How to Capture and Retain Direct Bookings
by Johnathan Capps, Vice President, Revenue Management
While online travel agencies (OTAs) can be part of an overall healthy channel mix, direct bookings will never fail to be the most profitable. Not only are these bookings more lucrative from a rooms revenue standpoint, but guests who book direct usually contribute to higher overall spend while they’re on property.
To shift your mix from third party to direct, here are some best practices to capture and retain these high-profit bookings:
Communicate the value of direct
Guests need to know why they should book directly through you, and you must give them valuable reasons for doing so.
Make sure guests have incentives for bypassing an OTA and booking directly with you, whether that’s via pricing power, arrival perks or stay incentives. Use your market resources to communicate that guests are guaranteed the best rate when they book direct.
Continue this messaging even after guests arrive to your property. If guests booked their stay through an external channel, take the time to communicate why booking direct is in their benefit for future trips. This message can be expressed subtly via in-room methods, digital channels and printed materials, or as an added suggestion from a front-desk associate at check-in.
Also, chances are that if guests booked via third party, you have not yet captured any of their data. Make sure to record the information you need, such as an email address, and invite them to join your database. Then, post-stay, you can further communicate the advantages of booking direct.
Build loyalty to retain direct bookings
Are your guests loyal to you or the OTAs? If they aren’t loyal to you, you need to make this shift because loyal guests will become repeat guests.
Again, show guests value. Provide special offers, give them first access (or exclusive access) to sales and promotions, or include a package freebie for loyal guests. Communication is the most important part of the equation. Ensure that you reiterate the value the guest will receive by being loyal and booking direct. Thank them for their direct booking and explain that is the reason they are receiving special privileges, which can encourage their continued loyalty.
Websites must be user-friendly
If your website is unappealing, you’ll never see bookings from it.
Websites need to be speedy. In fact, Google has prioritized fast websites with load times of fewer than three seconds. If your site is slow to load, potential customers will bounce off shortly after clicking, taking their booking power with them.
Your website also needs to be easily navigated with seamless transition between the site and booking engine. Be detail oriented: Work with your digital partners to determine where menu bars should be placed or which booking button color will capture maximum attention. To continue peak performance, audit your own site regularly to identify where visitors may fall off. For instance, if data shows most people exit the site two pages in at the rooms page, analyze this portion of the site to determine the reason why.
Don’t forget about voice
Your hotel’s website isn’t the only channel with the opportunity to capture direct bookings. The voice channel isn’t dead. In fact, it is becoming less of a shopping channel and more of a booking channel. However, OTAs also rely on voice reservations, and their agents will work to make a reservation at your property, though with unsavory commission fees attached.
Embrace click-to-call technology and empower voice channel agents so that they are more likely to convert calls. Challenge them to increase the number of voice reservations they take, and determine the training needed to accomplish those goals and garner more ADR.
With a strong communication structure in place, you’ll ensure customers will find you first. By using the right tools, guests will feel motivated to remain loyal, lowering your reliance on OTAs with each return visit.