Launch a Property-Wide “Book Direct” Action Plan
Here are a few courses of action our clients have had success utilizing:
- On the Hotel Website:
- - Adopt a Best Rate Guarantee on the hotel website.
- - Create a well-presented and appealing Reward Program and promote via the property website. Even the smallest property should have a frequent stay reward program or guest appreciation program in place. This program should reward guests for their loyalty with complimentary Wi-Fi, room upgrades or free breakfast.
- - Feature the Best Rate Guarantee and “Guest Appreciation Program” message in all print advertising, brochures and email marketing initiatives.
- At the property:
- - Front Desk: there should be a highly visible decal at the hotel front desk promoting booking via the brand website, the Best Rate Guarantee and the Reward Program.
- - “Thank you for staying with us” letter from the GM: Upon check-in, all guests with reservations from OTAs should be handed a letter from the GM of the hotel, recommending the guest book their next stay on the property website and offering a 10% “customer appreciation” discount if they do so (via a special rate code).
- - “Hope to See You Soon” card: Upon check out, guests with reservations from the OTAs should be handed a card from the GM, thanking them for their stay at the hotel and recommending they book their next stay on the property website.
- - Create an email list of all guests with OTA reservations. On a monthly basis the property should send out a custom email promoting the property’s latest special offers and packages, events and happenings, as well as offering a “Book Direct” discount for booking the next stay via the hotel website.
Employee education is extremely important for a “Book Direct” action plan to succeed. Every hotel employee should be encouraged to visit and become familiar with the various incentives offered by the property for booking directly via the hotel website. Each employee should know the ins and outs of the property’s Best Rate Guarantee, Reward Program, or Guest Appreciation Program.
Digital Technology + Marketing Initiatives
Many hoteliers are mistakenly led to believe that not investing in their property’s website re-design or optimization will save money. Wrong! Not investing in your website will cause you to lose money and severely damage the hotel’s bottom line.
First and foremost, your website must be “in good health” in order to comply with 2013 best practices and website technology requirements. The ongoing Google Panda algorithm updates have made many old hotel websites completely obsolete and have generally raised the bar for new hotel websites, demanding a new type of website technology and architecture, faster download speeds, and website copy that is not only deep and relevant, but also unique and engaging.
In 12 short months, the ongoing shift from desktop to mobile and tablet devices has created a sense of urgency to improve the hotel’s presence on these devices. In Q1 2013, compared to Q1 2012, website revenue from mobile devices increased by 58%, while tablet revenue almost doubled (+95%) across HeBS Digital’s hotel client portfolio. During the same period, desktop website revenue dipped by 5.1%.
Remember, the majority of “mobile” bookings, room nights and revenue are generated by tablet devices such as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus; not by “pure” mobile devices like the iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile-based smartphones. Across HeBS Digital’s hotel client portfolio, tablets generate 200% more room nights and 430% more revenue than “pure” mobile devices.
Google expects significant increases in hotel related searches from mobile and tablet devices in 2013:
Begin by treating the desktop, mobile and tablet as three separate channels. Internet users exhibit different behavioral patterns when browsing the Internet and the desktop website, mobile and tablet devices address different needs at different times of the day and week. It is obvious why specialized content is needed for each device:
Desktop users need as much information as possible, including a minimum of 25-50 content pages per property and another 50-100 specialized marketing and landing pages featuring special packages, promotions, and events. Desktop users also place high value on visual galleries with photos and videos.
The on-the-go mobile user requires short, slimmed-down content with an emphasis on maps and directions, an easy to use mobile booking engine, and a click-to-call property reservation number.
Tablet users require deep, visually enhanced content about the property and its destination. A well-structured, highly visual hotel tablet-optimized website can generate conversion rates several times higher than those of mobile devices.
Second, hoteliers need to upgrade their property website technology to the next generation of Content Management System (CMS) to enable:
Management of desktop, mobile and tablet website content (copy, photos, special offers, events and happenings) via a centralized dashboard.
Responsive Design on the Server Side (RESS), which employs device-specific modifications to CSS and Java Script to present a customized desktop, mobile and tablet “front end” of the website, while utilizing the content from the central CMS on the back end.
Third, all three channels must be integrated within the hotel’s multi-channel marketing strategy. Use analytics such as Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics to determine contributions from and the dynamics of each of the three channels.
Launch Multi-Channel Digital Marketing Campaigns
We live in a multi-channel marketing environment. We are dealing with increasingly hyper-interactive travel consumers who switch channels on an hourly basis (desktop during the day; mobile device during lunch break and after work hours; a tablet when lounging in front of the TV in the evening).
Multi-channel marketing campaigns are the most effective way to address the property’s business needs, increase reach, and boost bookings and revenue for a need period due to seasonality or group cancelations, weekend vs. weekday occupancy issues, as well as needs related to any key customer segment: meeting planners, wedding planners, leisure travel, corporate travelers, etc.
Multi-channel marketing is the foundation for a smart direct online channel strategy. In this environment, the hotel website, SEM campaigns, email marketing, social media presence, mobile, etc. have a symbiotic relationship. For example, if you launch a website promotion, you should also send an email to the hotel’s opt-in list, announce it on Twitter and Facebook, launch a paid search campaign and publish a blog posting via the hotel blog.
A “Black Friday” Multi-Channel Campaign for a Resort Company.
Every year HeBS Digital works with a resort client to launch a Black Friday campaign to generate interest and stimulate bookings in what is traditionally the slowest booking period of the year. We build an interactive microsite and a contest to be the centerpiece of the Black Friday campaign, and launch a multi-channel campaign to reach consumers at every touch point.
- Overall ROI: 1,606%
- Increase in Revenue YOY: 66%
- New Email Subscribers: 936
- New Mobile Numbers: 189
- New Facebook Fans: 738
- New Twitter Followers: 64
- New Google +1’s: 52
- New Pinterest Followers: 36
The agency model adopted by Expedia and other OTAs plus the aggressive introduction to the U.S. market of Booking.com and its agency model, made the hospitality industry’s overdependence on the OTA channel painfully visible. It is time for the industry to fight back and shift share from the OTAs to the direct online channel i.e. to the hotel website. Not investing in your direct online channel will severely damage the hotel’s bottom line.
There are several strategies and action steps to help the hotel achieve OTA independence, which we define in two distinct categories:
- Business- Level Initiatives, including the need to maintain strict market parity and rate parity, adopting a rigorous “Book Direct” Action Plan at the property, as well as allocating sufficient marketing funds, and…
- Digital Technology + Marketing-Level initiatives, including investments in digital content, website design and CMS technology, as well as launching multi-channel digital marketing campaigns to tackle occupancy and business needs.
Partner with a digital marketing firm that tackles its clients’ challenges and celebrates successes as if they were their own. A firm that goes above and beyond to deliver ROI on every dollar, focuses on initiatives that drive ROI, and helps hoteliers transform their Internet presence into their hotel’s most effective distribution channel.