The OTAs are powerful, so use that to your benefit!
Getting involved with an OTA can be intimidating for independent hotels. Don’t panic! Over the years of managing my own independent hotel in Scarborough, I’ve learned these tips and tricks on how to optimise my OTA profile and get the most bang for my buck. Let me share with you nine proven ways to make the OTAs work for you.
OTAs became powerful and efficient due to hard work and the fact that they filled a void for the hospitality industry. You need to hop on board the OTA train and here are some reasons why:
- OTAs are gaining, not losing, market share.
- With an optimised OTA profile, your hotel stands to gain bookings from the third-party channel and from your direct hotel website.
- A diversified distribution strategy that incorporates both direct and third-party channels is crucial for the success of any hotel business today.
- Most importantly, OTAs need you. Just as you have your revenue targets to hit, so do OTA market managers, which means it is in their best interest to help drive your success. Too many hoteliers forget this and ultimately disadvantage themselves when it comes to distributing and selling their perishable rooms.
Now, how do you optimise your OTA profile and make the most of your investment? Read on for my nine proven OTA tips.
1. Get to know your OTA market managers.
Build a relationship with them as you would any other business partner. Start by calling the Manchester office and having a chat with them. Get to know them on a first name basis. This has worked wonders for me over the years.
2. Recognise the OTA is a marketing and sales channel for your hotel.
Your hotel’s marketing and sales efforts should be consistent across all your selected channels.
3. Only offer the dates you need help selling to an OTA.
For example, in Whitby over Goth Weekend, there aren’t enough beds to go around, so there is no point in offering rooms out to the OTA on those dates.
4. Take advantage of the secret offers and special rates within the OTAs.
They prioritise properties that have flash sales or special offers for their customers. Again, think smart and use the OTA during parts of the season that don’t usually sell well.
5. Respond to ALL reviews.
Booking.com has now started to publish manager’s responses to reports. That’s why it is important that you spend some time answering reviews, just like you do on TripAdvisor.
6. Consider upping the commission 1% or 2%
The more you pay these companies, the more visible you are. The default fee bracket on a lot of the OTAs is 15%. Most properties will never alter this, but if you’re clever and can up it to 16% or 17%, then you fly up the rankings.
NOTE: Never go crazy here and think that 30% will mean you get to #1! Don’t go putting yourself out of business, just think a little differently.
7. Focus on specific markets
For example, you can employ geo-targeting, so only particular travellers see a special promotion.
8. Alter your rates at the start of the week
I have used this approach for the last 18 months now, and it has been the key to selling out any available rooms last minute. Every Monday, I log into my booking engine, (Free To Book) and I see which rooms are available for the coming week. The goal is to be fully booked and have as many heads in beds as possible.
If I do this just for my website and send out a Facebook post, I DO NOT SELL ANY ROOMS. That is where the OTAs come in handy. All I simply do is drop a room rate by a few pounds. For example, if a room is £81 a night, I go to £79.
Two things to keep in mind here:
- -Psychologically, the customer doesn’t see that it’s only a £2 difference, they see the number 7. It’s why shops charge you £9.99 instead of £10. Get into the guests’ heads!
- -The OTAs then announce on their site that your property has lowered your rate and it is a LIMITED TIME offer. I use the OTAs fantastic ability to heighten the “fear of loss” in your potential guests to sell rooms for me last minute.
9. Consider entering into a preferred partner agreement
One of the best moves I ever made was signing on to Booking.com’s preferred partner programme. With our location being out of town and lost in the search results, we needed a boost. The PP program enables you to get Top 10 in the search results, and you get a nice little “thumbs up” next to your name, announcing you are a preferred partner. Social proof is massive.
I think it is important to stress that the reason you’re using an OTA is to improve your business. Make the OTAS work for you, not the other way around.
There’s a danger when you go into these websites unguided that you may start to lose patience with these companies due to high costs, the wrong guests, and the feeling that you are getting no help at all. In the UK, out of all of the OTAs, Booking.com is by far the best. I have worked at my relationship with them, though. I tested out all the different OTAs and worked out which one was bringing in the majority of my profit. When I realised it was Booking. com, I quickly doubled down on the time and money I invested with them.
For those of you reading this, it might be Expedia, Late Rooms, or one of the other OTAs. Regardless, I highly suggest doing as I did and focusing on the one that brings you the most profit. If you need any help with this, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.