When Online Travel Agents (OTAs) first appeared, they were an effective new marketing vector for accommodation retailers. Early adopters gained an advantage over their competition as users quickly flocked to these tools that allowed them to easily find and compare offerings and rates.
Now almost all providers are listed on several OTAs, aside from a few notable exceptions (Accor Group). Although the Billboard Effect provides some value, it has become less of an advantage and more just another commission to pay. In some cases OTAs are even bidding for your own hotel name in Google Adwords and taking what would have been a direct booking away from you.
The good news is that there are several ways to claw back some of this revenue. Let’s look at the best strategies.
5. Content Marketing
Content marketing can drive high quality, targeted traffic to your site and keep them there while they make the decision to purchase. It can take some time and requires competent copy writing skills, but it can make a massive difference.
You can keep your site visitors engaged with useful knowledge about your area, things to do, history, or even something as simple as a photo gallery showing the process of your recent renovation. This content can be shared with your social media channels and email newsletters, to actively encourage more people to not only read your content, but also engage with you and the rest of your audience.
Well planned content marketing, alongside a clever strategy can provide endless search engine optimisation opportunities. It is vital to your SEO strategy.
4. Loyalty Programs
Unless you're in France where new laws have made rate parity clauses illegal, the contract you enter into with your OTAs mean you can't offer a rate on your website that is lower than what you send to them. This removes one of the possible incentives you could use to encourage guests to book direct.
Having a loyalty program allows you to discount rates below what is available on the OTAs, without breaking the rate parity contract. Using promo codes, or rates that are only available to logged in users, not only do you avoid breaking your agreement, but the OTAs can't even see these rates when they review your website (and they will).
Also most rate parity agreements don't apply to guests who are part of your marketing database, so you can send offers in your email newsletters, or to those who follow you on social media.
3. Actively Monitoring and Responding To Social Media
A common mistake in social media strategies is thinking of it as a way to talk to your audience, rather than talking with them. As we all know in order to have a conversation we need to listen to what other people are saying. Social media isn't about writing some copy and sharing some photos, that's content marketing. Social media is about monitoring all of the various channels and responding when you are mentioned.
That seems like an enormous task, keeping a small team busy full time... and it would be. Thankfully there are tools available that can be configured to listen for certain words or phrases and respond automatically, as well as notifying you so you can give a more personal reply when you have the time. Stay engaged and respond every time you are mentioned, whether the mention is positive or negative. Developing a relationship with your guests makes them feel comfortable communicating with you and will encourage them to contact you directly when they want to book.
2. A User Friendly, Responsive Booking Engine
These days there are a lot of booking engines to choose form, but not all of them are created equal. The process needs to be simple, yet fully featured and offer all the available options. Ask yourself these questions.
Can the guest book directly on the room presentation page where they can still see your beautiful photos of the room and while they are still "hot" to make the purchase?
Is the process as short and simple as it could possibly be? Are there more than two steps in the process (there shouldn’t be)?
Can your guest use the device they are on and does the booking engine respond as if it was designed specifically for that device?
If your guest is booking from their mobile and your booking engine is optimised for desktop only, they will find the process frustrating and leave. If you're lucky they'll find an OTA and book your property through them, but it's just as likely that they'll jump onto your competitors website and book with them.
With any form online every extra field or step you add, a percentage of users will decide it's too much effort and quit the process. Complex interfaces make your site visitors feel stupid and that's something no one enjoys. Choosing a rate and how many nights they're staying should be easy for even the least technical user. You should only ask for the details you absolutely need in the second stage (you're probably going to ask for them again at checkin anyway) and any payment required taken should be taken immediately.
1. Product Campaigns
The simplest way to work around rate parity is to offer something on your own website that you don't offer on any of the other channels. By creating a new product that you don't offer on the OTAs, you can add value for the guest and even offer a lower rate at the same time. Something as low cost as adding a bottle of wine and a late checkout and calling it a "couples weekend" package, means you can sell it at a lower rate than the room alone and not fall foul of the rules.
To really take it to the next level, do some research into your market, develop a strategy and create product campaigns that target specific personas. You can bundle events in your area, work with other suppliers, or truly research and understand your customers to craft a campaign that speaks to them directly.
Getting your marketing and digital strategies right and then implementing them can take a lot of work, but it will give you an edge over your competitors and the investment will pay off directly in your REVPAR.
If you'd like some advice about how to put this advice into action, send us a message and I'll help put you on the right path.