In this month’s Branding Notes, Harry Fielder of Umi Digital shares his must-do tips for hotels seeking greater direct booking engagement. Over to you, Harry….
Umi Digital was set up in 2010 for one major reason, which was to empower hotels and hospitality business to drive direct revenue online. Since then we have seen the competition for online dominance explode with the OTAs, now becoming some of the largest marketing companies on earth, spending inordinate amounts on advertising every year. Over the last six years there have been a great many changes on and offline, but we have seen the five pillars of achieving competitive advantage remain largely the same. Across the Umi network we get the chance to see all sorts of marketing approaches but without fail, the best hotel marketing efforts follow the following points closely.
1. Cohesive Online Presence
A hotel’s online presence has a great many touch points online and offline. The online touchpoints may cover:
- Booking Engine
- OTA Listing
- Social Media
- Google Maps
A prospective guest will usually experience at least three or four of these touch points prior to every booking they make, so it is essential that all the information across these mediums is consistent. While consistency in information is crucial, so too is the consistency in brand and voice. If your facebook page is super jovial and casual and your newsletter is written in prosaic formal language then the prospect will experience something called cognitive dissonance, or a clash in meaning which will leave them confused.
Google have recently shown that guests actually visit an average of 21 different websites before making their decisions and 87% will check and be affected by the social media presence of a hotel. These two statistics combined show that it is absolutely essential to have highly converting, sticky website and cohesive and holistic approach to all brand display online.
2. Multiple Booking Methods
Catering for absolutely everybody is often a sure fire way of confusing things, but you are shooting yourself in the foot if you do not offer at least a few different ways for people to book. At a minimum a guest should be able to:
Clearly see a phone number to make a booking.
Clearly see an email address or contact form to enquire further.
Book online using a non-OTA booking engine.
Choosing the right booking engine is a topic for another day, but there are certainly a number of cost effective solutions out there. One we highly recommend is Globres, which is a version of the Synxis engine but tailored to independent hotels.
So this is your minimum. To go further, you may wish to implement Live Chat on your website so people can book through an instant message or support WhatsApp so they can simply text the reservations desk. We all have our favourite means of communications and your guests will as well. Different demographics are more familiar with different types of technology so don’t leave potential guests struggling to book if they find themselves wanting to come direct!
3. Leverage the OTAs
While Umi Digital are fairly guilty of OTA bashing most of the time, there are occasions where we need to step back from our intolerance of the 20% commission rates and over-reliance hotels have on them. They are damn good at one thing. Marketing. They will get your hotel in front of more people that is reasonable to achieve on your own and this does not have to be a bad thing for direct bookings. We are seeing that a great many people that visit your listing on the likes of booking.com subsequently visit your webiste. This is the opportunity to capture them directly! Too often it is the case that the guest simply returns to the OTA because of the easier, more intuitive booking process.
If you understand that OTA visitors will visit your website then you can get into the mindset of what you might like to see to draw you to book direct as opposed to going back to the OTA to book. The first and most important part of this is to offer something the OTAs cannot.
4. Compete on Value
Price parity rules state that neither party can undercut the other, but this works in two ways – you can offer a best rate guarantee and claim that you are the best price on the internet. All of which is technically true! Price parity works in two ways.
Aside from price, the advantage that you have over the OTAs is that they cannot be as creative about added value. There is absolutely nothing stopping you advertising things like a free breakfast to those who book direct or a bottle of wine if they stay two nights. The reason that ‘best price guarantees’ and added value should be so front and center is that 76% of guests genuinely believe they can get a better deal through an OTA. You need to show prospects that this is not the case. It has also been shown 85% people (Google, 2016) are actually brand agnostic and will consider many different options every time they book. This shows the opportunity, you just need to showcase your product in the right way.
5. Adapt Over time
Even if all your efforts on the four points above have generated success in the short term your performance will decline if your online presence goes neglected. Websites are no longer billboards or static catalogues, they are living breathing things that are meant to be changed frequently. The first step is to ensure your menus, galleries and other text is always up to date, remembering that this information often features on mediums like Google Places, Facebook ‘about us’ and more. There is nothing more frustrating to a guest than unmatched expectations and incorrect information.
Building on this, the successful hotel will also be proactive in making sure the entire online presence is kept fresh by taking advantage of:
- New booking technologies.
- New engagement opportunities like Live Chat.
- New content mediums such as videos, drone photography, 360 virtual experience etc.
- Keeping on top of design trends and making sure the design caters to the way your guest uses your website.
- Fresh perspectives on hotel marketing and never being afraid to try something new.
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