Let’s face it, the OTAs are not getting any smaller. Online travel agent (OTA) bookings have steadily increased at the expense of hotels, taking advantage of a thriving digital travel market to strengthen their position and impose conditions in exchange for increased exposure – including 15% -25% commissions. Understandably, hotels prefer direct bookings.
However, as OTAs account for more and more of the market, hotels must figure out how to compete for direct bookings while still maximizing the distribution potential of the OTA channel. The answer is building an effective marketing strategy that ensures your hotel gets its fair share of direct bookings, rewards brand loyalty and converts the right guests.
WHY DIRECT IS SO IMPORTANT
A direct hotel booking also contains something much more valuable than money – data. With an OTA booking, hotels aren’t passed along any first-party data, leaving the only chance to capture customer contact data at the point of sale.
With OTA bookings, hotels lose money upfront as well as the long-term data equity of the consumer. That precious contact information is your hotel’s chance to build guest relationships with loyalty marketing. Understanding how to use this information to your advantage can significantly impact your direct bookings.
MAINTAIN YOUR (PAID SEARCH) BRAND SHARE
Since search engine ad space is now at the half fold mark, consumers must scroll down half a page to see organic results. Ads take up the upper half of the page and in case you weren’t aware, the OTAs are bidding on your hotel’s brand terms. So, how do you compete? Maximize your paid search brand impression share to sit at 90 percent or higher. Bid for your own key terms, especially exact match, so your ads show up first. OTA’s have no rights to advertise their page with your hotel brand name in Google. If they do, inform them to remove it.
REMARKETING TO HOTEL RESEARCHERS
For most travellers, hotel research spans about two weeks, with consumers browsing an excessive amount of sites in search of the best deals and travel experiences. To stay top of mind and finish strong, awareness and re-engagement campaigns are critical. The point is to influence various parts of a traveler’s research process throughout the buying journey.
UTILIZING CRM DATA
The data in your system is like gold. With the email addresses in your CRM, you can create a marketing loop of targeted loyalty offers based on the room type and amenities guest groups enjoyed. Guests are more likely to book again if the offers they receive are tailored to their likes as opposed to mass marketing emails. You can also use those same emails to build exact match display campaigns to influence your purchasing decision for future trips.
To reach more guests like the ones you already have had who typically book OTA, you can create look-a-like models and use that data in remarketing display campaigns, even running those ads directly on the OTA sites themselves.
Create an exclusive offer only available through booking direct and use differentiated messaging to get consumers to book through you as opposed to Expedia, Booking.com or Trivago. One of the most successful messages is the “best rate guarantee” approach as it instills confidence that there isn’t a lower price available anywhere but your hotel’s website.
Creating and maintaining an awesome loyalty program is one of the most important weapons in winning the booking war. Make it a program with tangible benefits, not just a fluffy marketing message. Offer your loyal guests lower nightly rates by booking directly with your hotel. If not a discounted rate, other perks could include free WIFI, free parking or a welcome amenity. In your combat OTA advertising, mention the perks of booking direct as a loyalty member.
Make your loyalty program as valuable as you can. For guests in your database who are not members yet, advertise the benefits of becoming a loyalty member via an email campaign. Offer first time sign up deals, “sign up and get your third night free,” for example. Make it easy to sign up for the program via your website, with a short form that doesn’t request an excessive amount of information.