Many independent hotel operators have love/hate relationships with their online travel agent (OTA) partners. They love the online exposure and new bookings provided by OTAs, but hate paying out the required commissions. As the saying goes, “It’s the cost of doing business.” However, independent hoteliers shouldn’t feel pigeonholed into relying solely on OTAs for online bookings. By utilizing the 5 strategies below, independent hotels can easily increase their direct, commission-free online bookings:
1. Leverage your online tools
The first step in capturing free direct bookings is to have a great hotel website booking engine. However, with more travelers relying on their mobile devices, it’s equally important, if not more so, to also provide an easy-to-use mobile booking engine. With two direct booking channels, you increase your chances of capturing more commission-free reservations from travelers, no matter their device of choice.
Secondly, leverage all of your online tools, including desktop and mobile websites, email and social media, to drive traffic to your booking engines. Use creative content and great images to grab travelers’ attention and then incentivize them to book directly. Free breakfast with website reservations or free Wi-Fi with mobile bookings are great value add-ons and will encourage more travelers to book directly versus through OTAs.
2. Develop a content strategy
Well-written, targeted content is extremely important in driving direct bookings, so developing a content strategy will help you remain efficient and organized. Tracking the content used on each digital channel, length of each offer and their performance will help you understand their effectiveness on travelers and tailor future campaigns to have a greater impact.
3. Great photos sell guestrooms
In addition to reading about your hotel, guests want to see it. Hire a photographer to take clean, well-lit photos that can be used to show guests the value they’ll receive with their booking. Also, include photos of your community to help sell your hotel to travelers. The better potential guests can envision their stay, the more likely they are to book.
4. Utilizing your data
Support your direct booking offers and incentives with good data. Using your hotel PMS, view booking trends and other data to determine how to set promotional rates, offer timelines and forecast reservations. Additionally, use historical guest data to test and promote special campaigns, such as off-peak season promotions or guest surveys to gain valuable insight about your operations.
5. Always a work in progress
After establishing a system for driving direct bookings, you’ll consistently need to make adjustments to maximize its performance. As traveler preferences evolve, airfare and gas prices fluctuate, seasons change and other elements impact travel, you’ll need to tweak your messaging, update images and launch new offers and promotions to ensure they remain attractive to travelers.