This is the ultimate guide to hotel direct booking strategies that will keep OTAs from putting you out of business.
We’ll look at the 10 best strategies to increase your hotel’s direct bookings that affect every aspect of your hotel’s success, from your booking engine to your staff.
Let’s get started.
1. Have a Super-Fast Mobile-Friendly Website
OTAs have invested a lot of time and effort into making their mobile experience great, thanks to easy-to-use apps and mobile websites. Which begs the question, How does your website’s mobile experience compare?
Did you know: 87% of people visit a hotel’s website before booking with that hotel. That’s a lot of eyeballs! And most of that traffic is likely coming from a mobile device, as many of our clients continue to see increasing traffic numbers via mobile device.
What we’re trying to say is: you missed your shot if people are booking elsewhere.
Let’s head into the lab for a quick demonstration: Let’s say your website’s conversion rate is 4%, which means 96 out of every 100 people that come to your site did not book. If you can convince just one or two of those 96 people to book, you’ve just increased your website revenue by 25-50%.
Tip: Start looking at your website from the consumer’s perspective, which is likely via mobile phone. Because if most people aren’t viewing your website via desktop, you shouldn’t be either.
2. Make Sure Your Booking Engine Doesn’t Let You Down
If you have a booking engine that’s not mobile-friendly, we have some not-so-nice words for you…but we’ll keep them to ourselves for now.
People may make it to your website, but if you don’t make it easy for them to book, especially on mobile, they’ll most likely leave and book with someone else that does make it easy.
We see quite a few potential problems from larger booking engine providers that make the booking process really frustrating like too many clicks, asking for too much information, or the booking engine opens in a new tab.
When you lose your navigation and your booking engine looks nothing like your website, you are losing some of those 96 people.
It’s just not necessary, folks.
That’s why your booking engine should integrate completely with your website, look identical to your website, and stay on your domain.
Take Action: Now’s the time to put yourself in your guest’s shoes. Go through the booking process yourself on your website and note anything that could be improved.
3. Use Pyschology to Nudge the Guest to Book
OTAs are very good at this. We’ve seen the OTAs take these psychology tactics and incorporate them themselves which is why people feel so comfortable booking on their websites and mobile apps.
This is why you should sprinkle those same marketing psychology tactics into your booking process.
Social proof is one way to nudge guests into booking. This could be a banner that reads 5 people have booked this room in the past hour and so forth.
This type of marketing psychology works because it eliminates doubt. People are more likely to do something if they know other people have already done it.
However, there’s a balance between encouragement and manipulation. It’s one thing to use real-time data for these tactics and another to slap on a flashing banner that is untrue just to get people to book.
You can learn more about marketing psychology tactics that increase direct bookings here.
4. Offer Incentives to Book Direct and Make Sure They are Visible
Let’s take a moment to thank the big guys here.
Yes, that’s right. The competition.
Because big hotel chains have pushed book direct and save when you book direct into the consciousness of the hotel guest, all thanks to rewards programs, booking direct perks, and so forth.
And because big hotel chains are doing this, their reliance on OTAs have decreased, which has had a meaningful impact on their business. So, why can’t you do the same?
That 87% of people that visit your hotel website are likely going back-and-forth between you and the OTAs to make a final decision. Using book direct and book through the official website type callouts will help tilt the balance in your favor.
Highlighting the perks guests will receive if they book direct is how you tilt the balance in your favor even further.
Perks could be free parking, on-property discounts, and free tickets to shows or attractions that are only for guests that book on your website.
Tip: These types of incentives typically drive higher click-through-rates when used in PPC ad copy.
Don’t be intimidated to call out OTAs by name either. Let people know that there are benefits to booking with you instead of the big guys like Expedia or Booking.com.
You should make sure those benefits are visible everywhere on your website, but even more so on the checkout page.
That’s where you put any and all fears to rest by communicating that if they book now, these are the awesome things they get.
5. Answer ALL of the Questions the Guest May Have
There are 3 things that we encourage every hotel website should do. They require a lot of time and energy but are crucial to your hotel’s direct booking success.
- Build a robust FAQ
- Consult your GMB listing, Google Search Console, business listing sites, PPC search terms report for common questions
- Talk to your front desk
- Sprinkle those FAQ questions throughout your website
- Implement a live chat on your website
- We’re not talking about a chatbot. Have a live reservationist ready to answer questions about your hotel
- It helps increase conversion rate because guest doubt is being eliminated
- You can find out what questions your website is not answering and add to your FAQ
- Have a keyword search at the top of every page of your website
- It gets people to where they want quicker
- You have the data of what people are typing and closes the loop of FAQs
As an example, take a look at Amazon’s shopping cart funnel. On each page of the buying process, all questions are answered and expectations are met, eliminating any fears the customer may have.
Just like what we said about Amazon, make sure every piece of information that your guest could possibly need is available and easily found on your website and throughout the booking process.
6. Develop an Email Strategy that Doesn’t Rely on Spray-and-Pray
Spray-and-pray is easy. But’s it’s mostly ineffective and can erode your email list over time.
One-to-one personalized messaging is difficult. But you’ll see a marked difference in the long term. This should be your email strategy.
Unfortunately, a lot of CRMs aren’t built to handle dynamic segmenting, dynamic content, and recommendations. However, we found a way to solve the complexity of this issue with the Fuel CRM.
Powered by AI, the Fuel CRM does most of the heavy lifting on the management side and can automatically predict what a person is going to want and provides automatic recommendations to them based on their historical metrics and the historical metrics of past guests that look and behave similarly to them.
While a fully functional CRM is great, you should already know the behaviors of your hotel’s typical guest.
As an example, you may notice that travelers stay at your hotel for a specific event. Are you targeting those travelers with emails that feature copy and information specific to that event? Maybe there’s an incentive that you should be offering to a particular segment of guests.
That’s one of the things you can create segments for with the guest data that you have.
This strategy is going to take some time and some thought and it may take a little bit of money but it’s well worth it in the long term.
7. Push the OTAs Out of the Way on the Channels They are Hijacking
Participate in the auctions where OTAs are stealing your guests, including PPC platforms and Google Hotel Ads.
Because when someone is looking for you, make sure they book with you on your website.
This is especially important in building up your own assets like an email database. Every guest that you can get to book direct is someone you can retarget later through display advertising, email, Facebook, and so forth.
But if they book with an OTA, that’s valuable guest data you can’t retarget.
Tip: Make sure you’re participating in places where the OTAs can’t. This could be CVBs and local portal sites. These websites can be very cost-effective and can generate very relevant and valuable traffic to your website.
8. Limit What You Give the OTAs Based on Seasonality
If your reliance on OTAs is higher than you like, it’s still not an excuse to take a set it and forget it approach. Why? You don’t always have to give the OTAs the same information that’s on your website and you’re not at all obligated to be on the OTAs.
This is where hoteliers can and should experiment.
If there’s a time of the year that you know your hotel will be full, pull back on the OTAs and monitor the performance.
Something to try: A tactic we typically see clients use is filling up on the OTAs early. As their hotel fills up and they feel like they have a good pace going, they’ll pull back on the OTAs. Then, on the last day, the OTAs tend to see plenty of bookings.
Because those people are willing to pay last-minute, hoteliers will raise the rates the night before or day of and put them back on the OTAs.
9. Train Your Staff So That They Can Be Soldiers in the Fight
The biggest asset hoteliers have in the war with OTAs is…drumroll, please…
Especially the team members that interact directly with your guests. The front desk is where the tone is set for your guest’s hotel experience.
If a guest didn’t book direct, this is where you can pinpoint why they didn’t book direct and encourage them to do so in the future by communicating the booking direct benefits your hotel offers.
If they did book through an OTA, train your staff to request the email anyway and explain why you want it and how it benefits the guest.
10. Nurture the Relationship with Every Guest
You’re in the hospitality business. Therefore, you should be hospitable.
Treat every guest like it’s your only guest by having a conversation with them, building trust, and giving them value. Over time, this relationship nurturing will have an impact on your ROI.
When should you start this strategy? Today!
Because you can’t right the ship when it’s too late.