of search engine results. If your hotel’s direct booking site is not on the first two pages of search engine results, you’ll lose out to an OTA click.
Having your hotel’s website rank well boils down to a good search engine optimization strategy. You need to ensure that you are using the right keywords, links, and other SEO methods to knock out OTA sites and keep your hotel website at the top.
If you do not understand SEO, don’t let this hold you back. By hiring a consultant to handle your SEO marketing, you are creating a strong base. Improved rankings on search engine results pages will improve your overall profits, even if you are paying for outsourced SEO services.
3) Utilize Local Searches and Mobile Tech
If a customer is on the road already, or in your neighborhood, you’ll want to ensure that a local search generates results for your hotel and your direct booking site. Local searches return results that are based on the audience within the area. If someone is searching for hotels near them and yours fits the bill, you need to have your hotel pop up!
There are many ways to do this, including working with Google’s tools and using the correct keywords. Optimizing your site for mobile technology is also a critical part of a local search strategy. Many local searches take place on smartphones; your page must be responsive to mobile tech, therefore, to avoid losing customers to an OTA site that is designed to work with all devices.
4) Offer the Lowest Price
OTAs bring in customers and drive bookings by offering deals and specials. To get those bookings on your own, you need to be able to offer the lowest price and the best deals through your hotel site.
Be clear on your site and any other advertising materials that the lowest price will come through you. Be prepared to price match OTAs to keep this strategy going.
You may also want to share any policies you have surrounding OTA bookings. For instance, many hotels will bump OTA bookings first, preserving the bookings of people who booked directly.
The key is to clearly explain the advantages of direct booking so that customers will come to you first.
5) Engage with Repeat Customers
By building loyalty among your customers, you’ll get repeat business and word of mouth. When customers trust and like you – and they like your hotel – they are more likely to book through you instead of an OTA.
How can you achieve this?
One strategy is to continue communication with customers who have stayed at your hotel in the past. Through email, social media or providing Free WiFi, you can offer deals, specials, rewards programs, and other incentives. Use email tracking tools to see how customers are responding, so you can tailor communication. Be careful not to inundate customers with communication and advertising, however, or they may avoid you. Always ensure that customers have a way of opting out of communication.
Building loyalty also happens on site. Treat your repeat customers like the valued customers they are by meeting their needs before they even ask. Offer excellent customer service, a personalized experience, and perks for repeat bookings. Given VIP treatment, these guests will think of you every time they need to stay in a hotel in your area.
Reducing your reliance on OTAs means working hard to set your hotel apart from the rest. It is not as easy as sitting back and letting a travel agency handle bookings for you, but it is a more sustainable practice that gives you better long term results.
Generating more direct bookings does not mean that you need to stop working with OTAs completely. The goal is to find a healthy balance between commissioned bookings, and those that you handle directly. Ideally, you will be making most of your bookings, with OTA bookings filling in any gaps in your availability.
A strong marketing strategy that involves various avenues of communication with current clients, and potential customers, will help shift the balance of bookings over to your direct site.
When you reduce your reliance on OTAs, you should find that you have more repeat customers, more profits, and better prospects for the future. It is well worth establishing a plan!