There’s no denying that OTAs pack a powerful punch when it comes to online bookings. OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia have a potent arsenal of cutting-edge technology and massive marketing budgets behind their very successful distribution strategies; they boast online omnipresence with global consumer reach and seamless online bookings. While lodging operators understandably begrudge OTA commissions eating into their bottom line, there are two sides to the coin — the flip side is that hoteliers have an opportunity to take advantage of the increased visibility that OTAs offer.
When I search for accommodation online, I often start my search on an OTA, but before making a decision, I always google the property’s own website. I do this because I want to get a better feel for the property beyond what’s presented in their OTA listing. This is known as the “billboard effect” — where a property’s OTA listing works much like a billboard; increasing a property’s exposure and even driving direct bookings.
But in order for the billboard effect to work, a property’s own website needs to offer customers a smooth path to booking.
#1. A well designed website.
A website that not only looks good but is easy to navigate and functions smoothly is key to impressing prospective guests and luring them to book direct. A property’s own website has the potential to give customers a much more distinctive and genuine online experience than an OTA.
Check out our post about optimizing your website for success, but in a nutshell, it comes down to successfully portraying the special experience of staying at your property through engaging imagery and content that communicates the unique features of your property, from special packages to property features to location.
And make sure your site offers just as good a user experience as the OTAs — with fast load times, intuitive navigation, mobile friendliness and easy online bookings (more on that next).
#2. Simple, secure, mobile-friendly online bookings.
OTAs are so successful with online bookings due to simple, trusted and mobile-friendly booking processes, and properties must follow suit on their own websites to avoid booking abandonment. The fewer steps it takes to make a reservation, the better. Your online booking engine should reassure customers that the booking process is secure by displaying a secure payment badge when asking for credit card information, and should send automatic email confirmation to customers to assure them that their booking was a success. Your booking engine should also be able to display rates in different currencies.
#3. Best rate guarantee & benefits of booking direct.
While hoteliers can’t publicly advertise lower rates than those on OTAs (due to parity agreements), rates available through a property’s own website should match those offered on OTAs to support a best rate guarantee. Why shop anywhere else when the rate on your site is guaranteed the lowest?
Customers are more likely to book direct when the value of booking direct is apparent. Make sure the advantages of booking direct are advertised on your website — like preferred rooms, free breakfast, a drink at the bar or free parking — perks that are only available when booking direct. Value-added packages might cost more than discounted room rates advertised on OTAs, but the upgraded experience should offer more value than the discount offered through the OTA.
Rates lower than those on OTAs can be offered to limited audiences, like your Facebook fans, Twitter followers or newsletter subscribers, if they book direct. Invite customers to like your Facebook page or sign up to your newsletter to access special deals. Empower staff taking phone reservations to offer a lower rate.
#4. Convert OTA customers into future direct bookers.
Don’t give up on customers who have booked through an OTA — you’ll get ‘em next time. But in order to do so, it’s important to ask for their email address upon check-in or check-out. Tell guests that you would like to share special discounts for future stays or to pass to a friend. Alternatively, you could offer departing guests coupons for a 10 percent discount if they book direct next time.
If your property offers a loyalty program, invite guests to join to access points or perks when booking direct.
#5. Optimize your OTA listings.
While it might seem counterintuitive, it’s important to ensure your listings on OTAs are complete and high quality. Excluding quality content from OTA listings will not drive customers to your website; instead, customers are likely to skip the listing entirely to consider properties with more appealing listings.
Listings with great photos, complete descriptions and amenity lists, and competitive rates are much more likely to motivate a shopper to take note of your property and search for your website… which is where all the above tips come into play for turning that OTA looker into a direct booker!