Every accommodation owner wants guests to book directly with them. However, not every hotel puts in place the right practices to ensure that customers can do so.
Do you want to stop paying thousands of pounds in commission to online travel agents? Then read on!
Hospitality life is hard enough
If you’re a hospitality owner, then you know how hard you work. Hospitality is a unique job. Any job where you have strangers living in your property for most of the year is just not normal. You work hard, harder than most, and you have to do so with a smile on your face.
The independent hospitality world has changed a lot over the years. All new room bookings were once done over the phone and confirmed by post. Remember those days? Now booking happens exclusively over the Internet. I can safely guarantee that for the majority of your bookings nowadays, the first time you have any interaction with your guest will be the first time they walk through your door.
Online travel agents have changed the way that people book. Your hotel needs to have a presence on those platforms more than ever if you want to keep up with your competition.
If you want to increase your direct bookings, how you act and what you offer on the phone could be the difference between your customer booking with you there and then or your customer hanging up and going back to the computer.
Here are three tips on how to make sure that you secure a booking when a potential customer calls your property.
Speak to the customer like they’re a long-lost friend
Put on your customer hat for a second. Remember the last time you called somewhere, whether a restaurant, a plumber, a hairdresser, or a bank. How instantly put off are you when the person who answers the phone sounds uninterested? They come across as robotic, as if they are going through the motions. You know the type! The infamous American customer service ethic is the exact opposite of this. Their phone manner and general demeanour when greeting customers are fantastic, however false they may seem to us Brits!
When a potential customer calls you for the first time, you need to make it seem like you are greeting a long-lost friend. If you are a little uncomfortable at this, or don’t know where to start, do something simple: Ask them how they are. This one statement can do wonders for any conversation.
Chat with them. Don’t go for the sell straight away
They have given you the dates they would like to stay and how many people they need to sleep. While your computer is loading up, fill the awkward silence by asking a couple of questions. Try to identify the customer’s needs as well as their wants. The more you know the more likely you are to be able to offer them exactly what they are looking for. Examples could be:
“Where are you from?”
“When was the last time you were in, (Insert town)?”
“Have you stayed with us before?”
“Is it a special occasion?”
“Where did you find out about us?”
The last question is the most important. If a guest has seen your information on Booking.com or Expedia, for example, they already know your rate from those websites. They are calling you to get a bit more information or because they have become a bit lost and want some human interaction. These are your ideal customers because you know they are 99% ready to book. You just need to help them along.
Another key question is whether they have stayed with you before. Being able to remember every former guest is a tremendous and very unusual skill. I consider myself to have a good memory, but when I ran my guesthouse, I found it impossible to recall everyone who had ever stayed with us.
Fortunately, most customers will not expect you to remember everyone who has walked through your door. By asking, you can find out a lot. If they that they have stayed with you before, then you can follow up with other questions such as “when?” and “what room were you in?”. If they liked the room and it is available, why not offer it to them again? Don’t forget, they called you, so you already know that they like you.
Finish up by asking whether the stay is for a special occasion. If they are coming to stay with you for a wedding, an anniversary, or a birthday, you know that these dates are unlikely to be flexible.
Offer a reduced rate for direct bookings
When you work with online travel agents, they dictate that your rates can’t be cheaper anywhere else on the web. This basically means that the rate on Booking.com has to be the same as the rate on your website and the same as the rate on Expedia, Late Rooms, Agoda, etc.
This is because they all have to promise their customers that they have the best rate available online. However, this does not apply to your offline rates.
If you want to boost your direct bookings then this is the most important takeaway.
Create a system where you can offer a cheaper rate if someone calls your property directly. Now, you may be thinking that this is madness. However, ask yourself the following question: Would you rather give your guest a 5% to 10% cheaper rate for booking offline, or would you rather pay between 15% and 20% in commission to Booking.com? I know what I would rather choose and I adopted this exact same method at my business, and it worked. I boosted direct bookings by 30% in the first year!
Think of it from the customer’s point of view. If they call you and you tell them that they’ll get a cheaper rate for booking direct, it will instil a Fear of Loss in them. They could go away, think about it and come back later, but there is a risk that someone else could book the room in the meantime. Their best alternative is to book with you right now and secure the room at the good rate.
Another advantage to direct booking is that there is less chance of the guest cancelling before they arrive. When someone books via an online travel agent, the process is faceless. There isn’t the sense of personal commitment that someone may feel if they have spoken directly to the owner. If a customer has booked through an online travel agent, then it is very easy for them to log back onto the site later and cancel. But because you show them a personal touch and get to know them when they call, they will be less inclined to cancel and more likely to keep the booking with you.
Here’s what I’d like you to do:
- Get out a piece of paper.
- Draw three columns
- In the first column list all of your rooms
- At the top of the second column write ONLINE RATE
- At the top of the third column write OFFLINE RATE
- In the ONLINE RATE column, list all of your online rates for the corresponding rooms
- Then, in the OFFLINE RATE column reduce the cost by 5%-10%
- (your choice)
- This way you have a clear pricing structure that you, or anyone in your team, can use when a guest calls up.
A final note
Please don’t think you have to stick to this scheme rigidly. This post is purely a guide. One of the beautiful things about running your own business is that you can set the rates you want depending on the situation. If you’re having a chat with a potential guest and it turns out they simply got your number from a friend or from Google and you’re confident that you can offer the full rate, then, by all means, go for it. However, if you’re on the phone and you know that the person has already seen you on an online travel agent website and knows your rates, then this is the perfect time to offer a lower rate for booking directly with you.
Now it’s your turn. Implement this strategy and try it on the next person who calls your property. All I ask is this: If you do try it, please let me know how you got on.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, comment below, or Tweet me @boostlyUK
I would love to hear from you!