Spend less on commissions and third-party fees. Grow direct bookings for your small hotel with these 12 easy-to-follow tips.
Where do hotels get bookings?
At some point during the travel purchase journey, guests will wonder if it is better for them to book direct or go through an online travel agency (OTA). After all, 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, e-mail, 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 and 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 embrace your brand’s unique aesthetic. If that’s retro, by all means, go for it! Just do so within today’s best practices—your website shouldn’t be a throwback to the mid-2000s. What looked fine just three years ago will inevitably look outdated today. Unfortunately, that 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 step in the right direction. 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. As do the commissions and / or fees to third-party booking sites. While that might not matter as much when the travel industry is healthy, what do you do when times are tough and your marketing budget shrinks?
When every dollar counts, that’s when you’ll be glad you worked on your SEO.
Ranking well on search engines can work wonders for direct bookings. It improves brand visibility and awareness plus naturally gets more people clicking through to your website. Once people are on your website, you’re well on your way 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
- Optimise pages as much as possible
Did you know?
It takes time and even testing for your SEO efforts to take effect so manage your expectations. Be patient. Keep at it. And don’t give up if you don’t get your desired results immediately.
Select the right booking engine
If you want to accept direct hotel bookings online, you’re going to need a booking engine. 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
Let’s be honest: 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. That is, you want impactful hotel write-ups. You aren’t just describing your hotel. You’re transporting the reader to your property, getting them excited about – and already 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
If you are able to do so, hire a hotel copywriter for your sales and marketing materials. It really makes a difference! Get in touch for a free e-mail consultation and let’s move you toward more direct bookings.
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, 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 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, that could be super fast & free WiFi as well as early check-in. If you’re targeting couples, that might be a welcome fruit basket plus complimentary drinks at the bar. Hotels targeting families might offer 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 centre 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 programme, send out e-mail campaigns with enticing offers or simply ensure such a positively memorable stay that guests don’t need any other incentives to come back—they just will. At the end of the day, every department plays an important role in inspiring guest loyalty.
Perfect your e-mail 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 e-mail list.
What does that involve?
- Encourage readers to sign up for your newsletter and promotional e-mails
- Create valuable freebie content in exchange for contact data
- Keep in touch with guests post-booking as well as pre- and post-stay with awesome offers, valuable updates and interesting reads
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 your special landing pages, promotions etc. 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 or, if necessary, sweeten the deal to overcome resistance.
- Promise you’ll hold that room rate for an additional 48 hours
- Let them know how many rooms in that category remain available
- Provide incentives to complete the booking now such as early check-in / late check-out if they complete the booking within the day