Grow direct hotel bookings, spend less on commissions and third-party fees.
Where do hotels get bookings?
At some point during the travel purchase journey, guests will wonder if it’s better for them to book direct or via an online travel agency (OTA).
The reality is OTAs are incredibly convenient.
- OTA websites dominate key search terms often making them the first option lookers come across online.
- They’re quick and easy to use, commonly with just a 2-step booking process.
- They’ve become household names that travelers trust.
Direct bookings are the more attractive option for hoteliers but do potential guests feel the same way? Clearly, you can’t ignore nor forego OTAs but you also don’t want to rely only on them to sell rooms. So, what are your other options?
Hotel distribution channels
Hotels get reservations online and offline through direct and indirect channels.
Online distribution channels for hotels include:
- Hotel website (booking engine, email, phone calls)
- Search engines
- Metasearch engines (aka search aggregators) like TripAdvisor
- Online ads
- Social media
- Travel blogs and forums
- OTAs like booking.com
- Global distribution systems (GDS) like Amadeus
Offline distribution channels for hotels include:
- Press features
- Travel books, magazines and publications
- Word of mouth
- Tourist information offices
- Travel agencies and tour operators
- Travel fairs
Whether online or offline, indirect channels normally involve commissions or fees paid out to third parties. That means bookings via third parties end up with a higher guest acquisition cost. On the other hand, direct reservations bring in higher revenue. That’s why your small hotel needs a strategic mix of distribution channels—and more direct bookings.
How to increase direct bookings for small hotels
✅ Create the best hotel website experience
Times change, technology advances. If you want to earn prospects’ interest, respect and trust, your website needs to keep up with those developments. Here’s a list of must-haves for a great hotel website.
1. Modern design
When I say “modern design”, I don’t mean you shouldn’t be creative or erase your brand’s unique aesthetic. If you’re all about retro, by all means, go for a retro design! Just do so within today’s best practices because an outdated website deters people from booking.
2. Be user-friendly
The best hotel websites aren’t just attractive – they also provide a seamless experience. In other words, your website’s design must be functional. Prospects should be able to find what they want quickly and easily.
3. Make it responsive
Potential guests are visiting your website on a variety of devices: Smartphones, phablets, tablets, and computers. If your pages don’t load properly, look funky, or make navigating from page to page a challenge, that’s a lost booking right there.
4. It should be quick to load
Gorgeous website? Check. Easy to navigate? Check. Inspiring copy that has the reader raring to go on vacation? Check. Sadly, if your pages take too long to load, your prospect won’t get to see any of that. All your effort is wasted because he’s just going to bounce.
5. Your site must be secure
If you want people to book through your website, you need to create a safe environment for them to do so. An SSL Certificate is a must. So, if you haven’t already done so, invest in an SSL Security Certificate today.
✅ Pay attention to your SEO
Spending on pay-per-click (PPC) ads adds up really fast. So do the commissions and fees paid 💸 to third-party booking sites.
While those expenses might not matter as much when you’re making bank (and the travel industry is healthy), what do you do when times are tough and your marketing budget shrinks?
When it’s time to save advertising dollars, that’s when you’ll thank the heavens you cared about SEO.
A decent ranking on search engines can work wonders for direct bookings. How? Because it improves brand visibility. Searchers become aware you exist and can easily click through to your website for more information. And once someone makes it to your website, you’re one step closer to landing a direct booking. That’s why your web copy must always incorporate SEO!
Haven’t put much thought into it before? Well, now’s the time to get serious with it.
- Write rich copy and create quality evergreen as well as timely content.
- Use relevant keywords.
- Optimize pages as much as possible.
Reminder: An improved ranking takes time and, yes, SEO is always a work in progress. Be patient. Keep at it. And don’t give up if you don’t get the results you were expecting immediately.
✅ Select the right booking engine
If you want to accept direct hotel bookings online, you’re going to need a booking engine. Did I just state the obvious? Well, don’t settle for the first offer! Research all your options and choose carefully. Don’t forget to look beyond costs. You want a booking tool that’s easy for you to handle but also convenient for clients.
Ideally, the booking engine should:
- Offer a clean and sleek interface.
- Clearly display rates as well as inclusions.
- Require as few steps as possible for a confirmed booking.
✅ Invest in professional photos
We judge a hotel by its photos. We have to like what we see before we choose to stay there. That’s why photo quality plays an important role in attracting more direct hotel bookings. Just don’t go overboard with Photoshop and of course, no fake photos. You don’t want to be called out for being deceptive.
✅ Work on your hotel’s web copy
What you write should grab attention, keep readers invested, and motivate action. You want to stand out and have an impact on the reader.
After all, you aren’t just describing your hotel. You’re transporting the reader to your property, getting them excited about – and imagining – what it would be like to stay with you.
Here are a few tips to guide your copywriting:
- Tell a story so your brand becomes memorable.
- Highlight what makes your hotel different.
- Put extra thought into your calls to action.
- Follow SEO best practices.
✅ Share guest reviews
Travelers seek reassurance. That’s why part of the travel purchase journey involves reading reviews. They want to be sure they’re making the right choice, that the hotel really is as you’ve described it (no telling porkies), and that reality will match expectations. So, what should you do? Make it a point to include social proof like guest reviews on your website. You can do that by embedding review widgets on your site or by featuring testimonials in strategic locations.
✅ Create irresistible offers
Go beyond the “best rate guarantee”. Special promotions, offers, and packages unique to your website are another great way to encourage people to book direct.
You want to think about the kind of added value your target market want/need and then incentive those to get them to book direct.
If you’re a business hotel, those who book direct enjoy super fast & free WiFi throughout the property. If you’re targeting couples, direct bookers receive a welcome fruit basket plus complimentary drinks at the bar. Hotels targeting families might delight with free airport pickup, in-house dining credits, or even a complimentary tourist activity such as a sunset river cruise.
✅ Highlight your hotel’s location
Travelers don’t book a hotel solely for its room rates, facilities or amenities. They also care about location. Market yours!
Maybe you’re in the historic heart of your city within walking distance of the best restaurants and most popular attractions. Maybe you have a prime beachfront location perfect for idyllic days and picturesque sunsets. Or your property is across the street from the largest convention center in town. Whatever location advantage you have over your competition, make sure potential guests know about it.
✅ Encourage guest loyalty
Every hotel wants loyal guests. But how do you get them to keep coming back? More importantly, how do you entice them to return via direct hotel bookings? You could use a loyalty program, send out email campaigns with enticing offers, or simply ensure guests have such a lovely stay they can’t wait to come back. At the end of the day, every department plays an important role in inspiring guest loyalty.
✅ Perfect your email marketing
Every lead is a potential direct booking. If not today, then maybe tomorrow, next week or next month. Just because they don’t convert right now doesn’t mean they’ll never make a booking in the future. That’s why you must make it a priority to build and nurture your email list.
What does that involve?
- Encourage readers to sign up for your newsletter and promotional emails.
- Create valuable freebie content in exchange for contact data.
- Keep in touch with guests post-booking as well as pre- and post-stay.
✅ Use your social media channels
Your social channels provide a convenient way to funnel an interested audience straight to your website. When appropriate, share the link to landing pages and promotions with your followers.
✅ Follow up on abandoned bookings
If you have the means – and permission – to do so, consider following up with those who started but didn’t complete their booking. Nudge them to complete the booking by sweetening the deal (to overcome resistance) or by triggering their fear of missing out.
- Provide incentives to complete the booking now such as early check-in / late check-out if they complete the booking within the day.
- Promise you’ll hold that room rate for an additional 48 hours.
- Let them know how many rooms in that category remain available.