Beat the OTA’s with one word – Loyalty
So what is loyalty? Well have a think about life in general. What makes you loyal to a person, a place, a brand? Well it probably boils down to two things – they either make you feel special or they appreciate you by giving something back.
We have discussed and will continue to discuss OTA dominance for a few years yet I believe. We have analysed their monopoly over rate parity; commission levels; availability parity and their right to bid with Google on your brand name. Now of course these are all things we can tackle and in my view, these are things we should tackle as an industry together, but often we over-look the OTA’s ability to build loyalty. As I mention, in my view we need to understand the two fundamental reasons people build loyalty to any brand – that is feeling special or getting something back in return.
We all like to feel special don’t we? So why not make your guest feel special from the first moment they call or visit your website. Lets concentrate for now on the online experience. How easy for example is your website to navigate around? How easy are you making your customer journey? Are you encouraging them to book direct by putting reasons to do that up-front-and-central. Tell customers about:
- Your Best Rate Guarantee
- The access to Exclusive Rates they won’t find anywhere else
- Your ability to give Priority Upgrades if they book direct
But why not take that a step further and have a LiteBox or Button on your website that shows Exclusive Rates if you join a Loyalty Programme and Book Direct.
This LiteBox can link to a rate or a group of rates that are hidden and therefore cannot be rate parity checked by the OTA’s. This already gives you an advantage as well as your customer.
These rates are only accessible if a customer clicks on that link, but will direct to rates that show very definite book direct benefits. These of course can be 10% off or perhaps stay 2 nights get the third free or similar, but they can also purely offer something as simple as a bottle of wine in the room or a late check-out. You decide. But hey presto, you have just given a customer a reason to feel special and of course if they have that ‘hook’ to book with you once, then they know they have a reason to come back and book direct with you again.
You now also have a database of customers who have expressed a desire to feel loyalty to your brand – priceless!
Now there are some hotels out there that see that purely as potential to dilute rates. I disagree and I disagree for two reasons. First of all, the rate doesn’t have to be discounted but could purely offer a little extra – something with a low cost to you but a high value to your customer. And secondly, if you are getting that booking direct, okay you risk having to discount a little or throw in something extra but surely if that costs less that 15, 18 or 23% commission you risk losing to an OTA, doesn’t that make commercial sense?
This suggestion may not be for everyone and I understand that hotels might be wary but there are other ways you can use hidden rates – read on…
Building Brand Loyalty
So we get these lovely customers in to our hotel the first time. We collect their email address, their postal address and then we merrily let them walk out the door, hoping that if they come back they will choose to book directly with us again. But can’t we be a little cleverer? This comes down to being clever about how you collect data and then what you do with it.
We have mentioned before about Guest Communication and I honestly believe that this is one of the reasons the OTA’s have such a dominance over us. They communicate with their guests and invite them into a loyalty programme. Now okay, they often offer ‘stay 9 nights, get the 10th free’ (Expedia for example) and because that can be offered throughout their whole portfolio of hotels, it can be difficult for a single hotel to compete with. Difficult but not impossible.
Overall we are pretty poor at tracking guests and we need to up our game. We have talked about segmenting guests in previous blogs but are we actually doing that and if so, what are we offering them to come back? Everyone needs a reason to be loyal, so give them one.
If it is a leisure guest, why not offer a ‘come back and stay with us and get upgraded for free – just book direct!’ Or if it is a corporate guest then perhaps ‘stay 9 nights and have dinner on us’. There are lots of things that we can be doing to encourage guest loyalty.
You need to have great check-in procedures and you need to track and measure but I feel we all need to start somewhere in this OTA fight. Honestly, the easiest thing to do is offer guests who have stayed before access to Exclusive Rates and that is easy to do if you are actively doing mail shots. A link can very easily be placed in an email directing to hidden offers on your site. These rates don’t need to be publicised on your website (as above) but can be added to a mailshot. This means of course that your first time guest isn’t seeing a reason to book direct but you are potentially building loyalty and giving someone a reason to come back a second time.
If you do nothing else, then I urge you to start implementing some sort of Exclusive Rate strategy today. Make customers feel that they are part of an exclusive club or at worst, a reward scheme.
Give someone a reason to come back. Make them feel special, valued and that you are prepared to reward that loyalty. Perhaps in life, we are all Labradors at heart… Desperate to feel special but will reward you with loyalty that will last… Try it – what’s the worst that can happen?