Hotel operators face a unique challenge when it comes to online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Priceline and Hotwire. While these websites represent an important source of revenue for many properties, they can also cannibalize business that might have booked direct in the first place, saving the hotel from paying OTA commissions.
This situation is further complicated when you consider that most OTA agreements require rate parity. These rules forbid hotels from advertising rates for less than what’s on the deals site. This makes it difficult for operators to compete for business. But you also don’t want to “bite the hand that feeds you.”
Thankfully, hotel operators have a number of tricks they can use to drive direct bookings without breaking OTA agreements. Here’s a few our hotel technology experts devised.
Use Smart Layout and Design To Keep Visitors On Your Website
Many times when customers shop for deals, they find a handful of properties in a similar price range. Their next step is often to navigate to the individual hotel websites. This is your big opportunity to convince them to book directly through your website.
The first and most obvious (yet surprisingly overlooked) best practice is to put your most attractive rooms front and center on the homepage. When customers book on deals sites, they often assume they will get the most basic room you have to offer. So if they see immediately just what they would miss, it might be enough to convince them to pay the extra amount needed for the better room. Use professional photos that show the room’s best features, whether that’s the view, a huge soaking tub, or the square footage — whatever generally “sells” customers on the room. Here’s a great example from the Hilton in San Francisco:
This page also demonstrates another design best practice – the “check availability” button in the top right corner. You should make it extremely obvious where site visitors can book online. The experience should be seamless. Your web booking engine should enable customers to view availability in real time and book their room immediately.
Finally, you should prominently display your own discounts and packages. Rate parity requirements only apply to offers for the exact same room. Even if you can’t offer a lower price for that same room, you can offer more value than the savings with add-ons. Here’s a great example from the same Hilton website. They dedicate an entire page on their website for packages:
Drive Them Home with Online Reviews
Another common step in the evaluation stage on OTAs is to browse online reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp and the like. This presents yet another opportunity for hotel operators to jump in and drive direct website bookings, rather than sending them back to the OTA.
Hotel operators should respond to every comment possible that users post. For example, if someone comments on how much they liked the room layout, view or another feature, the manager could respond by thanking them for feedback and and providing a link to their customer loyalty program. Or, in a scenario where the customers was less than satisfied, they can thank them again for the feedback and offer a discount for their next booking. This shows customers you care and are willing to take steps to provide them with more value. Here’s a great example from Hotel San Jose in Austin, Texas:
Send Discounts to Your Facebook Fans and Loyal Customers
Parity agreements prevent hotels from offering discounts publicly. However, this restriction doesn’t apply to those offers hotels distribute to a limited audience, including to Facebook followers and people signed up for your loyalty program.
Here’s a great example from the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego. They posted an update with a nicely-designed poster and advertisement for special packages they offered that weekend. If you click through, it takes you to a landing page with discount codes:
You can also send regular discount codes to an email list of people who signed up for your loyalty program.
“We give better rates to returning guests than any rate on a OTA,” says Gary Bruton, principal at Cypress Hospitality Management, which manages The Sanctuary Beach Resort, among others.
About once a month, he sends a form of communication to his mailing list of former guests. Sometimes it’s a newsletter, other times a blog post. This communication provides the reader with up-to-date information about what’s going on in the hotel.
Savvy hotel operators can personalize these communications through automation technology. These tools can also enable customers to rack up reward “points” that can then be put towards a future purchase via self-service portal.
What strategies does your hotel use to drive direct bookings? Join the conversation with a comment here.
Ashley Verrill is a market analyst at Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.