Boost Direct Bookings And Keep OTAs Happy With These Three Expert Tips

Hotel operators are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to dealing with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Orbitz, Travelocity and Hotwire. These websites may provide a large source of revenue for hotels, but at the same time, they can cannibalize business that probably would have booked through the hotel in the first place, which saves the hotel from having to pay large OTA commissions.

The plot thickens 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, which makes it difficult for operators to compete for business. But you also don’t want to “bite the hand that feeds you.”

Luckily for hotel operators, there are a number of tricks they can use to increase direct online revenue without breaking OTA agreements. Here’s a few our hotel technology experts devised.

Catch Visitor’s Attention With Smart Design and Layout

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:

Steer Them to Your Website with 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 Your Facebook Fans and Loyal Customers Special Discounts

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.

The Hotel and Travel Week #1

Monday, 19th October

The news about growing tensions between Choice Hotels and Expedia breaks and everyone following hotel news channels will have heard about it by now. It has sparked off a stream of articles and blog entries over the entire week.
What it is all about:
Choice Hotels cut off negotiations with Expedia feeling that they couldn’t accept the new terms and conditions and that Expedia was not ready to negotiate but merely demanded. Choice argues the new terms would effectively take away hoteliers’ rights to manage inventory and rates at their own hotels, destroy channel management and rate parity, and will eventually lead to a long-term erosion of hotel brand and price integrity.

The author of an article for Hotels Magazine pretty much aligned himself with Choice Hotels to the extent of comparing the love of hotels for Expedia (or OTAs / TPIs in general) with the Stockholm syndrom. Read the article.

Tuesday, 20th October
ebookers UK announces to have added a new package holiday booking engine to their site which provides access to millions of holiday offers. The new engine uses TravelTainment technology and is the latest attempt by ebookers to extend the range of tools and services available to customers.
Wednesday, 21st October
BAA sells Gatwick airport for 1.51 billion GBP to the owner of London City Airport, US-based Global Infrastructure Partners. The company had to sell one of their London airports after an inquiry found that customers were suffering from a lack of competition between airports. It has also been ordered to sell Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airport but is appealing against that decision.
Thursday, 22nd October
On Thursday we saw another round of discussions concerning the Choice – Expedia conflict. Adam Kirby from Hotels Magazine ask whether Choice is Leading the Revolution? He says ‘Choice Hotels, whether it meant to or not, finds itself as the leader in an anti-OTA revolution. The big question now is whether there will be any followers’.
However, there are also those opposing the rebellion against Expedia such as Consultant, Marketing Coach and Author Neil Salerno. He argues that the discussion is void because the direct channel cannot compete with OTAs. OTAs spend much more for marketing and therefore have more exposure. Salerno: ‘Smart hoteliers consider OTA business as a base which allows them to build occupancy.’ “Growing Tension Between Hoteliers and OTA’s”…NONSENSE!
Friday, 23rd October
Today, Expedia entered the next phase of the dispute by appealing to Choice franchisees directly in a letter which was obtained by hotel technology blog
Expedia clearly denies the fault for the breakdown of negotiations and suggests that it is open to continue on property level. They also claim that the terms, mentioned by Choice, which led to the breakdown had already formed part of the day-to-day relationship during the prolonged extension period and are no different to what they have in place with other long-term partners.
It seems like the discussion is heating up and this letter could potentially be explosive stuff in the anti-OTA ‘revolution’.
Have a good weekend!