One of the questions I am most frequently asked, other than how to win back business from OTAs, is this: “Why are the OTAs taking all my bookings?”
Well for starters, they spend millions of pounds just so that they can be at the top of every relevant search. They have tons of money to throw at marketing and advertising. This ensures they can constantly be at the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to booking their next holiday or weekend away.
They also have a lot of money to spend on staff. They have social media experts, direct marketing experts, email marketing experts. You name it, and they’ve got an expert. That’s hundreds of highly trained people working together in huge departments on something that you are trying to do all by yourself while also running a hotel.
What this means is that when someone types “Hotels in [your town]” into Google, your website won’t appear on the first page. I can 99.9% guarantee this.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Small hospitalities can compete against the OTAs. Here’s how you can make a start.
Make your own website experience fantastic
The reason why so many people book through Booking.com is that the OTA’s website is easy to use and looks great. What you need to do, first and foremost, is to make sure that your own website also looks good and works well, especially when viewed on mobile. I’ve written about this in more detail, including the importance of your homepage, here.
If your website isn’t mobile-responsive, then you are losing potential customers. That is a fact. You can easily check if your website is “mobile ready” by clicking here.
Never lose a customer in the booking section of your website
If you use FreeToBook, Evivo, High-Level Software, or any of the other available booking managers, you’ll have the ability to put a calendar with your live availability on your website. I know from personal experience that FreeToBook has an excellent booking process, as does High-Level.
If your booking manager screws this part up, then you will end up losing direct bookings.
Here are the main criteria to consider:
- The manager needs to work on mobile
- Any forms need to be easy to fill in
- There must be a secure card input section
- Customers must have the ability to amend fields if needed
Retain your loyal customers
We all have loyal customers. Customers that come every year, on the same week, and perhaps even in the same car! These customers are great. But what are you doing to grow that loyal base?
- Do you send them a Christmas card?
- Do you have their favourite breakfast cereal ready?
- Do you offer a free night’s stay?
- Do you make sure that their favourite room is free?
- Do you send them money-off vouchers for local places in your town?
The only way to get more loyalty is to make your regular customers feel like VIPs. They don’t get this with Booking.com. They don’t get this with Expedia. A guest is just a number to the OTAs, and when they book with one of those companies, the guest can end up feeling like a number, too. Turn this into your advantage.
Minimise OTA availability during peak season
You have the ability to set your booking manager to minimise the number of rooms that you are offering to the OTAs during various points in the year. One of my most important pieces of advice has always been “Make the OTAs work for you, not the other way round.”
An easy trick is to look at your calendar for the year ahead. If there’s an important date in the diary that you know you can sell out with direct bookings, then the last thing you need is the OTA websites selling these dates instead. You’ll just have to pay them a commission unnecessarily – after all, you don’t need their help at that peak moment. Go to your booking manager and close out the popular dates for the OTAs. If you get stuck or don’t know how to do this, call your booking manager and they will be able to help you.
Offer incentives to OTA guests to book direct
There are lots of incentives that you could offer to guests to encourage them to switch a booking from OTA to direct. These could include a room upgrade or a free bottle of wine. I know that this is a controversial tip! I’ve included it in this post because I know people who do this and are successful. Could it be worth the risk?
CAUTION: As I’m sure you’re aware, if an OTA catches you doing this, they will punish you. This punishment could take the form of lower rankings, poor visibility, or even removal from the site. If you do want to adopt this technique, be careful and do so at your own risk.
If you’re feeling brave, here’s how.
When you have a guest book via an OTA, you automatically get their phone number and email. Make sure that you DO NOT email them! You don’t want a written record of your scheme in case the OTA somehow gets wind of it. Instead, call the guest, thank them for the booking, and let them know that you have a free room upgrade or special offer for all direct bookings made this month. Mention that they don’t currently qualify for this deal, but that you would be happy to help them. All they need to do is cancel their OTA booking and deal with you instead.
This move alone will save you between 15% and 20% of the cost of the room. For example, if one booking costs £100, and you were to successfully switch ten guests from OTA to direct booking using my method, you would’ve saved yourself between £150 and £200 in commission costs. This would go nicely towards a Boostly paid package, I might add! 😉
Offer a lower rate OFFLINE
I’ve written in detail about having an offline and online rate. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so here.