Direct Bookings: they’re what every hospitality wants. The issue is that in the last five years they have become harder to get. With the rise of Booking. Com, Expedia and other third-party agents, consumers are going to big-name booking sites instead of to your individual business’s web page. That’s why I have created this 5-step guide that will show you how you can reclaim both your power and your direct bookings.
Step 1: Update your website
Firstly, if you don’t have a website, get one! It’s the first place a customer will go to get more information about your property before making a booking. (We wrote about this subject in detail here.) If you don’t have a website, you are losing out on direct bookings! Secondly, make sure you have a mobile-responsive site. Stats show that the majority of travel customers look for hotels via their mobile phones.
Finally, your home page is the key to your success. Think of having a great homepage as welcoming someone into your home for the very first time. The cleaner it is, the less cluttered it looks, the greater the chance your potential customer will like it. Once you have set up your website, it’s essential to keep it up to date. If the site displays old pictures, announcements, or policies, that will lower your credentials and put off potential customers. I can’t stress this enough: keep the website updated.
The better your hospitality business looks online, the more people will want to see it in person. Try adding a special offer. This will increase the chance of someone booking directly with you instead of with an online travel agent. (More on them later.)
Step 2: TripAdvisor
77% of holiday goers will go to TripAdvisor to check out their next potential hotel. That is nearly eight out of every ten bookings! Think about that. Right now, in your hotel, how many reservations do you have? If you currently have ten full rooms, eight of the people who booked them would have gone on to TripAdvisor to see what your reviews are like before making that booking. This is why it is so important to make sure you are active in managing your online reputation.
There will be uncalled-for bad reviews on TripAdvisor, but that comes with the territory of running a business. Try not to take it personally. On the other hand, these bad reviews may tell you what to fix.
If there are a string of reviews telling you that your beds are outdated, then your beds are probably obsolete. Feedback shows you what needs to change for you to go from a good hotel to a great hotel. Bad reviews always happen. If you got nothing but good reviews, the customer would suspect that there was something fishy!
The most important thing you can do to manage your online reputation is to comment on reviews. Comment on everything! Comment on the good and the not-so-good. Whether the reviews are good or bad, but especially for the ones that are bad, keep your reply short, sweet, and to the point. Do not go into essay form about who, what, why or when. Your reply should be simple. Here’s a good example: “Thank you for your review. We are sorry to see that not everything about your stay was satisfactory. I will look into this ASAP for you and make sure it is rectified.” People like to feel heard. Your replies could be what sways a customer to stay at your hotel and not with the competition.
Step 3: Online travel agents
“Hang on, you said boost direct bookings! Now you’re talking about OTAS?”
In a perfect world, online travel agents (OTAs) would not exist. However, they do, and they are here to stay. Instead of looking at them as money-sucking corporations doing their very best to put you out of business, try looking at them as a lead generation system. Let them send you the customer, but once that guest has stepped through your door, make sure that they never book through an OTA again. This is your guest now, and as long as you explain to that customer why booking directly through your business is best for them, they will go straight through you every time they want to return. Let it be known that if they book directly through you, they will enjoy a better rate and the ability pick their room.
Gaining loyalty from guests will make you a more desirable hotel. Word of mouth and reviews go a long way toward amassing a dedicated following of regular customers. Having loyal guests who book with you directly will help you get around paying a commission to the OTAs a second time. Stay active on OTAs, though. Just like on your homepage, updated photos and descriptions hosted on an OTA’s site will attract more guests to you. Also, don’t resist OTAs just because they want commissions. Customers trust them, and if you aren’t with them, you’ll ultimately lose both guests and money.
At the end of the day, 85% of something is better than 0% of nothing.
Step 4: Social media
By the end of 2017, an expected 72% of small businesses will be advertising and promoting their services through social media. To put it bluntly, if you decide not to use social media, you’re going to be left behind.
People want to see what goes on at your hotel and they want a preview of where they’ll be staying. They consider social media the face of your business. Managing a social network may be time-consuming, but there’s a reason why 72% of small business will eventually take the trouble: it works.
If people check in at your hotel on Facebook, or even if they just like your page, that activity will make you appear on the news feeds of people who you haven’t contacted yet. Facebook’s algorithm is always changing for business page posts, but people who “like”, “check-in,” and “share” will always get priority on the news feeds of their friends and families. If you’re active on social media, that could mean the difference between getting a booking or not. Social media is that powerful!
That doesn’t mean you need to get on every single platform out there. Work out which one suits your hotel, holiday cottage, or guesthouse best. We recommend Facebook, as we’ve found it to be the most powerful. However, some of our clients have also seen success on Twitter and Instagram.
Step 5: Mailing lists
The big hotels and chains use email marketing mailing lists. So why don’t the independent ones do the same? We’re not suggesting that you have to go and spam your customers with daily or weekly emails encouraging them to book at your property. However, if done right, what better marketing tool is there than speaking to customers who already know and love your hotel? We recommend you start collecting your customers’ email addresses at the point of check-in. This can be done via the registration form or through online bookings. When you collect the emails, make sure you state that “from time to time, we may be in touch with news and special offers”.
To start with, send an email. It doesn’t have to be full of singing and dancing. Just show off what’s happening in the town or any special offers you may have coming up. You may be surprised with the results!