With discounted travel packages flooding the web; finding that perfect island holiday or business hotel seems like an easy task. You open a websites and the chances are you might be exposed to ads promoting hotels and luxury holidays by means of ad banners. When searching for a hotel stay in a search engine; offers from Expedia, Booking.com, Travelocity, etc. rank the highest in the results. Metasearch sites, such as Hotelscombined and Hopper, lists discounted rates from a range of hotels which can be compared to one another, based on the traveller’s preferences.
Online travel agent (OTA) bookings might appear to be the better option for those travellers wishing to book their flight, hotel and rental car in one easy go, however some hotel groups have adopted a new strategy that saves you money on your next trip.
The belief is that online travel agents offer the best deals and that their prices cannot be matched by hotels direct. Hotel groups hit back by negotiating reduced commission charges with OTAs. In fact, over the last couple of years, large hotel groups have adopted a vigorous new strategy with a renewed objective of attracting travellers to book direct. This bold move resulted in higher revenues for hotels and creates loyalty amongst their guests.
WHY BOOK DIRECT?
When booking direct with various hotels; members receive instant benefits such as free Wi-Fi and points as loyalty members. Over 60% of consumers mistakenly think they will get a better rate with an online travel agent. One of the main reasons that travellers select a hotel is price. This is also a main factor for guests switching brands. The larger hospitality groups dominating the world market noticed the influence of OTA’s and launched campaigns; specifically aimed at attracting travellers to book direct with them.
These marketing campaigns, emphasising that they offer guaranteed discounts with the best value; gets media coverage in most of the countries and territories in which they operate. In 2015 Marriott launched the “#itpaystobookdirect” digital campaign followed by the “Marriott Rewards Members Rates” in 2016. This rate is specifically designed for loyalty members who book direct with on the Marriott.com website. Hilton’s “#stopclickingaround” was launched as the largest campaign ever undertaken by the global hospitality giant. These were some of the moves by hotel groups aiming at recovering revenue and market share from OTAs. Hyatt, InterContinental and Accor hotel groups followed suit and promoted their best price guarantee when guests book direct.
Being a loyalty member of a hotel has its perks; from free upgrades, to discounts and express check-ins.
Loyalty programmes from the likes of Marriott, Hyatt, Starwood and Hilton offer loyalty members points for every stay which can be redeemed for future stays, upgrades and other brand-specific benefits. Members also have the added advantage of receiving tiered benefits according to their status with the brand. The more stays, the higher tier the member reaches which in turn results in guest satisfaction, higher revenues and guest retention. During these competitive times, hotel brands are continuously improving their loyalty program enrolment techniques.
Hilton Honors is one of the best known programmes and offer guests tier levels from “Member” to “Diamond” status with benefits that can be redeemed at any of their 14 brands, worldwide. Members can also check-in, select their room, add preferences and request amenities on the mobile Honors app. In 2014 Starwood went a step further, introducing digital keys, allowing members to use their mobile phones to access their rooms via the SPG app. Marriott rewards and Starwood’s SPG also offer Visa credit cards which earns their members free night stays and additional points.
Being a rewards member does have its benefits and best of all, it’s free. Frequent travellers can take advantage of these perks and hotels fill their rooms with returning guests, daily.
HOW CAN HOTELS DRIVE DIRECT BOOKINGS
The most important component of converting OTA booking into direct bookings lies with the hotel’s front desk team. A guest who feels welcomed, appreciated and receives a special connection with the brand during check-in is the most powerful marketing tool available to hotels. From the first interaction with the property, may it be on check-in or via communication with the property prior to arrival; the hotel brand has to deliver on exceeding the guests’ expectations.
The three main aspects of a guest’s rating of a hotel are check-in, the guestroom and the in-house restaurant/s. Travellers might arrive with a booking made through an OTA, however the guest’s journey needs to attract them to join the brand’s loyalty programme, resulting in future direct bookings. Hotel properties have the ability to exhibit their offering to non-loyalty members and OTA bookings of their campaigns which should be incorporated in the guest’s experience. Hotel rooms are the guest’s private space and they don’t want to be bombarded with marketing collateral, therefore the influence of the campaigns should be subtle, yet effective. These include a landing page when connecting to the Wi-Fi and 1 page presentation on in-room televisions, promoting the benefits as a loyalty member.
Most hotel groups have mobile apps which is another major driver in direct bookings. Apps as well as hotel websites should be user friendly, inviting and most of all, allow of easy search and bookings. Social media and content marketing has the ability to reach millions of business and leisure travellers, instantly and effortlessly. With the world moving more and more into the digital era, hotels increase their online presence with dedicated teams monitoring trends, the competition and most of all, travellers’ engagement with their brand.
The chances are future guests will make use of TripAdvisor and other review sites to research your property before making a booking. Hotels need to respond to positive and negative reviews in a timely manner as future guests are likely to base their decisions on reviews.
Leisure tourism is growing worldwide, with online bookings on the increase. Marketing campaigns aimed at direct bookings is focussed on enrolling members, retaining guests, reducing OTA commissions, retaining market share and most importantly, owning the guest relationship.