In an online-dominated market, every hotelier strives to craft sale success through direct bookings.
This is because direct bookings have the lowest acquisition cost. Whilst comparison sites and travel agents can increase exposure, they come with a cost; consequently, direct channels are better for a business’s bottom line. As such, direct bookings are essential to a sustainable business model. Thankfully, there are now numerous ways that independent hoteliers and small chains can increase their visibility online, with a plethora of data management software and digital marketing techniques allowing hotels to drive direct bookings. In this article, we discuss seven practical ways hotel operators can encourage direct bookings and craft sale success.
Analyzing the impact of a company’s online presence
Before introducing these seven steps towards driving direct bookings, it is useful to discuss how hotels should approach developing their digital marketing strategy. After all, digital marketing is a nebulous and far-reaching field, so it is important that companies develop a framework in order to maintain focus. With carefully defined objectives and a proper strategy, hotels can implement plans that deliver tangible results. Below are the key questions a hotel should ask when developing up their strategy for maximizing direct bookings.
- How does the hotel’s website stack up against competitors?
Market research is essential to craft sale success. This means analyzing competitors’ approach to their direct channels, including which booking engine they use, how their website ranks, and their social media activity.
- How are visitors engaging with the content?
Today, sophisticated data analysis tools can monitor everything from click-throughs to mouse strokes. Within this data are important insights to how consumers are react to the content on a website. For instance, how long someone spends on a page can indicate the quality of the content.
- Does the booking engine offer a seamless experience?
Consumers expect a seamless booking experience – so hotels need to make sure there are no kinks in their online sales cycle. Therefore, their website and booking engine user experiences need to be fully integrated.
- Are direct bookings available via social media?
Social media is an invaluable low-cost marketing tool, so travel companies need to make sure that they are leveraging these platforms to their fullest potential.
Strategies for driving direct bookings
1. Create customer personas
Who are the property’s target customers and what are their motivations? What concerns them most when traveling? Do they have objections about the hotel’s offer? To many hoteliers, these questions may seem elusive – however, through thorough data analysis, hotels can begin to build detailed customer personas.
A customer persona is a hypothetical model that represents the hotel’s target market, allowing for a deeper understanding of the property’s guests, with greater insight into their needs and their buying behavior.
The first step to developing useful customer persons is to segment databases. By analyzing and subdividing a customer database, it is possible to identify the property's most profitable customer profile. From here, the business can gear marketing efforts towards the most lucrative guests. After the data are segmented, it is possible to deduce what attracted this high-spend customer to the property. This can help to identify the hotel’s unique selling points. Subsequently, marketing materials can be adapted to emphasize these USPs to attract new, profitable clientele.
2. Be accessible
In today’s OTA-dominated market, an accessible website is crucial. The design should be clean, attractive and functional, with high-quality content and compelling copy. Furthermore, you should have a simple, user-friendly online booking system. For instance, a prominent booking widget or button should appear on every page and the booking process should have no more than three steps.
It’s also very important to make sure the website and online booking system is mobile-friendly. Today, around half a hotel’s guests will book via a mobile device, so device optimization is vital. Businesses can track visitor behavior and device metrics using Google Analytics. In addition, Google offers a handy Mobile Friendly Test, so companies can make sure their websites are fully optimized. However, not all guests will prefer to book online. Therefore, all hotels should make sure alternative contact details including email, phone, and full street address are clearly indicated.
3. Leverage searching
Now, if a consumer is looking for a product, it almost inevitable that they will perform a Google search. Therefore, to craft sale success, it is essential that hotels leverage searching maximum effect. For instance, they need to ensure that their website is fully SEO-optimized; although Google’s algorithms are becoming increasingly opaque, SEO still accounts for a significant proportion of traffic. For example, Fast Booking estimated that from a sample of accommodation providers, 48% of bookings were taken as a result of SEO strategy.
In addition, hotels need to make sure they are deploying search engine advertising tools, such as Google Ads. Pay-per-click advertising accounts for a significant proportion of website traffic, thus increasing direct revenue for businesses of all scales. However, approaches to PPC advertising can vary hugely, so ensure to outline clear KPIs. With proper monitoring, the cost of PPC can spin out of control, so marketers need to ensure they are maximizing their return on ad spend.
Even the slickest, most beautiful website cannot guarantee every visit will lead to a conversion. Inevitably, there will be some visitors that will abort the booking process part of the way through. Nonetheless, there is a strategy to bring them back – remarketing. Simply put, remarketing allows a business to re-engage with a customer that was on the brink of booking. By adding a piece of code to your website – otherwise known as a cookie – a business can show potential customers targeted ads or social media content after they leave the site. Despite sounding hi-tech, the process is actually surprisingly simple – Google Ads is a good place to start. However, it’s important to remember that new EU legislation requires businesses to give website visitors the option to opt-out of cookies.
5. Get social
Social media is one of the most valuable marketing tools in the hotel industry. By creating engaging, high-quality content, hoteliers can generate interest in their product that converts to click-throughs. When creating social media content, keep lucrative customer segments and USPs at the forefront of the marketing strategy.
Furthermore, user-generated content, or UGC, is one of the most powerful marketing tools today. Reviews, ratings and comments are possibly the most influential types of content. The organic, authentic nature of UGC make them some of the most enticing advertisements for a hotel. Therefore, consider including reviews, TripAdvisor badges or other types of ‘social proof’ on the property’s website.
6. Give back
Despite the benefits of OTAs, a frustration is that companies are not allowed to incentivize customers to book directly by offering cheaper deals. Even so, a good workaround is to offer value-added packages for booking direct. For example, offer complimentary drinks, valet parking or a discounted spa treatment to craft sale success. A further strategy is to offer discounts to a select audience. Email marketing is a low-cost way to encourage direct bookings, with numerous professional tools like Campaign Monitor or Mailchimp available for a negligible cost. By offering discounts to email subscribers, loyalty scheme members or social media followers, you can encourage customers to book direct without contravening OTA rules.
7. Offer the right price
Even in an increasingly customer-centric business environment, price is still a major product differentiator within the travel industry. Therefore, yield management software is an extremely advantageous investment. These tools allow companies to make sure they offer the right customer the right price, creating automated pricing matrices based on traffic, conversions, and real demand. Furthermore, this strategy is useful to enterprises of all scales; for instance, small independent hoteliers can use a stand-alone rate shopping tool as opposed to a comprehensive software package.
Craft sale success – direct
Whilst OTAs and third party booking agents will always play an important role, encouraging direct bookings will reduce overheads and increase revenue. Now, this is not an unreasonable aspiration for hoteliers; thanks to advanced analytics tools, hotels can strive to learn more about their clients and meet them where they are. So, all that’s left is to dig into data; keep clear; be persistent; be social; give back to your guests and always make sure the price is right. In a business environment where visibility is everything, the adjustment to marketing strategy will undoubtedly pay off.