This is a guest post by Ashley Verrill
Hotel operators were thrilled when OTAs like Priceline, Orbitz and Hotels.com first emerged in the hotel industry. These online companies helped fill vacant rooms and brought in extra revenue that hotel operators otherwise would never have seen. Unfortunately, OTAs have done such a good job branding that customers believe these third-party websites always offer the best price. Why should they shop anywhere else?
Rate parity requirements in agreements between hotels and OTAs make it extremely difficult to impact this perception. They prevent hotels from advertising rates for less than what’s on the deals site. Hotels do have a few tricks, however, for driving more direct bookings. It just calls for more creativity. Here’s several strategies our experts devised for competing in this climate.
Rate parity clauses only apply to prices advertised to everyone on the Internet. They don’t prevent hotel operators from publicizing deals to a limited group of people and offering packed deals with a higher value than savings from deal sites. You could, for example, advertise deals to your Facebook following. Here’s one example from the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego.
This ad leads to a special landing page where site visitors can sign up for the deal:
While this is the same rate that advertised on Expedia, the overall value of the deal is more because you get two tickets to the event. Other common add-ons include things like free Wifi, parking, spa treatments, and discounts on food or drinks in the hotel. Here’s the same hotel advertised on Expedia:
Even if you don’t have the resources to build a special landing page, you can still advertise deals directly on your Facebook page with a discount code. Here’s an example from an Atlanta hotel that offered the following deal through winter:
This hotel reported generating more than $2,000 in bookings from this promotion in one month. Regularly, Facebook generated less than $100 in sales per month.
People that sign up for your loyalty program are another common “gated audience” for promoting your deals. Be sure to invite all guests to sign up for your email list and send monthly deals for a return stay booked direct. You can also use this list to advertise your add-on packages and offers.
“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.
Other than offer packages and promoting to a limited audience, hotels can also take efforts to convert more websites visitors through smart design. In many cases, when someone is browsing for a hotel on an OTA, they will visit the hotel’s actual website. This is your chance to keep them there.
One way to do this, is by offering efficient online booking. It should require as few clicks as possible to complete booking, and give the guest absolutely zero reason to have to call you with a question, or doubt that their reservation will go through. This starts with the placement and design of the “book now” call-to-action. Make sure that it appears at the top of the page. It should also clearly be a button or tab (rather than just text that a site visitor might not know if hyperlinked).
|These buttons should be synched with a hotel management system (if you don’t currently use one, there are several top reviewed options available here), that allow the user to check room availability in real time.
These should also be optimized for mobile with responsive design that automatically adjusts to the device’s screen size. Here’s an example from WebRezPro (to the right).
“Mobile is big,” notes Bruton, “and that’s not just tablets, but smartphones.” You need to have your mobile website able to take reservations and a button that will automatically calls the hotel for the prospect when pushed.
You can also advertise your packaged offers directly from the home page with an “offers” tab. This should take visitors to a page with a brief, two-sentence description or bulleted list of each offer, image, and a buy-now button. Here’s an example from Ritz-Carlton:
This tab takes you to this page:
These are just a few tips hotels can use for driving more direct bookings. What strategies does your hotel use to attract travel deal seekers? Join the conversation with a comment here.
Alan S. Horowitz contributed to this report.
Ashley Verrill 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. Currently, her research focuses on various topics related to CRM software, sales, customer service and marketing strategy.