Direct Bookings vs OTA Bookings

Grow your direct bookings whilst using the OTAs

Direct bookings vs OTA bookings
Direct Bookings vs OTA Bookings

How much more of the “booking cake” can the OTAs (Online Travel Agents) take and how much bigger is the online booking sphere getting? They’re both interesting questions we continue to ask ourselves with a view to helping independent properties generate more direct bookings and reduce commission bills.

There is now evidence that the growth in new online customers is starting to flatten and mature. The OTAs are giant corporations that require continual growth to fire their share price. With fewer new online customers to sell to, the OTAs are looking for ways to keep their growth on target and some have been launching products to control your direct bookings. This strategy of getting income from your direct bookings doesn’t require them to find any new customers yet helps them expand their income. When they manage your direct bookings you are effectively providing them with an opportunity to acquire new customers, your direct customers.

We have also seen some OTAs removing the customer’s direct email address when the booking has originated on their site. In the past they shared these details freely with the property owners but now you need to make the effort to obtain the customer’s contact details. This will lead to less communication between you and the customer, reducing your ability to make direct marketing offers and run loyalty promotions. The knock-on effect is to shift more bookings into commissionable income and reduce direct bookings. Make sure you get contact details of all your guests.

Best Rate Guaranteed
Make sure your customers know, promise them the best rate

How do the OTAs control so much of the online business? Well, they spend billions on online marketing to get customers to book on their website. Along with the expensive adverts they quite often advertise on the search engines under cheaper terms like your property name. When they advertise under your name customers looking for your property will see them first at the top of the Google page. You will also probably see them paying for advertising on other high traffic websites e.g. your TripAdvisor page.

So what can you do about it ? Take your direct bookings very seriously, be under no illusions that you are in competition for your own direct bookings. You need to stop thinking that the property down the road is your main competition. In the online world your biggest competitor is most likely to be the OTA that provides you with the most bookings. If a potential customer has a better website experience on an OTA’s website then that’s where they’ll book.

Direct booking savings re-invested
Re-Invest your direct booking savings to generate more savings

Make sure you have invested in a great website, lots of fantastic images (critical), a great design and good original copy. There is nothing new there but independent businesses are all too often reticent to invest in their marketing, seeing it purely as a cost. Have you ever wondered why the OTAs insist on you uploading so many great images? They know customers are more likely to book with them if they have great images of your property.

A fantastic image led website will generate more direct bookings and save commission. Making sure your website is the best it can be will give you an edge when competing for direct bookings. Some of the big hotel chains even keep their best images for their own website so that they have better visual content for direct customers.

Book direct for benefits
Book direct for benefits

It’s a fact that big OTAs have a global sales coverage that independent accommodation owners can’t match. Learn from the way the big hotel chains do it, they use the OTAs for customer acquisition in areas they cannot reach. Use the OTAs to get the bookings in and convert the customers to future loyal direct bookers. Not all OTAs are the same, some customers have loyalty to a specific OTA that they use most of the time. If you rely on just one OTA for too large a percentage of your bookings then you should probably diversify the source of your OTA business. Work with the biggest OTAs but not just one of them. This gives you more online exposure, access to more customers, reduces your reliance on a specific channel and gives you a better mix of customers. It’s also a lot easier to bargain with the OTAs if you have more than one.

together by freetobook
get together as a group

Co-operation between nearby properties will help grow direct bookings for all. When it comes to getting more direct bookings your main competitor is your OTA. If properties switched from competing with each other to cooperating there would be a mutual benefit for all. Taking it to another level some accommodation owners have enjoyed significant success by cooperating and creating bookable websites featuring their members, examples include Fort William and St Ives in the UK (see freetobook together).

The benefits of more direct bookings are clear, the simplest calculation is the commission. By cutting out the middleman you save precious commission but importantly you also own the customer relationship. You have the customer’s contact details, and from the booking onwards it’s your brand that they will communicate with, not the OTAs. The direct booking message is simple so make it clear on your website, social media, emails, brochures and do let guests know that booking direct is better for them and better for you.

The service you offer from the point of confirmation to their stay with you and beyond is all yours. With direct bookings you have no communications middleman, so take advantage of the opportunity to differentiate yourself and be “special”. Always have the best rate on your website. If you ever feel the need to make a special offer make sure it’s on your website so customers booking direct never pay more.

It can be complex in the online world, as an independent family business we try to keep things simple and in perspective for smaller businesses, there’s lots of bookings out there you just have to keep chasing them.

To find out more about freetobook call, email or visit our home page
Properties group up, Get Together and cooperate

Planning ahead for your promotions

heather turnerThis week’s guest blog is from US based social media and marketing expert Heather Turner, “Chief Logroller” at Forfeng Media. Here Heather helps you plan your social media calendar for holiday events and special promotions.

The time to start planning ahead for your promotions throughout the year, is best done in slow season when you actually have a little down time, a little space to actually think and work on your marketing for the upcoming year.

Developing a social media and content calendar in advance is key to getting promotions out in an stress free, and timely manner so you have the best chance for a journalist to pickup an event or special for a story, and to make sure you work any kinks out of the special or offer in advance. If you are doing specials in conjunction with other area businesses, i.e. a discount at a local restaurant in conjunction with a stay, or free or ½ price tickets to a museum, for example, as part of your packages, it’s best to be able to make those connections and iron down the details as far ahead in advance as possible. When making joint package deals its very important to stress to the partnering business that they will be getting a lot of free publicity out of it. Working some numbers up, and letting them know where and how you will be promoting it, and them, is leverage for getting you a better deal on a partnership offer or discount.

If you are hoping to get your special or offer picked up by the news for inclusion in a newspaper or magazine, be cognizant of the fact that the lead time for both is very different. A newspaper generally needs several weeks leads time to run an article. Monthly magazines generally need three to six months.

socialIcons

Realistically any unique specials or promotions should be up online on your website at least 6 months prior to the actual event. If you send press releases out about it, it should be send out at least 4 months or more prior. Advertising them on social media should start being pushed out at last 3 months prior, 2 at the very latest.

If you have something that you know will book up and sell out in advance, advertise it on social media at least 4 months in advance so that if you get the inevitable cancellation or two you have time to rebook it. Developing the social media calendar will help you keep on track for when you are scheduled to start promoting your specials.

Specific Holidays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are generally high traffic days for lodging packages, and many potential guests do like to plan ahead for those. You may want to consider starting to advertise these on your social media channels a little earlier than the rest of your other packages.

Posting your specials on social media should not be done more than once a week, each post should be unique, have an appropriate and inviting picture accompanying it (make sure you either own the photograph or image, have permission to use it or have purchased it from a legitimate stock photo source), and be written in a way that utilizes the soft sell approach.

As an example of the soft sell post: Father’s Day is coming up soon. What better way to thank your Dad for being there for you and your family then treating him to a weekend away from it all. Our special Father’s Day Package includes a full day of golf at the historic Beach Head Golf Club, followed by a day on the water fishing for Bass on Lake Bestinach. For more information about this special Father’s Day package please visit http:thejanedoeinn.com/fatherdayspecial.

VS. the hard sell post:  Father’s Day Package, June 18-19, Package includes 18 holes of golf, cart included. River tour with Bass fishing instructor, $360 for the weekend D.O.. Exclusions apply. Book Now at 800-555-1212.

Make sure to keep your social media calendars from previous years, and note when you have gotten the most traffic and bookings for each previous year on them. You should also include anything of note that happens during the time your packages have happened. The Christmas of 2013 had a horrible snowstorm resulting in cancellations, Easter of 2011 had a travel ban, etc. Long term this helps you better plan for next year, as well as being able to look back and see what previous years results were based on what you did for marketing as well as any external events that may have happened that were outside of your control.

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