Think outside the box…
As an industry we seem to have been having the same conversation for several years now and that is ‘how on earth do we encourage direct bookings?’. We all moan about the high commission fees that we pay to OTA’s and we often dip our toes into the conversation about channel shift, but what really works and is it time we tried something new? The days of giving our guests a card on check-out with a ‘book direct next time and receive 10% off’ should be well and truly over. Think about it… how many coffee shop loyalty cards have you been given? Do you ever actually hold on to them all? I doubt it… so don’t expect a guest to carry around a card from your hotel that offers 10% off, on the off chance that they might book again. We tried it, it didn’t work, so lets move on…
We need to think smarter and perhaps ‘out of the box’. So let me tell you some of the ideas that may well work for you.
Be where customers search for you
This starts on the search engines. Rule number 1 – you should be bidding on your own brand name. Even if you don’t spend money on anything else, ensure that you have a strong presence and ‘own’ your brand. Once you have a presence – and of course the goal is to appear ahead of the OTA’s – then make sure you give customers a clear reason to come to your own site.
You can see that this hotel gives their browsing customers a really strong reason to come to their brand site – if you Book Direct you get the best rate. These ad’s are called Site Extensions and don’t cost any extra. They link directly into the specific rate, so you take all the noise and difficulty of having to browse around your website and take your customer straight to the Book Direct offer.
Loyalty – it’s not all about points
Points do not always mean prizes (Bruce Forsyth may be gone but he is not forgotten). As independent hotels, we will never win the battle against brands or OTA’s when it comes to customers earning points over multiple stays. As independents we may will get people back for repeat stays but that may be 3 or 4 times per year – hardly enough to warrant loyalty… So why don’t we make the rewards instant? Book Direct and be rewarded with a complimentary upgrade or perhaps prosecco on arrival or if your market matches it, why not offer Amazon vouchers? Give someone a reason to book and feel immediately rewarded.
If you are lucky enough to have a technology provider to manage your post stay emails, then you should be all over this. But whether you do or not, we have all this ‘diamond dust’ information about our guests in the shape of email addresses. Okay, because of GDPR, we need to ensure we have an ‘opt-in’ and of course these often have to be collected at check-in, but we still have them. So why don’t we follow-up with each guest and not just with a ‘thank you for staying with us’ email but with a link to special rates. These rates are only available to past guests (a reward for loyalty) and can offer discounts or unique packages not available on our public site. Your booking engine provider should be able to help you with this (and if they can’t, let me know and I can point you to those who can). What a great way to show someone you actually care and to thank them for staying. Try it, it might just work.
Thinking outside the box
In two weeks time I am taking my daughter to Rome to celebrate her 21st birthday. The reason that I tell you this is that I booked our hotel on booking.com. I know – shock! Something I would never normally do and would vehemently discourage. However, the reasons (yes, there were multiple) that I did were:
- they did not have a twin room on their brand site and they did on booking.com (cardinal sin number 1 – never have better inventory on an OTA than you do on your brand site)
- they ignored two emails sent to them directly and a Facebook message, asking if I could book a twin direct as I didn’t want to book on booking.com
- they did not return a phone call (yes, I even tried to call them)
- the price was the same as booking.com so I had no actual incentive to book direct, even though I wanted to
So I gave up and cost them at least 15%…
Anyway, I digress, the reason I tell you this is that yesterday I received a lovely message from booking.com to thank me for booking with them; to tell me that they were excited that I had chosen to visit Rome and as a thank you and to help me enjoy my stay, they presented me with a QR code that would not only allow me to skip the line at some major tourist attractions but that would also give me discount on entry! To be honest, I was overwhelmed. What an amazing idea and why on earth are we as an industry (not as an individual hotel) all over this? Surely our hotel membership bodies, tourist boards and visitor centres should be partnering us with this initiative?
We all know that OTA commission is one of the biggest negative influencers in our industry and that money goes straight out of our economy. Couldn’t we come together as industry partners and say – hey, ‘a high tide lifts all boats’ – if we can offer discounts or incentives to our guests to visit attractions or have 10% off in a restaurant or a complimentary glass of prosecco before dinner – then visitors will visit those venues as a priority.
As hoteliers, we offer something fantastic to hook those direct bookings and as attraction suppliers, restaurants or bars, we get more people through the door at minimal cost – wouldn’t this help everyone?
I am off now to try and rally support from my own local tourist boards and federations, can you do the same?
(and for all things revenue, please just firstname.lastname@example.org)