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How to Turn OTA Customers into Loyal Guests

As of 2019, more than half of hotel bookings came from online travel agents (OTAs) like Expedia and Booking.com. Ouch. That’s a lot of commission fees. Fortunately, that’s also a lot of visibility. It’s like window shopping. Guests browse hotels on OTAs, but they can be enticed onto your property’s own website through an appealing listing and persuaded to stay with deals and personalized value-adds. You can turn OTA shoppers into loyal guests who return to book directly with you. Here’s how. 

Polish Your OTA Profiles

Your OTA profile convinces people to stop on your listing and/or find your website. It’s at the top of your marketing funnel, so it needs to look nice. Think about it. You wouldn’t go into a store with a cracked mannequin and a pile of stained clothing in the window, would you? 

For many of your guests, your OTA listing is the first impression they get of your property, so make it a good one. Guests can’t become repeat guests if they never book in the first place. 

Fill out all available fields, use plenty of high-quality photos, and keep your information up to date. Your property management system should integrate with your OTA channels, so pricing and availability changes are automatically reflected online. This ensures you’re always offering the most advantageous rates and prevents overbooking. Guests never like hearing there’s no room at the inn, especially after they’ve paid for a room at the inn. 

If OTA shoppers like what they see, many of them will google your website to explore your property further. 

Optimize Your Website

Once you have potential guests on your website, you need to keep them there. Your site needs to be clear, easy to use, and visually appealing. 

Make sure your site is mobile friendly. As of 2019, forty-two percent of guests around the world had reserved a hotel using their mobile device. Mobile friendly means responsive design, which automatically adapts your website to the device it’s opened on. 

Include an accessibility widget with options to adjust text size, spacing, contrast, etc., for those who are visually impaired. Not only will this attract more guests, but making your website accessible is the law under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Leverage reviews on your site. Eighty-one percent of guests usually—or always—read hotel reviews before booking, so make your reviews easy to find by adding them to your homepage. 

Lastly, promote your website around your property and on social media. Guests can’t book directly with you if they can’t find you. 

Offer Direct Online Bookings

Guests are more likely to book direct if they don’t have to call the front desk to do it. Make sure your website includes an online booking engine that is clearly marked, simple to use, and matches your brand. 

It helps to choose a contrast color for your booking engine button so that guests can see it easily, as in our recent design for Forest Home Cabins where the reddish brown stands out from the green (and achieves a harmonious color scheme). Don’t include unnecessary steps in the booking process. Guests will abandon a booking if it takes too long. 

It’s also important to ensure that your booking engine and website are secure with a valid SSL certificate, a secure https connection, and PCI-compliant payment gateway integration. Nothing turns off a guest faster than potential identity theft. 

Incentivize Customers to Book Direct

You can’t offer everyone a lower rate than what’s on your OTA—there’s that pesky parity agreement—but you can offer some people a better deal. Offer discounts to specific guest segments, e.g., loyalty members or Facebook followers, using password-protected rates. This way, you can send customers an access code / password to use when they book online or with your front desk to access the special rate. Empower staff taking phone reservations to offer a lower rate to win bookings too. 

Give the rest of your customers a best rate guarantee, which means that your book direct rate matches the rate they get through an OTA. Conversion rates rise by 56% when this is the case (or the book direct rate is better). It should never cost guests more to book direct! Integrating your property management system with your OTA channels helps maintain rate parity at all times.

Offer direct booking perks—like special packages and value-adds such as free parking or a free drink that are only available when booking direct. It may cost the same for the guest as using an OTA, but it’s still a better deal because there is more included. And while it costs your property to provide these perks, weigh up the cost against the cost of an OTA commission to make sure it’s also a better deal for you! 

Collect Guest Data

Whether guests book direct or through an OTA, collecting guest data is key to getting them to book direct next time by sending them future discounts and promotions. 

When a guest books direct, your property management system will collect their contact information, but you might not receive it if they book through an OTA because the OTA is their point of contact. A polite request for the guest’s email address at check-in or check-out works well. Train your staff to make this part of their routine. 

Customers are more likely to share their data if they’re getting something in return, so think about what’s in it for them. What discounts and amenities can you offer in exchange? It doesn’t have to be something big or expensive. Small offers that they can use right away—like a free drink at the lounge—appeal to guests’ desire for instant gratification. Or simply let them know that you’d like to send them a discount for a future stay.

You can also collect guest data via a loyalty program. Guests understand they’re giving you information to receive a higher level of personalized service. The key to a good loyalty program is flexibility. Immediate perks and points that can be redeemed for any hotel services, anytime are more valuable than points that can only be redeemed for stays at certain times of the year. The simpler you make it, the better. 

Treat Every Guest Like a VIP

Good customer service motivates guest loyalty. Eighty-four percent of consumers believe the experience a business provides is as important as the product, and approximately 33% will abandon a business after only one bad experience. To deliver the kind of customer service that brings guests back again and again, it’s important to take care of your staff and train them well. Happy, engaged staff will go above and beyond for every guest.

However your guest booked, you need to treat them like they’re more than a reservation number to persuade them to return. Personalization is important. Remember their names and use guest data to tailor their stay as much as possible. Leave chocolates in their room if it’s their anniversary or for any other special occasion. (Ensure those chocolates are dairy-free if they’ve declared a dairy allergy.) If a guest is bringing their pet, set up a dog bed and treats in their room. Use guest profiles in your property management system to record this kind of information so that you can proactively personalize future stays. 

Then, ask guests to book direct next time. If you’ve given them a good experience, they’ll feel good about helping you in return. 

With a little extra effort you can turn OTA customers into loyal, direct-booking guests. You need a polished online presence and attractive incentives to snag those OTA shoppers. Whether guests book direct or through an OTA, make sure you collect guest data so that you can personalize their stay experience and send them offers to bring them back—and persuade them to book direct next time. It’s easy with an automated property management system like WebRezPro that includes a commission-free website booking engine, flexible rate and package management, guest profiles and automated guest communications. Contact us for a free, no-obligation demo.