Direct booking is the unicorn you hope to catch but can't catch without the right bait. Whether you like it or not, you depend on OTAs unless you can figure out how to increase the number of direct bookings on your website. Without a great understanding of how things work online, you miss out on opportunities that could set you apart from your competitors.
First things first: make use of HTTPS
Before you start spending on AdWords, Metasearch, and other forms of advertising, you need to capitalize on the potential of good SEO. To do so, understand that Google does value HTTPS. According to RankRanger, 99% of all page one SERPs now contain at least 1 HTTPS result. This speaks volumes: you can no longer ignore updating your site to use HTTPS. It’s still not the most important signal used by Google to rank a site, but it may become so when the number of adopters increases. Besides, not having HTTPS for your hotel website is foolish. Beyond all possible SEO benefits, HTTPS is a sign of reliability. Random visitors are more likely to book directly with you if they can trust that your website is secure. You can no longer get away with HTTPS configured just for your booking engine. Your entire site will benefit when you switch to HTTPS, as users are looking for this signal as soon as they land on your homepage. If you do not provide it, they’ll leave to book elsewhere: Expedia, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, and so on. The main lesson: build appealing brand websites with secure booking engines to encourage more direct bookings.
The age of metasearch
Metasearch is a channel that grows at a fast pace and an important advertising mechanism. According to Fastbooking, it is currently the “most important advertising channel for hotels outpacing Google AdWords.” The largest metasearch players are Google Hotel Ads, Trivago, and TripAdvisor. Kayak, CheapOair, HotelsCombined, and Skyscanner are important industry players as well.
Because consumers are almost always looking for the best deals, metasearch is today more than a trend. It has fundamentally changed the search process, and although TripAdvisor is still dominant regarding overall traffic, Google Hotel Ads came strongly from behind in 2016 and is predicted to become the market leader from 2017 onwards.
“Metasearch, notably Google Hotel Ads, are strong allies to Independent hotels,” said Jean-Louis Boss, CMO of Fastbooking.
Metasearch companies are motivating users to book on mobile rather than desktops. Metasearch is also important because it funnels traffic directly to the hotels’ own websites. This means that hoteliers should manage their metasearch marketing campaigns to shift share from the OTAs to their direct booking channels. Lowering rates for direct bookings is one of the most efficient ways to make metasearch generate direct revenue. A mistake here is to have higher rates on the hotel’s website. On metasearch sites, the algorithm displays the lowest rates first. Therefore hoteliers must ensure their rates are lower than the OTAs’ rates for their rooms. Brand websites should also offer users a faultless booking experience.
Traffic from metasearch sites is “qualified,” meaning that most visitors will be ready to book upon arrival on your website. But a poor onsite experience can change their mind. Consumers are quickly put off using a website for various reasons, including confusing layout, too many choices, mandatory login, slow loading times, difficulty in the payment process, and so on.
This is why User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are essential to boost direct bookings. We will expand on this topic in a future article, but in the meanwhile, consider the PET (persuasion, emotion, trust) approach to designing your UI to deliver an excellent user experience. Another good resource to help you is this article by Mockplus.
Address these issues before it’s too late because addressing them will also make your site more mobile friendly. Speaking of which…
Mobile compatibility is a must!
Smartphones are today the norm, and you can expect every traveler to carry at least one smart device if not more. Not having a mobile-ready site is a mistake. It will cost your business a lot in the long term because technologies evolve quickly and you will probably have to invest more to catch up with your competitors. Be prepared to accept mobile bookings. A report in 2014 stated that only 45% of all hotels accepted mobile bookings and things haven’t changed much. But Expedia does – so here’s another segment of your potential direct bookers slipping through your fingers.
According to research conducted in March 2017 by Statistic Brain, the number of travel bookings made on the internet each year is around 148.3 million, with a percentage of 57% travel reservations made on the Internet, and a 65% of same-day hotel reservations made from a smartphone.
The same research shows that brand websites (where distribution is operated and managed by the brand, or the official hotel website) are preferred over OTA sites (Expedia/Hotels.com, Travelocity, and Orbitz), with 65.4% share of bookings for brand websites, versus 19.5% for OTAs. These statistics are indicative for booking trends. If anything, the main lesson for hoteliers would be to have excellent brand websites with secure booking engines to encourage more direct bookings.
TripAdvisor reviews can make or break your business
Consumers put a lot of trust in the reviews they read on TripAdvisor. Statistics show that more than 80% of TripAdvisor users read at least 6-12 reviews before deciding whether to book a hotel or not. It should be clear by now, for every hotelier in the world, that TripAdvisor is a global standard of reference for travelers who seek to learn more about a hotel’s customer service, accommodation, facilities, amenities, location, and other benefits.
Reviews are the most important part of your TripAdvisor strategy. In 2015, it was reported that only 32% of hotels responded to reviews, and while the number was slightly higher in 2017, the issue remains that most small hotels fail to respond to reviews because they do not have enough manpower or financial resources to hire a third party to take care of this aspect of their digital PR. But unanswered reviews on TripAdvisor may hurt a hotel’s online reputation. Because people believe in businesses with a human heart and hotels are in the most difficult position to satisfy this need. Guest reviews should never be a low priority for your hotel business. Prompt/ timely responses indicate to the guests that you pay attention and value feedback. Surveys showed that 62% of TripAdvisor users are more likely to book when they see management responses to reviews.
The billboard effect is NO hype
Research from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University states that OTA-listed hotels can gain a lot of direct bookings through what’s known as “the Billboard effect.” In other words, OTAs have a clear impact on non-OTA reservation volume.
“Hotels that are listed on third-party distributors’ websites, commonly known as online travel agents (OTA), gain a reservation benefit in addition to direct sales,” according to this study, which also claims that OTA listings can increase direct bookings up to 26%.
Social media is a great ROI booster
Although it is clear today that social media is the most important customer engagement and reputation management channel, many hotels still ignore its potential to boost direct bookings. Because most hotels and businesses have a social media presence, the competition for organic visibility grows, forcing companies to invest in social media advertising. Ads can help only if their content is appealing and triggers an emotional response. Many people plan vacations and trips while using social media and a hotels social media presence can inspire direct bookings especially if the content is designed right. In this sense, the hotel should act as an online concierge, announcing local events, like concerts and festivals, promoting local cultural attractions, offering special incentives for direct bookings, like free tours, free wine tastings, and so on.
For example, posting pictures of interiors works but pictures showing people enjoying these interiors are better. On Facebook, photo posts get more engagement than links, videos, or text, and account for 93% of the most engaging posts on the social network. Statistics show that photos “get 53% more likes, 104% more comments and 84% more click-throughs on links than text-based posts.” But if you must write text, keep it short – usually under 250 characters, as short texts generate 23% more interactions than their longer counterparts. You should also use emoticons to boost engagement.
Social media is a channel of communication, and although you are not dealing with your followers in person, they are real people, with real needs. Therefore, respond to comments, and encourage them to ask questions and express opinions. The way you communicate with your social media followers can set you apart from your direct competitors and lead to more direct bookings too.
There are many other strategies to help you increase direct bookings on your website, and we will continue bringing you actionable information. Until next time, address the six tips featured in this article first for reliable, long-term results.
Credit for the infographic: AmExOPENForum on Visual.ly