In the past few years, so many of us have become dependent on trusting in OTA’s for bringing in business, and yes, some of us might have had some success with it. But wouldn’t it be great if we could do away with all that nasty commissions, double bookings, cancellation policy issues and refunds?
At Tourism Marketing SA we believe in going back to basics, adding the personal touch and placing the focus on Direct Bookings. Whilst online travel agents (OTA’s) are an excellent way of maximizing the occupancy of your accommodation, direct bookings could help you:
- Enhance your brand image.
- Build a base of loyal customers.
- Safe on commissions you pay to OTAs and on channel management.
So how do you get more bookings?
To boost your direct bookings you need the basic tools that let customers buy directly from you (easily), and the advanced techniques that make your website visible to your potential guests. So let’s start with the Basic Tools.
1. A Great website
In order to gain a significant number of direct bookings you MUST have a good website. A very obvious point, but it is the shop from which you sell your establishment and it really cannot be underestimated. If you have the equivalent of sticky floors in your shop (dodgy graphics and spelling mistakes), then people will be put off very quickly and will be unlikely to book directly. In the worst case scenario customers could actually be put off booking direct because they are concerned that your website is a scam site, whereas an excellent website will get your guests excited about coming to stay with you and promote direct bookings.
2. Online Booking Engine
If your website is your shop, then not having an online booking engine on your website is comparable to not having a till, and a rubbish booking engine is similar to an unhelpful (gum-chewing) shop assistant. Make your booking engine and asset!A brilliant online booking engine will make a massive difference to your number of direct bookings, showing off the accommodation that you have to offer, and primarily making it easy for your guests to book. Key features of a good booking engine include:
- User friendly interface
- Good viwual representation of your accommodation
- Mobile optimization
Ability to check and change your order just prior to check outYour online booking engine should be a top priority, as it will help you to set the tone of excellent service for your guests.
Essentially your website and booking engine should work as the shop for your accommodation, and you need to make sure that there are actually rooms/apartments to be bought there. So how do you make sure people actually find and visit your shop?
Making your website ‘visible’ online may seem like a fairly abstract concept. However, it is similar (and just as important) as having your shop in the right place. You need your website to be one of the first that people see, and particularly visible to the guests that you are targeting. So how do you go about this? You can focus your efforts to make your website more visible using three key techniques; Website content, SEO, and PPC. Alternatively, you can have a digital marketing company do this for you. This option generally works as less expensive than the commission charged by OTA’s, in addition to building your brand image and your base of loyal customers. They will often use the following techniques:
3. Website content
Ensuring you have lots of informative, engaging content on your website is a great way to increase your online visibility. Following recent Google changes, quality content is now more important than ever.
Think about assets your accommodation has, such as a fitness centre or spa, as well as reasons that people may visit the area you’re in, and write about them. People are searching for these things, and if you have quality content about them on your site they will find you. And, if they’re searching for things to do/see/eat in the same place as your accommodation, the chances are they may be planning a visit and will likely be looking for a place to stay there.
4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Quality content, as outlined above, is one of the fundamental parts of SEO – so don’t skimp on the content. Then, look at basic onsite optimization, such as META tags and headings. There are plenty of basic things that can be done that’ll make a good improvement to your potential search engine ranking. You may find that more people click through to your site as opposed to following a paid for advert to an OTA.
5. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising
PPC occupies the top and right hand sidebar sections of search results in Google and other search engines. They work on a pay per click model, so your advert is displayed and you bid on the keyword. If your advert is clicked, you pay for that click up to a value you decide. In the simplest terms (and there’s a lot more to it than this!), the higher your bid the higher your ranking.
You may find OTA’s bidding on your hotel name. So when you search your hotel, an OTA actually appears above you. It could be worthwhile to start bidding on your hotels name; this won’t be expensive and will give you the opportunity to take some bookings back from OTA’s. Ensure you state in the advert copy that the visitor will get your best rates, or other incentive, when they book directly with you and you should see your direct bookings increase.
With the next series of articles we will set you on the path to creating your own, unique brand and dispel some myths regarding OTA’s and together, make the hospitality industry a better place for both establishment and traveler!