Did you ever think about online travel agencies (OTA) commissions as your runaway bride? You dream about keeping those percentages somehow, but they keep slipping away? In pre-pandemic 2019, the online travel booking industry was worth more than USD 740 billion, and hotels typically pay between 15 and 25 per cent of their top-line revenue in commissions.
The question of whether hotels should focus on their direct sales channels or rely on intermediaries is an old one. Of course, there is plenty of reason for partnering with OTAs, and there's no doubt that mutual gains are created in the process.
Still, the idea of selling more via their own websites appeals to many hotel companies, and it is no secret that they have been taking steps to improve this part of the business.
Besides reducing the OTA costs, increases in the direct booking will have other benefits, too. Think cancellation rates reduction, as well as the untapped opportunities for brand building, upselling and loyalty.
Before setting out to sell anything, whether online or offline, it is important to understand your ideal buyer.
What type of person are they? What do they need, what kind of accommodation sparks their interest? Where do they want to stay? Ironically, many businesses jump straight into advertising while forgetting to think about the essential piece of the puzzle: their target market.
Understanding the customer and their journey is key to maximising website sales. The better you know your customers, the better your website can align with their needs and behaviours. Creating buyer personas can help with understanding how and what your customers want to purchase.
Once you start improving your website for direct booking, user experience becomes your key concern. It is good to start with a UX workshop to define the ideal customer profile and what is unique about your offering. The latter is your key positioning points – things that make you stand out. These findings will inform the information architecture for your website and the structure of your pages, their functionality, and the booking funnel.
Following the UX workshop, the visual design comes into play. It should be functional and straightforward, adaptive to various screen sizes, focusing on the content that addresses your ideal customer website journey.
If you want a well-performing website, it is important to incorporate rich images and videos and authentic stories and trusted reviews. Create a strong narrative for your facility. Detailed description and great content are important in direct online sales.
If you have set out to increase direct bookings, your website becomes your reception desk, your sales director, and your point of sale – all at the same time. They all have in common that they need a strong and buyer-centric narrative to create a satisfying buying process.
To respond to modern users' expectations and boost direct bookings, you need to go beyond just building and promoting your website. It must also include state-of-the-art technologies and work like a well-oiled machine at any time.
A powerful internet booking engine is at the heart of a website built to improve direct bookings. It is paramount that brand consistency is maintained throughout the booking funnel. A high-quality booking engine does the following:
Through property and product listing, starting from the homepage to special offers and packages - integration is crucial in improving conversion. A CRM solution can help you gather insight and inform your further decisions. It enables loyalty programs, lead and campaign management, social media management, automation, reporting and many other functions you will likely need as you work towards boosting direct bookings.
Mobile bookings have grown in importance, and they can be expected to keep growing. Making it easy for travellers to book your hotel on the go using a mobile device is paramount. A growing number of travellers feel comfortable researching, planning and booking their trips to new destinations with their mobile device only. To capitalise on this opportunity, make sure you devote both time and energy to implementing a quick and simple online booking journey from a mobile device.
Some of the tips seem obvious – your mobile pages should be clean, and your content should be legible and concise. Other considerations include:
Rather than competing head-on with OTAs, hotels have been taking a different route. A balanced collaboration with OTAs combined with the efforts to improve direct visitor conversion seems to be the desired formula and likely to result in more direct bookings. Travellers book through OTAs because they are easy to use, they are used to book accommodation that way, they trust the OTA brands, and they typically get the best price.
To address that, hotels have been implementing the following:
Social media has had an impact on virtually every industry, but arguably none more so than travel. It opened up a huge space for destinations to showcase their value, engage in dialogue with travellers, and establish new routes for direct booking.
Engaging with travellers on Facebook has never been easier or more valuable. You can invite contacts and friends, add links to Facebook to your website and email signatures, put up signs, offer incentives and host contests, and post quality content consistently while keeping in mind that 80% of your posts should be about the local area and only 20% about the hotel itself.
If you’re looking for a results-driven, innovative software development partner to help capitalize on new, profitable opportunities, reinvent your brand, or deliver incremental value to your business, we can help.