By Jenny Taaffe
When I started working in the hotel industry, back in about 1994, getting a customer to book and stay at your hotel, was a relatively straight forward process. With a small Sales and Marketing team, and an even smaller budget, you could focus your business efforts on attracting the business and leisure traveller, to your property. The GDS, direct Tour Operator relationships and the telephone, where a Sales Managers best friend. The only place a customer could find out information about a hotel was through a Travel Agent or hotel brochure. The hotelier had the control, over their brand, their messaging and most importantly their pricing. Then everything changed.
In 1996, Booking.com arrived quietly on the scene, followed by Expedia Travel Services which was a Microsoft invention, that same year. Two years later, in 1998, Google was launched, followed by TripAdvisor and Ryanair.com in 2000. It was about this time that the international hotel chains began to sit up and take notice of the web, as a viable sales channel, and once their websites began to appear, individual properties, slowly followed suit.
By the mid-2000’s things had got even more complicated and the world was a very different place for your average hotelier. The seasoned hoteliers, who knew everything about the taking care of a guest, were thrown into an emerging world of Google Anayltics, SEO and PPC, and most were struggling to keep up. Just as the industry was starting to get to know this new online world, Social Media came out of left field, with Facebook launching in 2004 followed by Twitter in 2006.
It has taken the last 10 years for hoteliers to get their heads, budgets and staff in a better position to navigate this minefield, and after most have become over reliant on the OTA’s and indirectly, the comparator sites. We are now an industry of well designed website, with pretty good usability. Almost all hotel website are no mobile compatible, but we are still lacking in clear strategies to encourage the customers to book direct!
To play the OTA game, you must put yourself in the shoes of your customer, who generally doesn’t care where they book. They are looking for ‘value’ (not necessarily the cheapest room!), they are looking for convenience (I want to book quickly!) and they are looking for reassurance (what are you going to charge me and when!). Here are some of my top tips for driving more direct bookings for your property.
- Analysing the Analytics
Hotels don’t like to hear this, but it’s crucial to have someone analytical on your sales and marketing team. You need to understand your direct website and OTA data in order to grow or reduce your bookings through these channels. I regularly speak to hoteliers and it is very rare that they know the conversion rate on their own website. Conversion is the key metric that every hotel needs to understand. Once you understand your website and booking engine conversation rates, you can then start to test your online activity through A/B testing. I’ve seen small changes to advertising campaigns and website landing pages that have a fundamental impact on conversion. It takes a tiny growth in a conversion rate, to have a multiple effect on sales. Unfortunately, hoteliers are being blinded by the top level science of online marketing, and it usually puts them off delving deeper into the analytics and conversion rates. For example to get a true picture of the success of your PPC campaigns, you must remove all ads on your ‘brand’ name and see what return you are achieving.
- Users Usability
Usability testing is a fancy name for something very simple – checking if your site works! We’ve found hotels with their mobile booking module switched off, so customers were unable to book through a mobile platform, but the hotel was completely unaware of this. We’ve also seen browser issues arise regularly, where a hotel website is inaccessible via certain versions of Safari, for example. Most importantly, few hoteliers sit down and look at their website on different devices. Consider that mobile booking will likely make up +30% of all bookings by 2017, this is a crucial business exercise. All of these tests and checks have to be done on a regular basis. Imagine the impact to your business, if your mobile website was unable to take bookings for a period of time. How long would it take you to notice? Would this cost you hundreds or thousands in sales? How will ensure that this will not happen to you?
- Your Unique Appeal
Tell your customers clearly, what’s so great about staying with you! Creating your new brand based on what your customers are telling you directly and online. What do your guest love about your property? What do they rave about on TripAdvisor or Google reviews? How can you build on this story through all your online channels such as your website, email marketing and Social Media platforms? ‘Real’ marketing is a hot trend right now. Telling customers exactly what they are going to get, and not sugar coating it is working extremely well for some hotels now. The Hoxton hotel group are a great example of this, they operate a number of trendy hotels in London and beyond, and one of their room descriptions on their website explains that “can’t swing a cat in here”, and yet this plush hotel is regularly sold out. It amazes me that hotels are still afraid to tell it how it is, and clearly explain their product offering in an open and honest way that guest will react to.