On the phones we hear the pain many accommodation owners feel when they get the monthly commission bill from their OTAs. Particularly annoying is finding repeat or regular customers who somehow end up booking through an OTA rather than directly. Many of you are looking for tools to help fight back against rising costs from the Online Travel Agents. One excellent way to do this is by using promotional codes.
A promo code is a private special offer that gives customers a discount when they book online directly with you. Essentially you give them a small discount making it cheaper to book directly, they save and you reduce your commission bill with more direct bookings. They simply type a promo code into your online booking page and it gives them a special direct discount.
The first step is to think about how much of an incentive you want to give to direct bookers. Perhaps your OTA commission is 15% and you want to give your customers 10% off thus saving you 5%. In the example we give the hotel offers a ten percent discount but you decide the amount yourself (you set it and you can easily change it).
Next you create a “Promo Code” in your freetobook account. Once you have your promo code setup (eg. DIRECT10) you now need to let your customers know about it, ensuring they know that booking directly on your website will save them money. The simple message is “Book direct and save” but you do have to promote it. Here are some clever ideas to help.
At Guest Checkout – Hand your guest a little business card with your promo code on it. This lets them know they are special and that they will always get a better deal booking directly with you.
At reception – Put up a little plaque or sign stating that you always guarantee the best rate when guests book direct and that some guests might get a special discount when they book again. Give them the promo code so they can use it to claim their discount when booking direct.
On your email signature – When you email guests about coming back to stay with you mention your promo code so they can get their special private deal. Again this reinforces the book direct message in a place where they might be considering making a booking with you.
We all like to feel special, using promo codes is a great way to show guests that you value their business and want them to come back and stay. Its a powerful message, book direct and save… here is a little exclusive discount because we value your custom. You want them to come back and/or tell family and friends about the special deal they can have by booking with you directly next time – promo codes do that for you.
The video below shows how the promo codes work, all you need to do is login to your freetobook account select the tab “Specials” and “Promo Codes” on the orange bar. To get a little further information see the promo codes section on our website.
Well done, you’ve made it to the end of the busy summer season. Take a breath but then start planning for next year. Guests are already thinking ahead to next year’s holidays so you must too. If you have forgotten how to enter your rates or set up your minimum stays, here’s a quick “Back To Basics” to help you through it.
Entering rates: On the AVAILABILITY tab, click on the first green box, hold your finger on the mouse and drag all the way to the bottom green box. This turns the boxes a darker colour. Release the mouse and a white square appears in each box. Enter your rates in the first column and then click the “a” below that column to copy the rate forward to all days. The “d” will copy to just that day of the week and in all cases it copies to the dates going forward so you can up your rates later in the calendar and click the “a” or “d” again below those new rates. Don’t forget to hit save before moving forward and repeating for the next six months.
Changing minimum stays: You can set a default minimum stay in AVAILABILITY tab under DEFAULTS subtab. This is handy if you normally insist on stays of 2 or more nights. You can also set minimum stays on individual days or sets of days. Similar to adding rates, on AVAILABILITY tab click the MINIMUM STAYS sub tab and then highlight the boxes on the calendar by clicking your mouse, dragging and releasing. Each box will have a white square. If you want to set all of a certain day of the week then change the first column of that day and then click the “d” button. You can also change individual days/rooms as required. Again, don’t forget to hit save before moving forward.
Close outs: There are two ways to enter close outs. In the DIARY tab you can click on a white box and bring up the “Quick Close Out” box. This is ideal for one or two close outs on specific dates. If you need to close out on a larger scale then you should do that in AVAILABILITY tab and CLOSE OUTS subtab. Clicking a green or blue box will turn it pink. Clicking, holding and dragging the mouse will allow you to close out multiple rooms and date in mere seconds. Once you have closed out all that you need remember to hit the save button before moving on to the next six months.
Special Offers: If you are looking for a bookings boost during the quieter winter months then adding a special offer can help. There are two types of offer in the SPECIALS tab; discount offer (i.e. offering a monetary or percentage discount from the nightly rate) and free night offer (i.e. stay 3 nights and get one of them free). Please note that special offers do not transfer through the channel manager, if you would like the offer to be added to the channel manager please contact us for details of who does what.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our guest blog and interview is with Frederic Gonzalo, founder of Gonzo Marketing. With over 19 years of experience in the travel and tourism sphere, he is passionate about marketing and communications.
Frederic recently attended the EyeForTravel event in Miami as a speaker, panelist and participant to the2015 edition of Online Marketing Strategies in Travel.
Here Frederic generously shares his industry insights and expertise with freetobook. As he pointedly states, having no marketing budget is no excuse for not having a dynamic online presence!
What is the most important trend in online room booking?
It’s about going mobile. More than 51% of travelers now research their next destination, accommodation and transportation from a mobile device, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet. And more importantly, an increasing proportion of them are now booking via their mobile device: in fact, it is estimated that 25% of all online travel revenue in the US will come from mobile devices in 2015.
How can a property get more direct bookings?
1- Have a “best online rate” guarantee and feature it, big and bold, on your home page. People will shop around no matter what, but if they can have the confidence that by booking direct they will get the best deal, well… you got it!
2- Have a relationship marketing approach in place. This can be through a rewards program or simply by capturing emails from clients and visitors to your site and/or blog. Sending out regular newsletters and promotional offers to this base can ensure retention and direct booking through time.
3- Promote deals and best rates across your various social accounts. I see hotels mention a promo code for 10% off best rate… on their Twitter bio. Others do Facebook offers, or mail push to group databases. Think outside the box, and make sure you crossover information from newsletter to blog to social media.
Having no marketing dollars is not an excuse not to have a dynamic online presence.
The first step is to have a professional-looking website, and this can be done with various solutions that cost a fraction of what it used to 3-5 years ago.
Sending out emails? MailChimp is free up to 2,000 email addresses, and other providers offer similar low-cost solutions.
Social media? It’s not free, contrary to what many believe, because someone has to manage it, but you can have impact and reach on Facebook with minimal investments. It’s more a matter of having a strategy in place to begin with, then finding the resources (human and financial) to manage this new reality. Knowing 87% of travel decisions now begin with an online search, do we even really have a choice here?
15 key stats to consider:
TripAdvisor (42%) is the most downloaded mobile app amongst travelers, followed by Priceline (15%), Expedia (14%) and Orbitz (13%)
There are 139 reviews written every minute on TripAdvisor
You lose 25-60% of visitors with each click on the mobile path to purchase.
69% of travelers begin their search online…via a mobile device!
Average mobile users check their device 150 times per day!
Of the average six daily hours US adults spend on digital media, 3 hours is on mobile.
Twitter on Travel: in the past year, 60M tweets mentioned hotels, 21M tweets mentioned vacations
70% of followers have taken some action after seeing travel content on Twitter
70% of Instagram users have looked for a brand online
3/4 of consumers are frustrated when online content doesn’t relate to their interest
In 2016, 50% of total travel sales will involve more than one device
Ritz Carlton Hotel sees 18% conversions from email campaigns. Email is not dead, folks!
92% of visitors to a website will never return. Thus, remarketing is key!
Only 27% of hotels send automated emails prior to arrival (and after departing)
According to Google, 1/3 of people with a smartphone would give up sex instead of their phone. Sad.
Is your local association or marketing group doing enough for you?
Online booking is just getting easier and more accessible to everyone. It’s great to see associations and marketing groups looking to improve their websites and the profitability of their membership.
Local association and marketing group websites tend to generate a lot traffic because they are the best source of local information (search engines like this), but do they really capitalise on all those visitors. If the huge growth of budget hotels and online travel agents is anything to go by you would have to say these local websites are failing to deliver what their members need most…direct commission free bookings.
Why are they losing out on these bookings, because they are not offering their visitors what they want…the ability to search availability then compare properties, locations and prices, and make bookings. We all know customers want choice, value and convenience when shopping for accommodation online hence the global popularity of the OTAs.
That’s the problem, here’s the solution – get your area website set-up to take bookings for your members. To set this up quickly and cheaply you need a booking system that is accessible to all, quick to set up and easy to manage. Our solution at freetobook has been
simple and inclusive, the internet booking engine is free to use, quick to set-up (couple of hours) and easy to manage. Members can still run their existing booking systems if they want .. we do not mandate that they have to use freetobook exclusively and there’s no tie-ins. So the cost of entry is just a few hours time for members … a fair price for commission free bookings?
Proven benefits of working better “Together” include:
1) being able to categorically show members that they are “in profit” from their membership
2) reduce commissions paid and raise the long-term positive profile of the group/area
3) expand the membership of the group and directly increase their profitability
4) keeping bookings within the group means more bookings for all and easier referrals
Website visitors want to book online on your website and your association or group website, can you and your association afford to sit on your hands and do nothing ?
Knowing the secrets of success with the Online Travel Agents OTAs can boost your direct bookings. Their web coverage is so massive that any single property will find it hard to get noticed without them. In reality the chances are that any potential customer visiting your website has already checked out your listing on the OTAs, so take a moment to learn how to leverage that coverage to your advantage.
The big OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia are experts at online promotion and sales, they act a bit like a supermarket, giving customers significant choice, relevant information to help compare and an opportunity to buy simply and quickly. They have mastered the art of great online marketing, continually optimising their websites and spending billions on advertising to generate millions of bookers. Ranking high on search engines and also listing on the most popular websites like TripAdvisor make it almost certain that anyone searching for accommodation online will come across them.
The great news is that although customers visit OTAs during their search for accommodation most still choose to book direct. Take your OTA presence seriously by investing time and care to ensure it works for you. Do not be fooled into just a switching it on and letting it run, you have to drive it in the right direction.
1. Look Special: Ensure you are “attractive” on the OTA websites by having great images and plenty of them. These images must “connect” with customers on an emotional level….can they see themselves in those images? Highlight your strengths, you will be compared. By standing out you increase your chances of getting booked.
2. Know Your Targets: Understand what types of customer are finding you on the OTAs – why not ask them when you see them? Then grab the attention of those customers with the right content, your business customers may want to see free wi-fi, car parking, proximity to their destination etc. Enhance your own website to attract these customers.
3. Make Improvements: Refresh and fine tune your presence on each OTA, learning and improving all the time – nothing is static on the internet! Simplify the process of managing OTAs by using a channel manager, then spend the time you save by getting more from the connection…. put an end to tedious rate and availability updating, rather spend the time saved to add real value.
4. Drive Direct Bookings: You must have a great website, invest in fantastic images and rich content – go the extra mile. Place your online booking process at the heart of your website, it’s got to be so easy to find and book. Customers want it to be simple don’t confuse them or appear to offer less. Extract the maximum value from all customers, capture repeat business or referrals direct.
5. Returning Customers: Once a customer comes to you via an OTA make sure you get to know them, offer them a loyalty discount so they come back via a direct booking next time. Add the customer to your mailing list or social media channels and engage them directly.
6. Create your own Mini OTA: When you can’t beat them make your own. Why not join up with other properties in your area to work together. You could create a website for customers to book accommodation in your location and compete with the chains and save commission using your mini OTA.
Smaller independent properties have limitations on their time and marketing budgets so it’s critical you make the most of them. The biggest advantage owner run and managed businesses have is the direct contact with their guests, it’s not something the chain hotels and OTAs can replicate.
Freetobook is a Internet Booking Engine and channel manager with many added services and connections to the world’s biggest sales systems like TripAdvisor TripConnect, Booking.com, Expedia, HostelWorld and many others. Using freetobook can greatly improve your worldwide distribution and add bookings to your bottom line : find out more about freetobook on our home page.
To find out more about what the freetobook channel manager can do for you, click the link below.
Just mention the name “TripAdvisor” to independent businesses and you are guaranteed to get some interest. Businesses have to take a pragmatic view when considering what tools and partners they need to make themselves more successful.
TripAdvisor is without doubt a very powerful influencer for your customers because it helps them gather information from other customers i.e. people just like them. Lots of studies have shown that people value and trust the advice of friends and family far more than anything else. That’s not new, since time began we have always asked for the advice of those closest, those who you trust.
Like most things on the internet it’s not perfect but that doesn’t lessen it’s importance to your customers. Good businesses engage with their customers, listen to their feedback and react accordingly and TripAdvisor provides one of the platforms to do that. Time invested in that is money well spent because it’s highly visible and highly searchable. Managing your reputation is critical in this increasingly connected world.
Many businesses rely heavily on their reviews to attract new customers and now there is a way to get direct bookings, not just referrals, from your TripAdvisor page. It’s not free but then TripAdvisor is not a charity, it provides a service to you and your customers.
You can place a direct link to your booking engine on your profile and every time a customer searches your availability you pay TripAdvisor – a Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising model where each search is a click. The service is currently only offered on a wholesale basis i.e. individual properties can’t do it themselves they have to go through a service provider and properties do not need a business listing.
The direct link is valuable because customers are usually at the end of their purchasing cycle when they are looking at your profile….so they are ready book. When you consider all the marketing that has preceded that point i.e. providing a service that encourages reviews, advertising in different places etc. you can see that you are about as close to “closing the sale” as you will ever be. That’s where you have to make it easy for the customer…..search and book here!
The service is offered on a 3 month trial basis. TripAdvisor will give you a cost per click and estimated budget required for those 3 months based on their history of your page. How do you know you’ll get value for money? Well, you don’t at the outset, but at freetobook we will track and monitor every search and booking to give you a definitive return on investment. It’s that level of information that gives you the control to make a 100% informed decision on your marketing spend. If you have already invested heavily in your marketing this is well worth a try.
Always on the lookout for great practice, I spent some time on the website of one of our customers in Thailand. Tom, from the Crystal Bay Beach Resort,
had just sent a great testimonial saying how freetobook had increased his website conversion (thanks Tom – see below.) So I wanted to know what it was that he was doing right.
The most obvious thing was the bits of reassurance he was giving his customers, around the direct booking message: letting visitors know that booking direct is a good thing, gently reminding them of the benefits in booking direct. Customers like to know they are doing the right thing, so a little message encouraging them can make the difference between getting the booking or not. Some subtle understated reinforcement strategically placed can reap great dividends. I’m certainly not saying “paste the message everywhere” (don’t!) But putting a little bit of text or a little graphic here and there saying something like “Book direct for the best prices” or “Guaranteed to get the best deal when you book direct” can really help.
I think the Crystal Bay has got it quite right. In three places the customer gets a positive message about booking direct. As you will see from the testimonial at the bottom it works!
1) On the Booking/Rates page – that’s a good place
2) On the Contact Us page – another logical place to echo the “book direct” message
3) And finally on the freetobook search page – the most important place to have the message, as the customer is just about to book. Where better to whisper, “You are doing the right thing.”
Not everyone takes full advantage of the freetobook search image. You should. It’s a good way to sell yourself at the moment of booking. To upload an image, go to TAB “Home,” SubTAB “Widget,” click edit and upload an image (800px by 200px) into your widget. Then click save.
Here’s Tom’s Testimonial:
“Free to Book is great, the user interface is the easiest and most intuitive we’ve ever used. After switching to Free to Book we massively increased our website conversion rate for direct bookings which has saved us a fortune in commission. What’s more the support is awesome.”